Archive for October, 2008

By SEAN YOONG, Associated Press [Picture source: LEAP]

KUALA LUMPUR — Conservationists said Tuesday they were planning a big push to protect Borneo’s orangutans, pygmy elephants and other endangered wildlife by purchasing land from palm oil producers to create a forest sanctuary.

The deal is meant to help stave off the demise of orangutans, whose numbers have dwindled amid illegal logging and the rapid spread of palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, the only two countries where orangutans are found in the wild.

The Malaysian-based LEAP Conservancy group is in talks to buy 222 acres of tropical jungle land in Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo island from palm oil operators, said Cynthia Ong, LEAP’s executive director.

The territory is needed to link two sections of a wildlife reserve that is home to an estimated 600 orangutans, 150 Borneo pygmy elephants and a vast array of other animals including proboscis monkeys, hornbills and river otters.

The funds are being raised through public and private donations, Ong said. The British-based World Land Trust, which is working with LEAP on the initiative, said on its Web site that 343,000 pounds ($533,000) was needed to acquire the land.

This was the first time that nongovernment activists were trying to acquire land in Malaysian Borneo for environmental protection with the help of government officials, Ong said.

It was not immediately clear when the purchase might be finalized, but Ong said the land has not been cleared for plantations so far because of a lack of access roads.

“There is a desperate need for this purchase,” Ong told The Associated Press. “We have no other avenue to avoid a potential conflict between humans and wildlife.”

Environmental groups estimate the number of orangutans in Malaysia and Indonesia has fallen by half in the past 20 years to less than 60,000, largely due to human encroachment on forests. Researchers say more than 5,000 of the primates have been lost every year since 2004.

Borneo is also home to some 1,000 pygmy elephants, which are genetically distinct from other subspecies of Asian pachyderms because they have babyish faces, large ears and longer tails. They are also more rotund and less aggressive.

Borneo’s Bario Highlands At A Crossroad

Written by Jaxon S on Friday, October 24th, 2008 in Borneo Development Issues, Borneo Environment.

At a crossroad. This may no longer hold true to the Bario highlands in Sarawak as the road had already been built connecting the hilly district with Miri in northern Sarawak.

Development vs nature

Good for development, you say. I would say that too except that the road was not built by the government but by a logging company, according to a grassroots environmental group Borneo Resources Institute.

Institute coordinator for Sarawak, Raymond Abin, said this road might result in more highland forests being logged and this would spell the end of the pristine nature of Bario.

“From what I know, the road was constructed by a timber company, not by the Government. Does this mean that the timber firm has been given the right to harvest the timber in the forests where the logging road runs through?”

A front for timber extraction

He said the institute was worried that the construction of the logging road was merely “a front for the opening of the whole Bario highlands for timber extraction.”

Ba’Kelalan state assemblyman Nelson Balang Rining has confirmed that the logging road had been constructed right into the heart of the 5,000 feet high Bario mountain range, according to The Star.

Important link

“The construction of this logging road is a very important move to link the people of the highlands with the outside world. This logging road will enable the interior folks to travel all the way from Bario to Miri by land, something that was impossible before.

“This logging road is crucial because it will open up accessibility to settlements that were once only linked by flights. It will facilitate easier transport of fuel and food into the remote highland settlements,” he said, adding that the journey from Miri to Bario via the logging road will take at least 13 hours.

The road from Miri will cut through Marudi, Long Banga, Padilih and up the slope of the Bario highlands to the Bario Airport.

The Bario highlands is similar in geographical settings to the Genting highlands. Populated by the Lun Bawangs and Kelabits minority ethnic groups, Bario is well-known for its fragrant rice and tourism spots. Balang on Wednesday said the logging road belonged to Samling Corporation, not the state or federal Government.

“The road will remain under the jurisdiction of Samling. However, it is the people’s wish to see the road eventually upgraded into a Government-road. I hope the Government can adopt the road and tar-seal it in the near future,” he said.

“Return To Sandakan” Documentary On History Channel, Nov 2

Written by Jaxon S on Friday, October 24th, 2008 in Borneo History.

