Friday, November 30, 2012

Borneo – A Frogger’s Dream

Borneo is a big island in South-east Asia, nestled amongst the islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. It’s separated from Australia’s biogeographic region by the ‘Wallace line’ – reflecting a very different evolutionary history. In terms of frog assemblages, without delving into the murky waters of frog systematics, this means that while there are some frogs in Borneo that are similar to ours taxonomically, many others are quite unrelated.

For example, the microhylid family is well represented in both regions while the rhacophorid family is diverse in Asia but is not found at all Australia. So, being fairly familiar with what Australia has to offer, we were now heading into a region filled with animals completely new to us. We were looking forward to being clueless as to what we were seeing. That, and the fact that it’s a big island covered in hot, wet rainforest filled with animals and so what’s not to love?

Within hours of landing on the island we were in the rainforest after nightfall following tracks and streams and loving every minute, our dreams coming true. This was more-or-less how we would spend the next month. We rushed around in frenzy, looking at each new animal, admiring its novelty, taking some photos, pondering its identity, then rushing only a few steps further before some new fascinating subject was caught in the beam of a torch. It soon became overwhelming. Without being overwhelming myself, I’ll try to condense a few highlights of the frog fauna that we saw.

There’s the tree-hole frog (Metaphrynella sundana), a microhylid that breeds in small hollows in tree trunks that collect a little water. The tadpoles of another microhylid (Microhyla nepenthicola) live in the digestive fluids of carnivorous pitcher-plants. There’s the file-eared frog (Polypedates otilophus), with its beautiful tiger-striped legs and flanks, named for the sharp, serrated bony projections above the tympana (we discovered that this frog had a peculiar, strong stink when handled). We saw charming little Black-spotted rock frogs (Staurois guttatus) and their congeners the rock-skippers (S. latopalmatus)  – frogs that live on and around waterfalls and signal to each other with waves of the back feet.

The giant river frogs (Limnonectes leporinus) which can grow to 15 cm long, eat anything they can fit in their mouths, and in turn and can be bought at village markets as a delicacy. Tree toads (Pedostibes hosii) that, despite their ordinary appearance, climb many metres up trees to call for mates. Also adept climbers are the slender toads (Ansonia spp.) with their long graceful arms and legs. The jade frog (Rhacophorus dulitensis) – a carved jewel. The guardian frogs (Limnonectes finchi and palavanensis); the male of which carries a mass of squirming tadpoles on his back. I could go on.

If, like me, you ever pored over a book on frogs of the world as a child there’s little doubt that you’ve seen photos of two particular iconic frogs found in Borneo. The first we came across on only our second night – the Bornean Horned Frog (Megophrys nasuta). The legendary camouflage of this frog doesn’t help it stay hidden at night, when its eye-shine stands out like a beacon. Stumbling across three individuals easily was very lucky, as finding the frog by its call is frustrating in the extreme – it only makes its honking call once every few minutes. We were surprised to find that the ‘nose’ and other sharp-looking projections on this frog’s head are soft and fleshy!

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo – A Frogger’s Dream

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Genetic markers key to saving Borneo jumbos

KOTA KINABALU: Experts are delving deep into Borneo elephant genes to identify populations of the pachyderm which are isolated and genetically impoverished.

A recent study conducted by a team of scientists concluded that Borneo elephant show low genetic diversity which could threaten their survival.

The study was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE by experts from various institutes in Portugal, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

Experts believe that studying the genetic variability of endangered species' is necessary for conservation and monitoring purposes.

Using blood samples collected from captive Borneo elephants at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, a team of scientists used cutting edge DNA sequencing methodology to identify genetic markers for the species.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said access to variable genetic markers was crucial to determine genetically impoverished and isolated elephants.

As Borneo elephants live in highly disturbed habitats due to oil palm plantation development, the populations risked isolation from one another.

"These new genetic markers may also allow us to reconstruct part of the demographic history of the elephants and possibly unravel the mystery of their origin.

"Their presence in Borneo still raises controversy and we have long wondered why the elephants' range is so restricted.

"The only previous genetic study done on these elephants recognised their presence in Borneo for more than 300,000 years, but there is a lack of elephant fossils on the island to support this," said Goossens.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Genetic markers key to saving Borneo jumbos

Brunei: not just another stamp

I found myself driving down a modern and newly paved highway from the Muara boat jetty to the city of Bandar Seri Begawan in a family station wagon. How did I get here? Well, on the ferry over to Brunei from Malaysia a young girl sat down beside me and introduced herself as Sighba.

She started conversation with me in perfect English asking about my travels and explaining that she was Pakistani but has lived in Bruinei with her family for the last 13 years. Sighba was only a couple years younger than me, very down to earth and forward thinking. It was a refreshing change to talk to a Muslim girl since normally they are very shy and never approach you on their own.

We talked about everything, making fun of the strange cultural differences in our countries and sharing our high hopes for our careers in the future. She was also eager to answer all my questions about Brunei and gave me a bit of insiders info on what to expect. When we arrived at the port we said goodbye and I went outside to catch a public bus into the city but after waiting some seemingly endless minutes in the mid-day heat I was approached by Sighba again. She was now with her parents who already heard the story about their daughter meeting a Canadian “bule”, of course.

They explained that there was almost no hope of me finding a bus at this time, despite the info in my trusty Lonely Planet book. They insisted that I would be better off catching a ride into town with them and I didn’t have any reason to argue.

We rode along smoothly with the AC blasting but I was still confused about the bus situation. When I asked why there was no reliable public transit in such a progressive city, they replied “Everyone is Brunei has their own vehicle. There are at least two cars or more for each family, it’s a hobby to collect expensive things here.”

It occurred to me then, that Brunei was a far wealthier country than it’s neighbours and I was in for a bit of an interesting change. It’s people were just as friendly though which was proven to me by Sighba and her family. They chatted away for the whole ride, giving me tips on what to see and do when I arrived in BSB. Lucky for me, the capitol city is small enough to explore in the waning hours I had left before sun down.

My first destination after checking into one of the only hostels in town was “Kampung Air” which translates to “water village”. A stark contrast to the clean and pristine downtown, Kampung Air is a town of it’s own where all buildings, including a school, mosque and even a fire station are built on stilts over the water.

From an outsiders perspective, Kampung Air’s battered wooded shacks can easily look like the dodgy slums of BSB, a huge separation from the gold detailed fences and BMWs just on the other side of the plank walk. As told to me on the ride over, however; no one is Brunei is poor.

