Ohhs and Ahhs in the Jungle of Borneo

WWF Travel Blog caught up with WWF’s Dan Winter who joined a recent trip to Borneo and asked him questions like his favourite animal sighting during the trip, as well as the concerns about the impact of agriculture and logging over conservations.

He cited the orang utan as his favourite animal and that while at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre one afternoon, “we saw a red giant flying squirrel glide between trees. The group oohed and aahed like it was a fireworks display!”

The footage below, taken at Rainforest Discovery Centre, located next to Sepilok, Sandakan, is unrelated to the trip.

Speaking of trip to Borneo, WWF is organising its USA-Borneo “Into the Heart of Borneo” tour on June 24 – July 10, 2011. Join the Borneo trip, here!

Official Report On Rape of Penan Girls, Women, Released

[UPDATE: Translation in progress. The free time I thought I had earlier in the day dissipated towards the afternoon. Should be able to translate part of the report before the week is over]

An official report on the rape of Penan girls and women in the interior of Sarawak has been published. Compiled by the Ministry of Women, Community and Family Development , the report confirms that rape and sexual abuse had indeed taken place.

The report on the rape of Penan girls is now available online, in pdf format, here. It is in the Malay language.

Borneo Blog will try to translate the 111-page report to English. Hopefully, I will be able to do it by today.

How Ungrateful, Selfish and Unreasonable Can Corporations Be? Very!

Consider this: a logging company was given a concession to log a large tract of rainforest in Sarawak, the Malaysian state on Borneo Island.

The logged over area would later be flooded to create a 14,750 sq km catchment area for the Bakun hydroelectric dam. For the record, and not to spite Singapore, the catchment area is more than twice the size of the island republic, which is only 697 sq km.

Massive water catchment area

Massive water catchment area

After harvesting the forest, and pocketing probably hundreds of millions in profits from the timber, the company is now pulling out of the area.

In doing so, the company will also dismantle two iron bridges, a decision that will cut off the Penans and other natives from the outside world.

According to The Star, the decision caused an uproar among politicians and thousands of rural natives, who described the firm’s decision as heartless and selfish.

The report says Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, who visited the area with several MPs from the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club, including Ulu Rejang MP Datuk Billy Abit Joo and Johor Baharu MP Datuk Shahrir Samad, said the firm must reconsider its decision.

“Do not touch the bridges for the next two months. I will make some phone calls and see how I can help these rural folks settle the issue,” Abit warned the timber firm after his visit to the interior.

Here is the full report from The Star newspaper:

Penans cut off from world
By STEPHEN THEN

LUSONG LAKU (Kapit, Sarawak): The decision by a Sarawak timber giant to dismantle iron bridges in the deep interior of central Sarawak, after completing logging operations in the Bakun dam area, has caused an uproar among politicians and thousands of rural natives.

They have described the firm’s decision as heartless and selfish.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, who visited the area with several MPs from the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club, including Ulu Rejang MP Datuk Billy Abit Joo and Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Samad, said the firm must reconsider its decision.

“Do not touch the bridges for the next two months. I will make some phone calls and see how I can help these rural folks settle the issue,’’ he warned the timber firm after his visit to the interior from last Tuesday to Friday.

He said he would bring the issue to the higher authorities in Kuala Lumpur.

The company, which has hundreds of thousands of logging concessions in Sarawak and overseas, pulled out of the Bakun region after completing its timber harvesting activities.

Next year, the Bakun region will be flooded to create a 14,750sq/km catchment area, after the 205m high main dam wall is completed.

The logging firm is now on the verge of pulling out its equipment, and will dismantle at least two iron bridges costing RM2mil on its way out, leaving thousands of natives, including Penans, cut off from the outside world.

The bridges, located near the Lusong Laku settlement in Kapit Division, are the most convenient means for the natives to cross the dangerous rivers separating them from urban centres.

They will have to cross the rivers in small boats and then walk for days to get to the nearest towns.

“These rural folk, especially the Penans, are already facing a lot of financial hardship, lack of food and water, and health problems because of the logging operations,” said Billy.

“How are they to travel out to seek medical help, send their children to school or buy daily necessities from the towns?

“Their forests have been ravaged by these loggers, who must be accountable and help these Penans, not just leave and dismantle the bridges. It is very selfish of them,’’ he added.

Lusong Laku Penan chief Tinggan Jate told The Star that they had appealed to the timber camp management, but to no avail.

“They said the decision to dismantle the bridges was made by their bosses (based in the company’s headquarters in Sibu). They are just carrying out orders,’’ said Tinggan.

Talk of bad corporate social responsibility.

Europe’s Leading Hotel Group Linked to Forest Destruction in Borneo

Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund has set up an online petition urging netizens to join in the campaign to stop the construction of the 4.5-star Novotel Interhill hotel in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak, one of two Malaysian states on Borneo Island.

In a statement, the Fund urged ACCOR, Europe’s leading hotel group, to withdraw from the project as its Malaysian tropical timber company partner, Interhill, is responsible for the destruction forest in Sarawak.