Those who have missed the previous premier and reruns of a documentary featuring the infamous Sandakan Death March, keep yourself free at 8pm on Nov 2 and tune in to History Channel over Astro’s 555 channel.

A Quick Note: Borneo Blog Revamp

Written by Jaxon S on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008 in Borneo Blog.

Borneo Blog is celebrating its first anniversary next month. I guess, it’s time for a revamp and to add in one important feature that has been missing on this blog all the while — a blogroll.

I think I’m going to divide the blogroll into four categories, namely Sabah bloggers, Sarawak bloggers, Brunei bloggers and Kalimantan bloggers to make it a true Borneo blogroll.

World’s Longest Insect Is Borneo Stick Insect

Written by Jaxon S on Saturday, October 18th, 2008 in Borneo Flora and Fauna.

How long, do you think, is the world’s longest insect? Fifty-six centimetres. What kind of insect that could grow that long? It’s the Borneo stick insect, so named as it resembles a stick.

Villagers in Ulu Moyog, in Penampang district in the Malaysian Bornean state of Sabah, found the insect in 1989 and handed it over to naturalist Chan Chew Lun (The Star picture, below).

The Star reported that the insect has been officially named Phobaticus chani, or Chan’s megastick, after the naturalist.

In this month’s issue of the scientific journal Zootaxa by British scientist Philip Bragg, London’s Natural History Museum scientific associate Paul Brock was quoted as saying that the stick insect was the longest still in existence and this assessment was confirmed by Marco Gottardo, an entomologist at Italy’s Natural History Museum of Ferrara; and Aaron T. Dossey, a resear­cher at the University of Florida in Gainesville who studies the insects.

Chan said he was honoured to have the stick insect named after him.

“This is something so special. After all, how many people would have the world’s largest insect named after them?” said Chan, who runs the Kota Kinabalu-based Natural History Pub­lications.

He would go out to meet villagers and ask them to obtain specimens of the insect for him.

“One day in 1989, I met a farmer who handed over this huge stick insect he found somewhere at Ulu Moyog in Penampang district and I realised that it could be a totally new species,” he said in the report.

Seven Natural Wonders Of Borneo

Written by Jaxon S on Sunday, October 12th, 2008 in Borneo Environment, Borneo Flora and Fauna, Borneo Travel.

I must admit that I’m a bit bias when I come up with this list of Seven Natural Wonders of Borneo.

Firstly, I’m a Sabahan and I haven’t travel extensively to Sarawak, so naturally I know more about Sabah’s natural attractions than Sarawak’s.

Secondly, I’m a Malaysian, so I know more about the natural wonders of the two Malaysian Borneo states — Sabah and Sarawak — than Kalimantan’s, the Indonesian side of Borneo. Also, I don’t have many information on the natural wonders in Brunei, the tiny Sultanate sandwiched between Sabah and Sarawak.

Starting the wonder ball rolling

With this entry, however, I hope to start the “wonders” ball rolling, encourage discussion and hopefully sometimes in the future, there will be organisations that will come up with a definitive list of the Seven Natural Wonders of Borneo.

You can also suggest several other natural wonders of Borneo and if there are too many of them, maybe we can have a poll to choose the seven wonders.

Without further ado, here they are, the Seven Natural Wonders of Borneo, in no particular order:

1. Kinabalu Park (Sabah)

Sabah’s Kinabalu Park, with the omnipresent 4,095.2-metre Mount Kinabalu as its central piece, is a natural choice and I can’t imagine anyone would want to dismiss the park from the list.

Mount Kinabalu panorama. Picture by Arthur Lee.

The park was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco 2000 for its “wide range of habitats, ranging from rich tropical lowland and hill rainforest to tropical mountain forest, sub-alpine forest and scrub on the higher elevations.”

Kinabalu Park, established in 1964, is one of Malaysia’s first national parks. It covers an area of 754 square kilometers (approximately 117 sq km larger than Singapore) and has been designated as a Centre of Plant Diversity for Southeast Asia.