Even the citizens of Kampung Air have high paying jobs but are compensated by the King to live in the water village to “preserve the culture”. It is hard to believe but walking through the houses you see that people have everything they need there and they seem to be doing just fine.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Brunei: not just another stamp

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

8 per cent jump in tourist arrivals in Sarawak up to September

VISITOR arrivals in the state recorded an 8.1 per cent increase from January to September this year.

According to Minister of Sarawak Tourism Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, Sarawak recorded 2,944,821 visitor arrivals compared to 2,723,964 for the same period last year.

“Among the visitors, 1,918,497 were international visitors and 1,026,324 from Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah,” he said, adding that there were notable increases in arrivals from Singapore, China, Australia and United Kingdom.

In his winding up speech at the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting here yesterday, Abang Johari also pointed out that Malaysia has been ranked the tenth friendliest country in the
world by Forbes Online, based on HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey 2012.

“According to the survey, Malaysia is the only ASEAN country in the top 10 lists comprising countries such as Cayman Islands, Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, United States, Bermuda and South Africa.”


Kinabalu Park and Layang Layang island

Kinabalu Park, the entrance to Mount Kinabalu, is located at 1,585 metres above sea level and will be the most important starting stage towards the summit trail that leads to the best of Mount Kinabalu. It covers an spot of 754sq km and is produced up of Mount Kinabalu, Mount Tambayukon and the foothills.

The mountains use a fascinating geological history, using 'just' a million a long time to style. The mighty Mount Kinabalu is actually a granite massif that was later thrust upwards as a result of the crust of your floor. Subsequent erosion taken off hundreds of feet from the overlying sand and mud stone, exposing this massif.

Throughout the Ice Age, glaciers jogging across the summit smoothed it out, however the jagged peaks that stood out over the ice floor remained unaffected, retaining the very ragged surfaces. This rugged mountain stays the focal stage from the Nationwide Park to this time of day.

Mt Kinabalu By means of Ferrata via ferrata (or iron route in Italian), is a mountain route consisting of a series of rungs, rails and cables embracing the rock experience. You will find over 300 through ferrata routes close to the planet plus the globe's highest through ferrata, can now be observed on Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, whereby the highest level starts off at 3,400 m and ends at 3,800 m. This is the very first time which the sport of by way of ferrata climbing is currently being introduced in Asia.

An exercise for absolutely everyone, the through ferrata is devised to offer people with minor or no climbing encounter access to rock faces commonly reached by mountaineers and rock climbers.You will find several necessities for one particular to consider portion within the via ferrata exercise, such as possessing an average physical fitness degree, becoming in a position to hike approximately 3,200m in six hrs, becoming no less than 10 many years of age, currently being at the very least 1.3 metres tall; and, especially, possessing a fearlessness of heights (or prepared to conquer their fear of heights).

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Kinabalu Park and Layang Layang island

Malaysia Airlines' new Airbus A380 could boost tourism to Brunei

By Azlan Othman in London

Brunei is an important market for Malaysia Airlines (MAS) despite its small size. For Bruneians, UK is the favourite destination to travel to compared to other European countries.

The Brunei market is primarily driven by corporate businesses especially in the oil and gas sector such as Shell. But it is not one of the biggest MAS destinations in Asia.

This was stated by the Regional Senior Vice President of Malaysia Airlines for UK and Europe (Commercial), Huib Gorter, to the Borneo Bulletin representative, who is among the nine journalists (besides Malaysia and the Philippines) invited for the inaugural flight of Airbus A380 Double Daily to London starting from November 24.

"For any destinations, we always include Brunei in our pricing when we advertise. But we are not promoting an Airbus A380 trip to Brunei; instead, we are promoting a trip to Kuala Lumpur, and through the airline network, we can reach Brunei.

"But the reasonable air fare price would attract Bruneians," he said.

Meanwhile, the Sales Manager for Malaysia Airlines for UK (Southern Region), Anton Grossmann said, "We don't have any specific promotion with regards to Airbus 380 for the Brunei market. But we could add Brunei as part of the value-side trip for British visitors, just like to other Malaysian states for a minimal fee of; for instance, 50 pounds after the tourists have visited Kuala Lumpur. We can work with Royal Brunei and Brunei Tourism on this matter.

Huib Gorter added that the pristine forest, diving sites in Borneo are plus factors for British tourists.

The Malaysia Airlines Office in Bandar Seri Begawan said that through the code-sharing agreement between Malaysia Airlines and Royal Brunei, travellers can utilise the daily service provided by Airbus 380; to and from London.

Speaking to journalists in his office in London, the Malaysian High Commissioner to London, UK, Dato' Sri Zakaria Sulong said that Malaysia, along with other Asean countries are boosting businesses through the UK-Asean Business Council set up in November last year. Business volume between UK and the Asean countires is bigger as compared to China and India.

Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board's Deputy Director for UK and Ireland, Sharon Ho told the Bulletin that there is a joint effort to promote Islamic tour packages to British and European tourists highlighted during the recent annual London World Travel Mart on November 7.

It is where Islamic places of interest in the sultanate including the Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Mosque in the capital, Jame' 'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah in Kiarong and Darul Ifta gallery at the State Mufti's Office, are being promoted.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

MAS responsive to Sarawak’s call to improve air connectivity

KUCHING: Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is expected to make some positive announcements soon on the air connectivity to the state, says Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.

“I have personally had numerous engagements and discussions with the Federal Government on ways to improve the air connectivity into the state.

“MAS has been quite sympathetic and responsive to our call and is expected to make some positive announcements soon,” he said in his winding-up speech yesterday.

He said an agreement had been reached between the state and MAS that would provide direct air connectivity to Kuching once the purchase of new 56 aircraft by MAS was completed.

“We are interested in their subsidiary routes of East Asia and Australasia.

“We will be given special “power” where the state will be consulted on these routes.

“This is in discussion now and the state will be represented in their board,” he told reporters later.

In his speech earlier, Johari pointed out that MASwings would continue with its expansion programme to play its role as a regional community airline with the introduction of new routes soon for Kuching-Balikpapan and Kuching-Mulu-Bandar Seri Begawan.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Borneo: land of exotic beauty

The road, edged with lemon grass, wild ginger and tall bamboo orchids winds upwards from Kota Kimbalu, the capital of Sabah, one of the Malaysian segments of Borneo.  We pass through groves of wild bananas and acacias and see distant villages deep in the valleys below while crested serpent eagles wheel above. It is an awe inspiring scene.

“There it is, the sacred resting place of the spirits,” my guide Philip says pointing  excitedly to the mountain which now looms above us.