“Interhill has been logging Sarawak’s tropical rainforest since the end of the 1980s and bears decisive responsibility for the ongoing destruction of the very basis of the Penan’s existence”, said Lukas Straumann, Director of the Bruno Manser Fund.

“We are shocked by ACCOR’s cooperation with Interhill, since it is completely at odds with ACCOR’s ecological and social standards.”

The 388-room and 23-storey hotel is currently under construction.

Three-Party Consortium To Build Undersea Cable From Borneo To Peninsular Malaysia

A three-party consortium will undertake the development of a RM7 billion (US$2 billion) submarine cable to carry 1,600 megawatt of power from Borneo to Peninsular Malaysia.

The three parties are Malaysia’s energy giant Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Sarawak state power firm Sarawak Energy Bhd and Ministry of Finance Inc.

The energy transmitted through the 679km long cable between Sarawak and Yong Peng in Johor, Peninsular Malaysia, will be from the Bakun Hydroelectric Power project in Sarawak.

Tenaga Nasional said in a filing to Bursa Malaysia yesterday that the on-land transmission systems for Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak will be developed by Sarawak Energy and Tenaga Nasional respectively, according to a report by Bernama.

Greenlight to operate Bakun hydro power

Tenaga Nasional and Sarawak Energy have also received approval in principle from the government to take over the operation of the Bakun Hydroelectric Project.

The two companies will take over the operation from Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd through a leasing agreement and to develop the associated transmission system, which will see the export of 1,600 megawatt (MW) electricity from the Bakun project to Peninsular Malaysia.

The remaining power will be plugged into Sarawak’s power grid.

Borneo’s Bario Highlands At A Crossroad

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.

Kampung Gana – Borneo’s Real-Life Strategy Game To Eradicate Poverty

When I was in primary school — or was it in Form One or Form Two? — I had learned from a geography lesson that Ghana was the world’s biggest cocoa producer. I said, “Wow”.

I had wanted to visit Ghana ever since because, according to villagers in Tandek, my birthplace in the northern part of Sabah, I could reach Gana in three days of trekking through the jungle.

It was only years later that I realised that Kampung Gana and Ghana were two different places. And it was not until 2004 that I finally managed to set foot in Kampung Gana, which is now a resettlement scheme for several hundreds hill tribe families.

Here is my story from that visit. Too bad I’ve lost all the pictures from that trip when the hard disk on my old computer conked out.

Kampung Gana – A Real-Life Strategy Game To Eradicate Poverty

KOTA MARUDU: “Sejak aku berkelana, tiada yang tahu, apa yang ku cari” (Ever since I’ve been wandering, I know not still, what is it that I am looking for), so goes the lyric of a dangdut song that wafts through the planks of a small wooden house in Kampung Gana, a remote resettlement scheme here.

The song by Indonesian dangdut singer Rhoma Irama grew louder as I approached the house on the southern edge of the scheme.

Closer inspection revealed that a portion of the house — the living room if it can be called one — has been turned into a sundry shop where a diminutive woman of 35 sells some basic goods. A crate of carbonated drinks lies half empty on the rack.

“People like to listen to this song. It suits the surrounding,” said the owner, Rondiwul Sogulai, who hails from Kampung Sonsogon Paliu, about two days walk from Kampung Gana.

She started the shop in 1999, two years after she moved into the scheme. “It is not so profitable but that’s all right as long as I don’t suffer losses,” she said.

Relocated after much persuasion

Like the 200 other families, who are either among the state’s poor or hardcore poor, she was relocated to Kampung Gana after much persuasion.

She had lived deep in the jungle in the northern part of the Crocker Range where the people used to wander the woods to hunt or gather its produce for daily subsistence.

Hundreds of others, who are still skeptical of what the scheme can do to change their life, are staying put in the jungle and continue to live in dispersed hinterland locations.

Those who did move had found a permanent home and wander the jungle no more but have they found what they were looking for?

Life almost the same

“Life is the same as far as I am concerned, only slightly better for the children because they can now go to school,” Rondiwul said.

She cannot read much for she has never been to one.

But she did manage to learn about money, the basic principle of buying in bulk at a certain price and selling at a friction higher, and of simple profit and loss calculation.

Strategy game

Those who are familiar with computer games will probably see how close this settlement comes to resembling an “empire-building” strategy game where a player needs to introduce an array of elements into a scenario to move a civilisation.

Among these elements are the creation of farms to feed the community, learning centres to enhance knowledge, marketplace, access roads for trade caravans to ply — all of which result in increasing their ability to utilise the resources around them.

These basic elements are already in place in Kampung Gana but they are still in bad shape, to say the least.

Coordinator of the Gana community forestry project Naan Ibrahim, 52, said that at the moment the economic activities among the villagers are still in the early trial-and-error stage.

“They plant some tapioca, corn and hill padi but only on a small scale…these are for subsistence only. They hardly have surplus to sell,” he said.

The 200 families who have so far agreed to move into the scheme are also constantly at the mercy of the weather.

“Rain is good for us because it gives us the water supply and waters our plants but it can also cut road links because rivers would become swollen and the road muddy and slippery,” Naan said.