Unesco says the park “is exceptionally rich in species with examples of flora from the Himalayas, China, Australia, Malaysia, as well as pan-tropical flora.”

Among the criteria for its incription into the World Heritage Site:

a. The altitudinal and climatic gradient from tropical forest to alpine conditions combine with precipitous topography, diverse geology and frequent climate oscillations to provide conditions ideal for the development of new species.

b. The Park contains high biodiversity with representatives from more than half the families of all flowering plants. The majority of Borneo’s mammals, birds, amphibians and invertebrates (many threatened and vulnerable) occur in the Park. [Source]

2. Gunung Mulu National Park (Sarawak)

If you can appreciate the grandeur of Mount Kinabalu from afar, the true wonders of Gunung Mulu National Park, with the Mulu Caves as its central piece, can only be appreciated up close and “up inside”, for want of a better phrase.

Announcing the Gunung Mulu National Park into the World Heritage Site in 2000, Unesco said:

“Important both for its high biodiversity and for its karst features, Gunung Mulu National Park, on the island of Borneo in the State of Sarawak, is the most studied tropical karst area in the world”.

[Api Chamber, Mulu. Source]

The 52,864-ha park contains 17 vegetation zones, exhibiting some 3,500 species of vascular plants. Its palm species are exceptionally rich, with 109 species in 20 genera noted.

The park is dominated by Gunung Mulu, a 2,377m-high pinnacle karst, which is said to be the most cavernous mountain in the world.

At least 295km of explored caves provide a spectacular sight and are home to millions of cave swiftlets and bats. The Sarawak Chamber, 600m by 415m and 80m high, is the largest known cave chamber in the world.

The park is famous for its caves and the expeditions that have been mounted to explore them and their surrounding rainforest, most notably the Royal Geographic Expedition of 1977 - 1978, which saw over 100 scientists in the field for 15 months [Source].

3. Sipadan Island (Sabah)

If the Mulu Caves’ grandeur can be appreciated “up inside”, Sipadan’s beauty can only be appreciated by going down below.

Sipadan Island should be inscribed into the World Heritage Site. Period. I’m not a diver but reading what divers from around the world have to say or write about Sipadan, convinced me that the resort island really is one of Planet Earth’s best diving spots.

So, if it is one of the very best few, shouldn’t it be recognised as a world heritage?

PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, certainly thinks so. And it is delighting to know that the government is aware of it and looks set to make a bid for the inscription.

According to Wikipedia, Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, rising 2,000 feet or 600m from the seabed. Oceanic islands are ones that do not sit on continental shelves. They are volcanic in origin.

Located in the Celebes Sea off Semporna in the east coast of Sabah, Sipadan was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop.

Sipadan is located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, the centre of one of the richest marine habitats in the world. More than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this ecosystem.

4. Danum Valley (Sabah)

Danum Valley, a 43,800 hectares of virgin forest is one of the world’s most complex ecosystems, is the largest protected lowland dipterocarp forest in Sabah.

With towering tropical trees, Danum Valley is where you can see nature in its original, pristine state, undisturb since time immemorial.

It is home to Sumatran rhino, Asian elephant, Orang utan, Western tarsier, Flying lemur, Leopard cat, Yellow barking deer, Mouse deer, Sambar deer, Bearded pig, Malay civet, Long-tailed macaque, Slow loris, Clouded leopard, Giant flying squirrel, Malayan sun bear, Smooth otter, Proboscis monkey [Source].

Apart from its flora and fauna heritage, Danum Valley is also home to ancient burial of the Orang Sungai where the dead are left inside caves in their timber coffins.

Among attractions in the area are night safari on open jeep, seven-tier pools in Sungai Purut, which can only be reach by trekking through the jungle for about four hours.

The area is managed by the Sabah Foundation for conservation, research, education and physical training purposes.

5. Maliau Basin (Sabah)

Maliau Basin (satellite image, left), is considered the Lost World of Sabah as its existence is only recorded relatively recently.

Legend has it that in 1947, a pilot flew from the west coast of Sabah to Tawau had a shock of his life when he almost crashed into a wall of steep cliffs emerging from the misty jungle.