Mount Kinabulu

In the old days, Philip tells me, local people would not climb Mount Kinabalu and disturb the dead and when a British officer Sir Hugh Low tried to make the ascent 1851, his guides insisted on appeasing the spirits with the offerings of crystals, cockerels and eggs.  In 1994 five members of a British Army expedition were lost for a month in an area known as Low’s Gully. They were eventually rescued but the mountain is still afforded a great deal of respect by locals and climbers.

I had not come to climb the mountain however, but to visit Mount Kinabalu National Park which contains thousands of species of plants, insects and animals found nowhere else on earth and is justifiably a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On these slopes some 1200 species of orchid grow. So valuable are these plants that some years ago a Malaysian, Lim Sian was caught at Heathrow airport smuggling 130 of the most rare into Britain. We walk one of the trails through the oak and chestnut forest with laughing thrushes chortling above us and we find quantities of orchids including one of the very smallest bulbophyllum orchids, its bloom like a tiny drop of milk.


Much as I love orchids, I confess to Philip that my greatest desire is to see a Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, which I understand to be out of season. “No,” he assures me. “There is no real season, only luck.” On the way down the mountain, he stops at the Pecan Nabalu village market and after talking to a local man, tells me he thinks he’s located one.

We head off in the direction of Poring Hot Springs, sulphur baths installed by the Japanese during their occupation, now much used by weary mountaineers. At Ranau we pass the monument commemorating the 2400 Allied prisoners marched by the Japanese from Sandarkan -  six survived.

Enjoying bananas

Shortly afterwards we see a home made sign on the roadside, “Rafflesia in Bloom 3km” and turn off into the jungle.

“At first if people found these plants growing on their land, they would destroy them, thinking the government would take them, but now they make a little business of it,” Philip tells me as we meet the owner and pay her 10 ringgits ( about £2.00). She then escorts along a wooden walkway to the back of her house … and there they are! Not one but several huge, almost surreal blooms, the size of dustbin lids, growing at ground level. They are indeed  Rafflesia arnoldii  which are parasitic to a wild grape vine and take nine months to mature and then last only one week. I can’t believe my luck and can’t stop smiling as we head back down to Kota Kimbalu for a cool swim and a relaxing evening as I have to leave my comfortable bed at 4.30am for my next adventure.

This time I am heading  east, taking a short flight to Sandakan. I know of this town not only from the march of the prisoners but also from the books of Agnes Keith, an American who in the 1930s, married the Conservator of Forests for British North Borneo and wrote interestingly of colonial life in the area. Her house is now open as a museum and nearby there is even an English tea room where you can eat crumpets and play croquet.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo: land of exotic beauty

Entertainment industry can support Sabah tourism

KOTA KINABALU: As Sabah expects its tourism sector to grow, there is a need for more entertainment for visitors.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the state capital needs more variety of entertainment to cater to its tourism industry.

Speaking during a press conference here yesterday, to announce the winner of the Open Mic Competition held on Nov 16-17, he hoped comedy could become part of the city’s entertainment and tourist attraction.

“With the establishment of stand-up comedy entertainment in Sabah, the tourists will have more choice in terms of entertainment, in fact most of them are from English-speaking countries so there’s no problem for them to enjoy the comedy,” he said before presenting the prizes to the winners at his office.

Masidi added that his ministry is supportive of the Comedy Club in harnessing the local talents to become comedians because, according to him, it is a lucrative industry, on par with music industry where a performer can earn up to RM30,000 per hour of show.

“We Sabahans tell jokes daily. Perhaps it’s time we earned money out of it. I know being a comedian is not easy as you need to be a fast thinker but I believe there are many who are naturally talented. A comedy show benefits both the performer and the audience.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Bagandang - a Festival in Beaufort to preserve a cultural heritage

The annual Bagandang Festival in Beaufort celebrates some of Sabah's well known traditional musical instruments such as Kulintangan and mini brass gongs played during weddings. This year, the Festival was held between 22nd and 25th  November.

The four-day festival with the theme ‘United in Upholding Culture’ was launched by the Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Panglima Musa Aman Hj. Aman on the 24th of November.

Commenting on the festival the Minister of Community Development and Consumer Affairs, Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun, said that the Bagandang Festival was intended to unite people of different races in Sabah, to promote arts and cultures and to instill better appreciation of local cultures among Sabah's youths.

“The civilization of a nation is embodied in its cultural heritage, which should be maintained to preserve the nation's own identity. We need to have our own identity for the world to recognize us. Therefore, I see this festival as stamping the brand and identity of Beaufort,” Azizah said.

This year, some 5000 visitors came to witness the festival. They came not only from Beaufort district itself, but also from Sarawak, Peninsula Malaysia and Brunei.

The Chief Minister said an important aim of this festival is to showcase local musical instruments and some of the cultures of Sabah, especially those of Beaufort origin. “We have more than 30 races in Sabah, and in Beaufort.

We are all a combination of various cultures and religions and this festival is an occasion  to bring Sabahans together to strengthen relationships and to ponder the message of unity,” Musa added.


New protected areas boost for orangutans in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: The percentage of orangutans living within totally protected areas (TPA) has increased from 38 per cent to 60 per cent due to the additions of TPAs.

This follows seven years after the results of Sabah’s first state wide orangutan census was published.

“The State Government has shown its commitment to conservation by increasing the amount of protected forest in Sabah with indications they will continue to do so.

“This will benefit not only wildlife but also in the long term the people in Sabah as a whole,” said Dr. Marc Ancrenaz of Co-Director of HUTAN – Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme (HUTAN-KOCP), a grassroots Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Sabah.

The Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) recently increased the percentage of forest under Class I Protection Forest Reserve hence added to TPAs where the orangutans and other Sabah unique species such as the Borneo pygmy elephant, Sunda clouded leopard, Sunbear, hornbills and other unique Borneo species occur.

“The recent areas re-gazetted as Class I are lowland forest which are favoured for agriculture development but the State Government has shown that they value the environmental security in the long term by making them TPAs instead of going for short term profits now,” shared Ancrenaz, a wildlife veterinarian who has been working on wildlife issues in Sabah since 1998, in a statement yesterday.

However, the biggest issue for orangutan conservation in Sabah remains the same; isolation and fragmentation of TPAs according to primotologist Dr. Isabelle Lackman and Co-Director of HUTAN – KOCP.

“While the Kinabatangan has been protected by the Sabah Wildlife Department since gazettement in 2005, the Sanctuary is broken up with some TPAs being totally isolated and this is not healthy for the long term survival of orang-utan in the area,” explained Lackman.