Those who drive to Kampung Gana have to cross rivers, which is only possible during the dry season.

But this resolute man refuses to give in to the difficulties he faces in the scheme.

The guy from Tambunan who asked to be transferred back

“Actually, I was transferred from this village to my hometown in Tambunan in 2000 but two years later, I asked to be transferred back to Kampung Gana…I could not abandon these people, not when things are still in the process of settling down,” he said.

To enliven the spirit of the people, he has started a small orchard and hill padi plot at the front and back of his house “if only to show that there are things that we can do on our own to make life better”.

Ray of hope

The primary school, Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Gana, which has 245 pupils, is good though and looks similar to other primary schools near towns.

SK Gana headmaster Junick Umboh said the school started taking in pupils in 1999.

“At first there were problems because some of these pupils started their Year 1 at high age, say 10 years old. So after learning the basics, we quickly moved them to higher classes according to their age but they had trouble catching up with their studies,” he said.

But they were in high spirit to go on schooling and this, coupled with dedication from the teachers, might just be Kampung Gana’s best hope yet for the future, he said.

Still a lot needs to be done

On the scheme, he said there was still much that the government could do to make it a success.

“First, you have to facilitate easy movement of people by building good access roads which are passable irrespective of the weather. Then bring in telecommunication facilities so that you can communicate with the outside world,” he said.

In a way, the authorities in Sabah are playing a strategy game, a real-life one at that, with the ultimate aim of freeing the people from of the clutches of poverty.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and Kota Marudu member of parliament Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili, who visited the scheme recently, admitted that much still needed to be done there.

“We will ensure that what we have planned for this scheme will see a successful implementation,” he said.

Survey works for padi plots for each of the families had now been completed and so did the survey on the Kampung Talantang-Gana road, Ongkili said.

There was also a proposal to plant rubber and to turn Kampung Gana into the state’s main producer of organic vegetable.

“The Agriculture Department has conducted trials and found that this place is suitable to produce organic vegetables…plant anything and it will grow,” he said.

This resettlement scheme will be a test of the government’s determination to wipe out hardcore poverty — those with a household income of RM300 or less a month — by the year 2010.

In the meantime, residents like Rondiwul will have to make the best of whatever is available.

[This article was published in Bernama and several local newspapers in May 2004)

Zero Orang Utan Population Will Become A Reality Sooner-Than-Expected

It’s all numbers and logical consequences. If the rate of decline is faster than the rate of replenishment, you’ll eventually end up with the number zero.

That has been the case with Orang Utan population. It has been on the decline in the past decades at a free falling rate — whether in Borneo and in Sumatra — over the past few decades.

A latest study indicated that the rate of decline may have been sharper due to numerous reason.

[Read more...]

Borneo Is Losing Its Forest, And Losing It Fast

Borneo is losing its forest and losing it fast, especially in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo Island.

Sabah is not doing too bad according to the WWF map below and if some of the powers-that-be in Sabah and Malaysia could still make it right, there is every possibility that the vast tract of forested land will remain where its is.

Borneo Forest Loss

There is hope. If and only if the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia as well as those of Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan are keeping to their promises of preserving the Heart of Borneo as shown below.

Heart of Borneo
[Both maps are courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature]

Prime Minister Announces Goodies For Malaysia’s Borneo State, Sabah

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is on a visit to Sabah, the Malaysian state on Borneo island, has announced a series of goodies for the state today.

The following are the goodies’ highlights:

  • The Sabah Federal Development Department (JPPS), set up when Sabah was under the then opposition Parti Bersatu Sabah is abolished with immediate effect;
  • Following the abolishment of the JPPS, a new agency called the Sabah State Development Office is set up to handle the Prime Minister’s special allocations and monitor implementation and progress of federal government projects;
  • A cabinet committee on illegal immigrants is formed, to be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and will comprise several Sabah leaders;
  • A total of RM1 billion allocation from the prime minister’s special allocation to be distributed according to development requirements in Sabah;
  • Sabah-born Professor Datuk Kamaruzaman Ampong is appointed the new vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaysia Sabah effective June 18;
  • Another Sabah-born Yusuf Saringgit is named the new Sabah Federal Financial Officer effective tomorrow. Mr Saringgit is indeed well-named for the task;
  • A Petronas downstream petro-chemical plant to be set up in Sabah;
  • A 300MW gas fuelled power plant will also be set up to improve the state’s power supply; and
  • An additional RM400,000 allocation for each state constituency. [Source: Bernama, The Star]

So, there’s no more danger of Sabah MPs crossing over to the opposition?

Here’s another perspective from Reuters, which reported that:

“Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, fighting for political survival, made some concessions on Saturday to a politically important state whose leaders could decide whether he stays in office.

“During a visit to the resource-rich but otherwise largely poor eastern state of Sabah on Borneo island, Abdullah pledged to tackle the problem of illegal immigrants, increase funding for rural development and build a power plant to ease interruptions in energy supply.”

Hmm… Sabah, a “politically important state”. I kinda like that phrase.