As it turned out later, the wall was that of the Maliau Basin exterior perimeter which resembles and overturned basin, hence the name Maliau Basin.

The 588.4 sq km (58,840 hectares) Maliau Basin Conservation Area encompasses the whole of Maliau Basin itself (390 sq km), plus an additional 198.4 sq km of forested land to the east and north of the rim, including the fabled Lake Linumunsut, formed by a landslide blocking a small tributary of the Pinangah River.

The saucer-shaped Maliau Basin is distinguished by its almost circular perimeter, sharply delimited on all sides by cliffs or very steep slopes, making it insurmountable on foot from most directions.

According to the Sabah Foundation, which managed the conservation area, the highest point of the basin is on the north rim, at over 1,675 m in elevation, but has yet to be accurately surveyed.

It was only 10 years ago that the area was truly discovered when in 1988, a first major scientific expedition was organised by the Sabah Foundation and WWF Malaysia.

6. Niah Caves (Sarawak)

If the Mulu Caves are awe-inspiring for its size and biodiversity heritage, the Niah Caves, also in the Miri district, are an important prehistorical site where human remains dating to 40,000 years have been found [Source].

“This is the oldest recorded human settlement in Malaysia’s Borneo. Painted Cave, situated in a much smaller limestone block of its own, some 150 meters from the Great Cave block’s south eastern tip, has rock paintings dated as 1,200 years old.

The caves are also well known for the birds’ nest (Swiftlet) industry. It is a popular tourist destination in Sarawak”.

The park was first gazetted as a National Historic Monument in 1958, gazetted as National Park on 23 November 1974 and was published to the public on 1 January 1975.

According to the Sarawak Forestry Department:

The park’s main claim to fame is its role as one of the birthplaces of civilisation in the region. The oldest modern human remains discovered in Southeast Asia were found at Niah, making the park one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. [...]

Niah’s important was first realised in 1957. The curator of the Sarawak Museum, Tom harrison, led an archeological dig at the West Mouth of the Great Cave. The exavations revealed plenty of human settlements in the area; tools, cooking utensils and and ornaments, made of bone, stone or clay.

7. Bako National Park (Sarawak)

I had thought long and hard about which natural attractions should make up the seventh natural wonder of Borneo. While the other six are an obvious choice, choosing a seventh is not a straight forward exercise.

I had first listed the Tip of Borneo, also known as Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, but thought that the Bako National Park in Sarawak should triumph over the northern-most promontory of Borneo in Sabah.

While the Tip of Borneo is the central piece in the Marudu Bay, the Bako National Park, on the other hand, has a much richer landscape.

Gazetted as a protected area on 1 May 1957 and was published to public on 4 may 1957. Bako is Sarawak’s oldest national park, covering an area of 2,727 hectares at the tip of the Muara Tebas peninsula.

“It is one of the smallest national park in Sarawak, yet one of the most interesting as it contains almost every type of vegetation found in Borneo. [...]

“With its rainforest abundant wildlife, jungle streams, waterfalls, interesting plant life, secluded beaches and trekking trails, Bako offers visitor an excellent introduction to the rainforest of Borneo. [Source].

There you go, my list of the Seven Natural Wonders of Borneo.

Cheap Flights To Borneo

Written by Jaxon S on Friday, October 10th, 2008 in Borneo Travel.

Asia’s biggest budget carrier, AirAsia, has been given the green light to fly the Singapore - Borneo sector.

The new service will connect the island state with three cities in Borneo — Kota Kinabalu in Sabah; and Kuching and Miri in Sarawak.

Malaysian Transport Minister Ong Tee Keat was reported to have said that officials from his ministry would meet their Singapore counterparts later this month to discuss the matter.

The latest development would undoubtedly open up Borneo’s accessibility to the world.

Visitors can how have the options of reaching Borneo using budget carrier through:

a. Malaysia’s Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) located some 20 minutes away from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport; or

b. Singapore’s Budget Terminal, located next to Changi Airport, one of Asia’s busiest aviation hub.