Recently, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment and the Director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr. Laurentius Ambu have also called for a moratorium or stoppage on any conversion of forested areas to agriculture for the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain following findings from fieldwork conducted by HUTAN – KOCP with the Sabah Wildlife Department and others working on this issue namely, Danau Girang Field Centre and WWF-Malaysia.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Travel back in time on the Sandakan Heritage Trail in Sabah

Sandakan in Sabah is the second largest city in the state. The beautiful Borneo city of Sandakan is well known as the gateway to Sabah eco-tourism destinations. Sandakan in Sabah is also well known for its rich historical past that you must not miss exploring when you are on a tour of Sandakan. The Sandakan Heritage Trail in Sabah will most certainly awe you with all of its historical sites that testify to Sandakan’s rich historical past.

The Sandakan Heritage Trail in Borneo is located in the old part of downtown Sandakan. The Sandakan Heritage trail in Borneo was launched in 2003. The one and a half hour walk through the Sandakan Heritage trail in Borneo will lead you to encounter some of the most attractive historical sites in Sandakan. You are rest assured that at the end of your journey through the Sandakan Heritage Trail, you will be very impressed by Sandakan’s rich historical heritage.

One of the most attractive historical sites on this heritage trail is the Masjid Jamek in Sandakan that is located at Lebuh Empat, which is the starting point of the heritage trail. This beautiful mosque is amongst the earliest buildings that were built in Sandakan and is the first mosque in this city. An Indian cloth merchant named Damsah constructed the Masjid Jamek in 1890. During World War 2, the Muslim inhabitants of Sandakan would use this mosque as a hiding place from the Japanese soldiers occupying the city. Some European expatriates even joined them here in using this mosque as a sanctuary from the brutal Japanese soldiers.

As you proceed further along this heritage trail, you will come across the William Pryer Monument. This magnificent granite structure was built to honour William Pryer who was the first British Resident of Sandakan. William Pryer was famous for introducing a taxation law in Sandakan that was aimed to curb excessive trading exploitation that happened during the early founding years of Sandakan. This monument serves as a tribute to his service as the British Resident to the city of Sandakan back in the 19th century.

Another attractive historical site you must not miss while on the heritage trail is the Agnes Keith House. This beautiful house with its beautiful green lawn and colonial style walls was home to the famous American author, Agnes Keith. She is famous for her literary works such as Land Below the Wind and The White Man Returns, which was written in this historical house. This house was built in 1946 on the ruins of the British colonial quarters that were destroyed during World War 2. This house was converted into a heritage site that displayed a snapshot of what life was like in British North Borneo during the early days of Sandakan. You can find replicas of beautiful colonial-era antiques and furniture throughout the house that adds to the historical atmosphere of this beautiful dwelling.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Restaurant Review: Gayang Seafood Restaurant, Tuaran, Sabah

Two months ago, I attended a dear friend’s wedding in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. That’s in Borneo Island, in East Malaysia, for those of you not local in Malaysia. *wink* Of course, when in such an exotic place like East Malaysia, everyone wanted to try the seafood in the other side of the country.

Our hotel concierge recommended us to the closest nicer seafood restaurant, which is apparently not too far away from where we were in Shangri-la Rasa Ria, Sabah. We hopped into the hotel van and it chauffered a bunch of us over to Gayang Seafood Restaurant in Tuaran, Sabah.

Ambiance and Menu

Like any other seafood restaurants, Gayang Seafood Restaurant seems to be a local favourite. It was very packed when we got there at dinner time. Our host had also apparently called ahead to make a reservation – for our tables as well as some crabs. Apparently, their seafood is so good that it gets sold out very early in the night.

The restaurant is a simple building with zinc roof where you have the showcase of all live seafood for the picking on one side where the kitchen sits behind it, and the table seating on the other.

There are no food menu. You basically pick the seafood that you want with the staff loitering around the seafood tanks, where they inform you of the weight of the seafood and the price per gram / KG.

Well, there are plenty of seafood for you to select, of course. All different fresh seafood catches of the day, ranging from plenty of shell fishes (crabs, clams, oysters, lobsters, scallops), seafood (fresh or salt water fishes) and more.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Decline of orang utans in Borneo began over 2,000 years ago

KOTA KINABALU The decline of Borneo's orang utan population is not just due to recent deforestation but had begun to occur over 2,000 years.

A scientific paper study published in Plus One journal by a team experts found that the Borneo orang utans begun experiencing a major demographic decline from about 2,000 years ago based on samples collected in six different study sites in Sabah and Kalimantan.

This was the main conclusion by a team of scientists from the Instituto Gulbenkian de Cincia (IGC, Portugal), the Anthropological Institute and Museum of the University of Zrich (Switzerland), the CNRS (France), Cardiff University (UK) and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC, Sabah).

"The recent loss of habitat and its dramatic fragmentation has affected the patterns of genetic variability and differentiation among the remaining populations of orang utans and increased the extinction risk of the most isolated ones," Dr Reeta Sharma from IGC, the lead author of the paper said.

"We used orang utans samples collected in six different study sites in Sabah (Kinabatangan and Danum Valley) and Kalimantan and genetic markers to identify signals of population decline," added Sharma.

"The dating of the population decline varied across sites but was always within the 200-2,000 years period," Dr Benoit Goossens, director of DGFC and a co-author on the paper.

"This suggests that in some sites at least, orang utan populations were affected by demographic events (like climate change and arrival of modern humans) that started much before the recent human impact on environment in Borneo," added Dr Goossens.

"However, these results do not mean that the recent forest exploitation did not leave its genetic mark on orangutans but suggests that the genetic pool of orang utans is also impacted by more ancient events," suggested Goossens.


Try Scuba Diving in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – Because life on land is just SO last season

Are you, like many people, somewhat bored with life on land? Have the trees, birds, buildings, and streets got you down? Are you starting to feel that if one more person makes a comment about the weather, you might just snap, and do something that reporters will later refer to as “misguided” and “regrettable”? Would you like to try scuba diving?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience might be just the thing to cure what ails your tired, beaten down, gravity bogged spirit. This one-day adventure is designed to introduce even the pastiest land-lubber to the joys of scuba diving and the wonders of the aquatic world.

Your experience begins with a boat ride from the lively Jesselton Point Jetty to the serene beauty of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. After filling out some interesting and thought-provoking paperwork, your fully licensed and experienced PADI instructor will familiarize you with your equipment, assist you in putting it on, and guide you to the beach, where you’ll practice a few simple skills while experiencing what it’s like to breathe underwater.

After you’ve demonstrated your mastery of these skills, which will only take a few minutes because you’re such a quick learner and overall just a quality human being, your instructor will guide you on a tour of the beautiful Sapi House Reef, with its plethora of marine life ranging from fish to coral to stingrays (which, technically, is also a fish) to cuttlefish (which, despite its name, is not in fact a fish) to a whole multitude of other aquatic life forms. Like fish!

After your eye-opening (you’ll be wearing a mask, don’t worry) underwater tour, you’ll go for a nice rest and a spot of lunch on one of the marine park’s five tropical islands. Perhaps you’ll spot some long-tailed macaques (monkeys) as you enjoy one of the tasty Malaysian delicacies, or maybe you’d prefer a Malaysian facsimile of western food. They offer a range of dishes, including sea food for some reason, which I feel is in somewhat poor taste. Just be sure to keep an eye on your bags, because those monkeys can be thieving jerks. On a related note, if you spot one wearing a red baseball cap, please get it back for me. It was a gift from my mother.

Lunch will be taken during what divers refer to as a “surface interval” – a very technical term which means “time between dives”. Some divers view their entire lives on land as a series of grudgingly enforced surface intervals. These divers can be easily recognized by their disdain for life on land, their tendency to stare wistfully into any body of water they happen upon, and their habit of answering every question non-verbally – usually with an “OK” signal.

After your surface interval and intake of vital nutrients (and hopefully your recovery of my red cap), you will return to the boat invigorated and refreshed for the afternoon dive at one of the local dive sites. Maybe you’ll pop in and see what’s happening on Agill’s Reef, where you’ll surely be dumbstruck (it’s okay – you can’t speak underwater anyway) at the wonders awaiting you: the bounty of hard and soft coral, the mind-boggling variety of fish, and of course the awesome spectacle of your instructor’s backside as he or she guides you along.


Bornean Elephant: Endangered Species Conservation Gets Some Genomics

Studying the genetic variability of endangered species will be necessary for species conservation and monitoring but endangered species are difficult to observe and sample and typically have very limited genetic diversity.

 A research team has taken advantage of DNA sequencing methodology developed by Floragenex to identify the genetic markers for the Bornean elephant, an endangered species, using blood from very few animals. The results showed that Bornean elephants have very low genetic variability that can impact on their survival to a threatened habitat, but that variable genetic markers can still be identified. The study opens new avenues for the conservation of other endangered species.

The Bornean elephant is a unique subspecies of the Asian elephant, with a quite distinct morphology and behavior. They are generally smaller than other elephants, with straight tusks and a long tail. Currently, there are around 2,000 individuals, located only in the North of Borneo. It remains unknown how this population of elephants evolved to become so different and why its distribution is so restricted.

Despite being one of the highest priority populations for Asian elephant conservation, until now there were limited genetic tools available to study its genetic variability and none that had been specifically designed for this species. The research team used two different DNA sequencing technologies that are fast and increasingly cheaper. This kind of technology has been used for common laboratory species such as mice and fruit-flies, but they are only now starting to be used on endangered and "non-model" species.

Until now, in order to determine whether the species still harboured sufficient genetic diversity it was necessary to look through huge regions of the genome, using classical genetics methodologies, or use markers developed for other species, with varying levels of success. This approach can become unsustainable for the endangered species, whose numbers have gone bellow a certain size for long time.

The only study that previously had tried to analyze Bornean elephants, using genetic markers developed for other Asian elephants had found nearly no genetic diversity. The work now developed demonstrates that if the methodology can be applied to the Bornean elephant, it should be possible to find the needles we need, and not get stuck with the hay, i.e., to find variable genetic markers in many other species.

The DNA analysis done resulted from blood samples collected only from seven Bornean elephants from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park (Sabah, Malaysia) and from Chendra, the star elephant of Oregon zoo (Portland, USA). But, the research team is confident that these DNA sequencing methods can be used to type genetically other biological samples, such as hair or faeces, easier to obtain from wild animals, even though blood or tissue samples are still necessary to identify the markers during the first steps.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Duchess of Cambridge shows off her Borneo 'holiday snaps'

She may be one of the most photographed women in the world, but on her recent trip to Borneo, the Duchess of Cambridge seized her chance to get behind the camera to capture this exotic array of jungle scenes.

The collection offers an insight into the views that caught Kate’s imagination during her Diamond Jubilee tour to South East Asia and the South Pacific with her husband William.

The seven artistic shots comprise four black-and-white images - one featuring an orang-utan - and three aerial colour photos taken as the couple flew over dramatic foreign landscapes.

The images were released just a day after pictures showing the Duke of Cambridge at work were hastily removed from the couple’s website amid fears that they breached security.

Designed to show William’s daily routine as a helicopter search and rescue pilot at RAF Valley in Anglesey, they inadvertently revealed user names and passwords on computer screens.

The images - in which Flight Lieutenant Wales can be seen sitting at a screen or checking his Sea King helicopter - are otherwise rather more mundane than the picturesque scenes in the Duchess’s collection.

Kate’s photographs, taken with her camera, offer her own perspective on the trip.

They document her journey into the jungle in the Malaysian state of Sabah, where she and William visited the Danum Valley research station.

The first black-and-white images, taken as the couple enjoyed a private walk through the rainforest, show sunlight falling on a stunning jungle clearing, while another shows an endangered Borneo orang-utan, partly concealed in the branches of a palm.

In other shots, the Duchess captures Mount Kinabalu - the highest point in Borneo at 13,400ft above sea level - rising above the clouds during the couple’s flight to the Solomon Islands.

Another photo taken from the air shows forested hills, while a third, snapped on a helicopter trip en route to the research station, offers a bird’s eye view of a palm oil plantation.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics Slideshow) at: Duchess of Cambridge shows off her Borneo 'holiday snaps'

Gunung Mulu National Park: Prized Jewel of Sarawak

Gunung Mulu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located in the Sarawak part of Malaysian Borneo.

It is an inland expanse of diverse terrain vegetation with unique cave systems and limestone features, including the spectacular pinnacles, as well as some of the most magnificent landscapes in the land.

Gunung Mulu offers great excitement for the adventure seeking traveller. Here are some of the highlights:

1) Trek on the world’s longest canopy skywalk and be greeted by rich species of insects and birds

2) Take a boat ride on the Melinau river and soak in the beauty  of the virgin rainforests

3) Walk into Lang cave, one of the largest limestone caves in the world

4) Explore Deer Cave, the largest single cave passage in the world

This national park, named after Mount Mulu, the second highest mountain in Sarawak is famous for its limestone karst formations, enormous caves, vast cave networks, rock pinnacles, cliffs and gorges. And all this is surrounded by pristine equatorial rainforests that plays host to rich fauna and flora.