Extractive Experience? Guys, Sorry For The Error

Written by Jaxon S on Monday, October 6th, 2008 in Borneo Blog.

Anyone heard of the word “extractive”? According to Google definition, extractive is:

1. Something that may be extracted; The substance left behind after something has been extracted; That serves to extract something; Able to be extracted;

2. Parcels that are primarily used for surface mining and extraction of materials such as gravel, stone, minerals, ore, soil, or peat.

If that is the case, what then is the meaning of “extractive experience”?

Nothing. It means nothing.

I didn’t know that I had used the meaningless phrase in this post, until someone emailed me and pointed out the error. I really meant to write “extensive experience” and didn’t know how my fingers ended up keying in the wrong word.

I didn’t even know whether the word existed. Until today, that is.

Whoever you are, thanks for pointing out the error. I’ve spotted several others on this blog but not as fatal as extractive experience.

I do hope, however, that I didn’t cause anyone to lose a job with the Heart of Borneo for having stated that candidates with an extractive experience would stand a better chance at landing the job.

Suhakam Promises To Look Into Penan Women’s Sex Abuse Claim

Written by Jaxon S on Wednesday, October 1st, 2008 in Borneo Native.

When I was small, growing up in the interior of Kota Marudu in the northern part of Sabah, I used to hear stories about timber camp workers and the infamy of their behaviour towards the locals, particularly towards young girls.

Angry young boy

I remember feeling angry, as a small boy, when I heard stories of how timber camp workers were disturbing girls in my area and wished that I was a grown up man so that I could challenge these menacing men in a fistfight.

Standing up to abuse

I also remember how proud I was to see grown up men in my village stood up to their infamy.

At one stage, several men in my village cornered a timber camp worker, whom I suspected to be illegal immigrant, who dared stalking a girl who was on her way back from the market, and scared him shit that he pleaded for mercy for hours and repeatedly promised he would never show his face again in the village.

Tail between the legs

Imagine how satisfied I felt when seeing him — tall, fit, and with bulging muscle — all pale and pleading for his life.

The men, all of whom were my relative, could have finished him off and bury him there and then or throw him into the buffalo muck without anyone knowing. But we were no animal. We let him go and heard no more of him.

This childhood memory came back to haunt me when I saw a report about timber camp workers in Sarawak have been sexually-abusing Penan women and girls.

Sort out the timber mess

Police say they will investigate but they have not yet received any report on the matter.

Now Suhakam, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission will also look into the matter.

According to a report in The Star, Sarawak Human Rights Commissioner Dr Mohd Hirman Ritom had described the allegation as “very serious.”

“We must establish the truth. These allegations are very serious in nature, especially if they involved natives who are isolated and defenceless.

“They are allegations of a criminal nature, not just a violation of human rights. We will have to visit those areas where such alleged crimes took place and speak to the people in those areas,” he said.

The authorities should really get down to this issue and stop the menace once and for all.

Why are the forests still being plundered anyway?

And another thing, why are the forests still being plundered? Can’t the Sarawak government do any better than resorting to damaging the forest?

The same goes to Sabah. Why are the forest still being plundered? Can’t the Sabah government do any better?

Been Busy But Here’s Sabah Vege For Time Being

Written by Jaxon S on Wednesday, October 1st, 2008 in Borneo Flora and Fauna, Borneo Food.

One of the things I fear most in my blogging activities is the possibility of running into a dead end called the writer’s block.

I’m afraid that is what is happening to this blog at the moment.

The post frequency is getting less and less, which is a pity because when I first started this blog just under a year ago, I had intended to blog here on a regular basis.

The truth is I’ve been busy and secondly, I’m currently not living in Borneo and therefore, having little in-situ access to the place I’m blogging about.

Thirdly, my attention to Borneo Blog was diverted by a new blog which I’ve just set up a month ago.

Anyway, I hope this writer’s block will find a way to unblock itself starting this month.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of sayur manis or better known as Sabah vegetable (Sauropus androngynus), which I’ve been trying to grow here in Peninsular Malaysia, with little success so far because of the lack of space that has proper soil.

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