Some of the animals found here are: Gibbons, Orangutans, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sun Bear, small barking deer and mouse deer. A lot of plant species , flowering plants, trees and fungi call this their home.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Gunung Mulu National Park: Prized Jewel of Sarawak

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sarawak Tourism targeting 4 mln visitors by year end

KUCHING: The Tourism Ministry is optimistic about reaching a grand total of 4 million visitor arrivals by end of the year.

Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said as of the third quarter, arrivals totalled nearly 3 million.

“We are waiting for December for the figures for the last quarter of the year. We may hit 4 million based on current figures. The last quarter is also school holidays, which is peak season.”

He was speaking at the launch of the Tourism Event Calendar 2013 yesterday. It contains 101 events comprising cultural events, destinations or city events, festive events, sports events and conferences. This includes international level events such as Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF).

Presently it only covers the first half of the year, so organisers can still submit their event to the Tourism Ministry for inclusion in the July-December calendar of events.

Abang Johari pointed out that an international event to look out for next year is the Asean Film Festival and Film Awards.

“We have other events we want to upgrade including the Kite Festival in Bintulu, the Sarawak Regatta and Borneo Jazz in Miri,” he said, adding the ministry was also proposing to make Sibu home to the International Folk Dance Festival.

“Next year will be very eventful as we are celebrating Sarawak’s 50 years of independence. This is the right time to position ourselves to attract more tourists to our state.”

He advised operators to be creative in coming up with packages to attract visitors to the state.

“Besides individual tourists, we have groups which will only come if the package is attractive.”

Abang Johari, who is Satok assemblyman later presented certificates of participation in the Sarawak Incentives for Tourist Guide Enhancement (SITE) course to Sarawak Tourist Guides Association (SkTGA) chairman Abang Azahari Abang Zaidan.


Endangered Bay Cat recorded to be seen in Upper Baram

KUCHING: The Bornean Bay Cat Pardofelis badia, one of the rarest and most elusive cats in the world, has been recorded to be seen in the Sela’an Linau Forest Management Unit (FMU), a logging concession in Upper Baram.

A press release from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) stated that in the state, the Bay Cat had only previously been recorded to be seen in the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary, Pulong Tau National Park, and last year in the Anap Muput Forest Management Unit.

The Bay Cat is classified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Species and is totally protected in the state under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998.

The Sela’an Linau FMU covers an area of approximately 56,000 ha and lies in the interior of northern Sarawak, north of the upper Baram River.

Due to its close proximity to Pulong Tau National Park and its location within the central spine of the greater “Heart of Borneo (HoB)” initiative, the FMU is important for many of Borneo’s highland species as it provides suitable habitats for dispersal, thereby ensuring genetic exchange between subdivided populations.

Photo images of the Bay Cat were obtained by researchers from the Hose’s Civet and Small Carnivore Project, Borneo (Hoscap Borneo), a research-based conservation project under the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation (IBEC), Unimas.

Images of the species were obtained from two locations in the Murud Kecil mountain range in September and October this year.

This mountain range is set aside as ‘Protected Zone’ by the logging concessionaire, Samling, for conservation purposes; however, it is not gazetted under the state government and thus has no legal protection.

The director of IBEC, Professor Dr Andrew Alek Tuen, said “the records of the Bay Cat highlight the Sela’an Linau FMU, particularly the Murud Kecil mountain range, as an important area for wildlife.”

The FMU is one of the few places in Borneo which has 4 of the 5 wild cat species known in Borneo.

It also has the highest number of encounters of the rare Bornean endemic, the Hose’s Civet Diplogale hosei, one of the world’s least known carnivores.

The Hoscap Borneo team has also recorded footages of six different species of hornbills there and at least three species listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List: the Bay Cat, Bornean Gibbon (both endemic to Borneo) and the Pangolin.

Other rare Bornean endemics recorded to be seen in the area include the Tufted Ground Squirrel and the Bulwer’s Pheasant. The Hoscap Borneo team has released a video clip on YouTube of such footage from the wild, including rare footage of the Hose’s Civet.


Sarawak Tourism Ministry in talks with MAS on increasing Sibu flights

THE Ministry of Tourism is in discussions with Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and other airlines on the possibility of increasing the number of flights to Sibu.

Assistant Minister of Tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip stated that this is part of efforts to promote Sibu and other areas in the central region as Sarawak tourism destinations.

“However, it should be taken into account that the airline companies are business entities and the final decision on whether an airline should fly into Sibu or other destinations depends on the load factor,” he said adding that tourism-related infrastructure and services will also be planned and implemented accordingly.

He was responding to a question by Wong Ho Leng (DAP-Bukit Asek) on the ministry’s plans to make full use of the extended Sibu Airport.

“The extension of Sibu Airport was undertaken to cater to passengers flying to the central region in anticipation of the rapid development in Sibu and the SCORE (Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy) area of Tanjung Manis in Mukah,” said Talib.

On the state revenue’s from the tourism industry for Sibu from 2005 until now, he stated it had increased from RM37.6 million in 2005 to RM283 million in 2011.


Talk on acquisition of MASwings majority stake by Sabah and Sarawak positive

KUCHING: Talk is still progressing positively between the state government, Sabah and Malaysia Airlines (MAS) on the acquisition of majority stake in MASwings.

Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg who was asked on the progress of the talk yesterday added that it was now up to MAS as the airline company was undergoing a turnaround plan which included its subsidiary MASwings.

“There is a possibility that MASwings becomes an autonomous subsidiary company of MAS and we are also discussing whether MASwings should be able to fly beyond the present routes as a rural air service provider,” he told reporters at the State Legislative Assembly here yesterday.

Abang Johari, who is also Housing Minister, said after the discussion, all the parties involved agreed that MASwings should maintain its original structure but both Sarawak and Sabah should have a say in decisions on the routes.

“Once we have a say, when MASwings wants to withdraw from any route, they will have to consult us so everything will be done based on consultative approach,” he added.

Abang Johari noted that currently MASwings was still considered a rural air service provider but both state governments wanted the airline to extend its services even to places in East Asia such as Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.

He stated that MASwings is replacing its twin otter aircraft with a new generation of aircraft that were more efficient and with bigger passenger capacity.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Danum Valley Field Center, Borneo

The Danum Valley Field Center is basically a research facility that provides accomodation, permanent research plots, well-equipped labs,  and necessary equipment and staff for international and Malay scientists. It also accept visitors – although a little grudgingly.

For example – for some unfathomable reason – they impose a two-week limit on tourist visits.  (What are they afraid of, what would happen to a tourist after two weeks there? Fall irrevocably in love with the forest?) Although, I have to admit, most of the visitors stay only for 2 or 3 nights – which is definiately not enough time to explore the area.

Visitors can choose from a few different types of accomodation – the guest house provides a comfortable room with two beds, overhead fans and shower. There is electricity running for most of the day, and the walkway to the dining area is covered with a roof so you don’t have to get soaking wet if dinnertime coincides with a heavy rainstorm. (Those staying in the hostel are a little bit less fortunate – they have almost a ten-minute walk to cover each time they are hungry.)

The dining area provides one of the biggest attraction – you have the chance to chat with the scientists who do research here and get an insight into their work. (Seems like an awfully lot of investigation is going on concerning dung-beetles). It is the best place to have serious discussions about serious subjects: – Should environmental protection be based on the intrinsic value of nature or on the “economic services” it provides? Can we – should we – put a price tag on nature? Can we – as individuals or let’s say consumers – have any influence on major political decisions that have serious environmental consequences? etc. Or to be entertained with some horror stories that sound like urban legends – like the scientist who carelessly wiped his forehead and managed to get a tiger leech on his eyeball. (on his EYEBALL!! ahhh!)

Mealtimes also provide a nice opportunity to strike up a conversation with other guests. The visitors fall into some quite distinct categories: first, there are the “bird people”, crazy fanatics, who can come back from a long hike all disappointed (even after they run into a rare rhino), just because they did not see the blue marbled chested trumpleteers (the name is used fictitiously, any resemblance to actual birdnames is coincidental) which was the last one on their list. Yes, they arrive with a list, and they methodically work they way down this list and they seem to be blind to any other animals that do not have a beak, two wings and feathers.

Then there are those tourists who only come for a night or two to get a fleeting impression of the forest and a glimps of the orangutans. They usually disappear early in the morning on one of the trails (after the first hike they usually visit the little store in the reception building to purchase a leech-sock) and finish the day with a night-ride, just to cram as many animals as they can into a 2-day visit.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Danum Valley Field Center, Borneo

Gambus fest in Papar next month

Kota Kinabalu: The Sabah Brunei Community Association (PMBS) together with the Sabah Tourism Promotion Corporation (STPC) will organise the 13th Gambus Festival for two days beginning Dec 22.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman is expected to open the festival which would be held at the Pekan Papar Community Hall using a new format which was opened to all gambus and Gulintangan art groups from around the state.

"The purpose of the new format is to encourage more participation, increase quality of presentation, be innovative, creative and raise the standard of the art, especially among the young generation," said the statement.

The festival would be the highlight of gambus and gulingtangan event presentation at the state level, featuring eight best groups for each category, after going through an initial selection process and semi-finals.

Three highest awards with special gifts offered are The Best Overall Presentation Award, Best Creativity Presentation Award and Best Popular Presentation Award of Special Winner of talented "Pemanting Gambus".

Continue reading at: Gambus fest in Papar next month

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kalimantan: Finding Durian in Borneo's Wild Wild West

Very few people visit Kalimantan, the forgotten Indonesian side of Borneo which actually comprises nearly two-thirds of the island. Huge and sparsely populated, with the largest tracks of virgin rainforest left on the island, Kalimantan is still relatively unexplored, which means there's very little information about where to go and what to see (the best reference is Lazlo's Kalimantan Guide). For those of us trying to figure out where to go for durian, it's a blank map. We spent hours and hours on the internet plugging in every search term we could think of and coming up empty.

Fortunately, eleven months down the durian trail we've had the time to do our homework and make some contacts. With so much territory to cover via Indonesian transportation (read: really slow and smoky), we’ve decided to focus our time and energy in one smallish area, the province of West Kalimantan on the border of Malaysia.  So we've launched ourselves into inland Borneo, taking a plane from Kuching to Pontianak, and then an 18 hour bus ride up to Putussibau, a frontier town on the upper Kapuas River where orangutans still roam the forest, the native people retain their traditional way of life, and there is only one internet cafĂ© with a dodgy connection (from which I am writing this post).

Originally I didn’t even want to spend the night in Pontianak, not only because I’d heard the city had little to offer besides the usual Indonesian chaos, but because of it’s connection with one of the truly scariest of mythological creatures. In Malaysian folklore, a Pontianak is a cross between a female vampire and the vengeful ghost of a woman who died in childbirth. Marked by her wickedly long nails, a Pontianak eats babies and kills pregnant women by sucking their blood. I’m not that superstitious, but Rob and I agreed that the danger of infanticidic ghosts was only one more reason not to stay even one night.

But as usual, we don't seem to be in charge of our own plans. Luckily for us, our attempts at securing a flight directly to Balikpapan from Pontianak via Lion Air failed, and we arrived in Pontianak with no ongoing tickets and a phone number for a durian expert in the area. From the airport I called Hendro, who immediately agreed to meet with us that morning. Hendro owns a fruit tree nursery outside of Pontianak and had aided in the durian adventures of the famed durian explorer Mr. Pak Karim. Although his knowledge of other provinces was sketchy, he gave me the phone number of another durian freak in Balikpapan, who was able to tell me that it wouldn't be durian season there until February. So we happily crossed Central Kalimantan off our itinerary and focused on exploring West Kalimantan.

Hendro and Iqbal were eager to aid us in going upriver to find durians, but with a price tag so steep we had to decline. Unlike Mr. Pak Karim, we are not oil palm tycoons! Even after we declined their offer, they gave us loads of durian information and kindly dropped us off at the Central Hotel, a nice hotel with wi-fi right next to where the durian vendors gather in the evenings on Jalan Teuko Umar and across the street from the bustling morning market called Pasar Mawar.

We spent the next day exploring the maze-like market and buying durian from the rows of motorcycle vendors who show up around 5 P.M., just as it's getting dark. Then to top off our Pontianak experience, in the morning we ran into a large parade of children, marching bands, paper mache-ed bicycles and truckloads of people dressed in their Muslim finest. I couldn't help but feeling like we'd been transported to Saudi Arabia, but every one was really friendly and excited to see us. We took pictures with teenagers dressed in long hooded robes, kids in turbans, and young girls dressed in pink and purple scarves looking for all the world like proper Scheherazades.


Sabah lauded as a beacon of hope for orang utan

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is becoming a beacon of hope in orang utan conservation in Borneo following the state government’s move to expand the areas designated as the primates’ key habitat.

Wildlife non-governmental organisation research group Hutan co-director Dr Marc Anrenaz said Sabah’s decision to gazette 128,000ha from the lowland Ulu Segama forest reserve in Lahad Datu as a protected area meant that about 60% of the state’s orang utan were now living in conservation zones.

“This is a huge improvement compared to the last decade when only 30% of the orang utan in Sabah were living in protected forests,” he said.

Dr Ancrenaz said this when revealing the findings of a research on orang utan in Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan which he was involved in and which was recently published in the scientific journal PLoS One.

He said the research found that since orang utan were often found in timber concession areas, good management of such areas was important in ensuring the continued survival of the primates.

The fact that Sabah’s Forestry Department now requires all timber concession areas to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) by the end of 2014 was good news for the conservation effort, added Dr Ancrenaz.

Continue reading at: Sabah lauded as a beacon of hope for orang utan

Most of Bornean orang-utans live outside protected areas

KOTA KINABALU: A recent study published in the scientific journal PLoS One by researchers working in Malaysia and Indonesia shows that about 80 percent of the Bornean orang-utans live outside protected areas.

Using data collected over 21 years by 24 different teams from Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan the paper provides an overview of the orang-utan situation for Borneo as a whole.

“This analysis shows that the vast majority of orang-utan populations are found outside of the network of protected forests in Borneo,” said Dr  Serge Wich, the lead author of this article entitled “Understanding the Impacts of Land-Use Policies on a Threatened Species: Is There a Future for the Bornean Orang-utan?”

“Protected forests remain essential for conserving orang-utan in Borneo but most of these protected forests are found in highlands and in mountains and not in the lowland forests that are the favorite habitat of the orang-utans. The lowlands are also the prime areas selected for timber extraction and later further developed for agriculture such as oil palm,” stated Wich.

“In Sabah, the recent gazettement under Class I Virgin Jungle Forest Reserves of the lowland forests of Segama by the Sabah Forestry Department means that more than 60 percent of the orang-utan population is now protected in Sabah. This is a huge improvement for orang-utan conservation in the State compared to the early 2000′s when only 30% of the orang-utans in Sabah were living in protected forests,” said Dr Marc Ancrenaz, Co-Director of HUTAN and one of the leading authors of the paper.

With the biggest percentage of orang-utans being found in timber concession areas, the researchers emphasise the importance of good management in such concessions.

“These results also show that good logging practices in commercial forests exploited for timber is key for orang-utan survival. The fact that in Sabah, the Forestry Department has declared that all timber concession areas should be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) by the end of 2014 is good news for orang-utans, added Ancrenaz.

Since November 2011, Sabah has five of Malaysia’s six timber concession areas under FSC certification, which includes reduced-impact logging and enforces a zero killing policy. According to Ancrenaz, FSC certified forest provides economic benefit to land owners while ensuring the survival of wildlife such as the orang-utan.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Borneo Family Vacation: Wild Animals, Mild Adventure

We flew to Kuching, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, for a chance to see endangered animals in the wild and explore native tribal culture. It was like stepping into the pages of National Geographic.  Here are five activities we highly recommend for this unique and fun family destination.

Visit Orangutans

Try to visit the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, 30 minutes from Kuching. at feeding time (9:00 -10:00 AM and 3:0-3:300 PM). The center teaches rescued orangutans to survive independently, but while they’re learning, fruit is left out twice a day to supplement what they forage in the jungle.

We walked along a paved road for 15 to 20 minutes to get to the first feeding platform. We were advised to keep our distance, be quiet and hide food and drinks. We were rewarded for our effort as orangutans gradually emerged from the rainforest for snack time. Our three children, ages 7 to 12, were enthralled watching Ritchie, the big alpha male, break open coconuts by smashing them against a tree trunk. Meanwhile, Hot Mama protectively kept her baby with her at all times.

Tip: No tripods, strollers or wheel chairs are allowed in the feeding area. There was a good size crowd of people, but everyone could easily see.

Take a River Cruise

The cruise along the Santubong River at sunset was definitely the highlight of our Borneo trip for my children. My son simply loved being on the boat. But better still, we got to see snubnose Irrawaddy Dolphins, endangered Proboscis Monkeys and crocodiles in their natural habitat (fireflies, too!). We stretched our legs strolling around a Malay fishing village and getting a glimpse of life along the river.

We booked our 3-hour cruise, which left from a dock about 40 minutest outside of Kuching, through CPH Travel. The trip was expensive by local standards (a little more than $50 for adults and $25 for kids), but with modern motorboats and life vests for everyone, including preschoolers, they are worth the price.

Hang out with Headhunters

The Sarawak Cultural Village is nestled between resort hotels and created for tourists, but it was worthwhile and fun nevertheless. We learned quite a bit about Borneo’s several native tribes by walking around a mix of traditional longhouses and huts and observing traditional chores, foods, handicrafts and rituals. The kids enjoyed hands-on activities shooting blowguns and milling rice. One house even featured headhunting skulls and explained that custom.

Do not miss the Cultural Show (performed twice daily in an air-conditioned auditorium). We were all fascinated by the music, dances and feats of skill.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo Family Vacation: Wild Animals, Mild Adventure

Weekend Breakaway in Labuan Island

Labuan Bird Park

This tranquil bird park is beautifully landscaped garden and walking paths. It has 3 big dome-shaped cages surrounded by wonderful timber and flowering crops. A slow, relaxing walk inside the bird park is advised if you wish to escape with a much more peaceful practical experience the place you may absorb the attractiveness from the flora and marvel at a big range of tropical birds from around the region, under a single ceiling.

Labuan Bird Park is dwelling to several species of Borneo birds only most likely being encountered deep inside forests of Borneo. You will find plans to collect a good percentage with the 580 species of birds present in Borneos diverse habitats. Unlike bird watching inside the wild, right here in the bird park, dynamics lovers can check out birds without the arduous treks inside jungle or towing heavy gear.

Peace Park

Peace Park at Layang-Layangan is situated close to Surrender Position, the place exactly where the 32nd Japanese Southern Army surrendered on the 9th Australian Imperial Forces on 9 September 1945. The Japanese arrived at Labuan on January 1, 1942, much less than a 30 days soon after they received began their campaign in Malaya at Kota Bharu. They took formal possession from the island on the third, having confronted no resistance.

The Peace Park was developed as being a memorial and also as being a renunciation in the horrors of warfare. It's dominated because of the memorial mound which can be surrounded by landscaped gardens and pavilions. Smaller ponds with stone bridges and park seats are all Japanese-inspired. A bronze plaque commemorating the surrender is mounted with a stone slab close to the entrance.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Weekend Breakaway in Labuan Island