WWF Malaysia and the state government of Sabah, the Malaysian state on Borneo island, have signed an agreement to restore almost 1,000 hectares of degraded land in the Heart of Borneo as an orangutan habitat.

The five-year agreement, signed this week, is made possible with RM4.35 million (USD1.27 million) grant from the ITOCHU Corporation of Japan, WWF Malaysia said in a statement.

The area covers Ulu Segama where some orangutan populations have become isolated due to logging and other activities as well as the existence of Ulu Segama river that acts as a natural barrier.

Heart of Borneo

Heart of Borneo

The memorandum is part fo the Heart of Borneo initiative to turn a huge portion of Borneo into a conservation area involving Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Conservation group Hutan has estimated there are less than 11,000 orangutans remain in Sabah.

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While scouring the Internet, I came across an interesting study which compares the susceptibility of head lice, taken from the United States and Sabah, to permethrin.

Permethrin is a chemical substance used to threat lice infection or “peduculosis” in the US. Below is a photo of head lice, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Headlice

The conclusion? The Sabah lice are more susceptible to permethrin than the US lice do. In other words, Sabah’s lice are lousy ;) Here is a link to the study.

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Scientists at James Cook University and Smithsonian Institution have identified infrastructure such as roads, canals, power lines and gas lines as potentially posing the biggest threat to the world’s tropical rainforests.

Landscape

“Clearing wide paths in any forest has a strong effect on the ecosystem, but these impacts are particularly acute in tropical rainforests,” said Professor William Laurance, a Distinguished Professor at James Cook University and co-author of a paper on the impact of roads in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

The other authors of the paper are Dr Susan Laurance, a biologist from the Smithsonian and Dr Miriam Goosem, a senior lecturer at James Cook.

Dr Goosem said the team used dozens of existing studies done in the Amazon, Australasia and Central Africa to emphasize that roads are the number one threat to the world’s tropical rainforests.

“We believe that maintaining large areas of intact forests without roads should be highest priority of conservationists worldwide,” she said, adding that some species strongly avoid forest edges and are unable to traverse even narrow forest clearings.

“Other tropical species are susceptible to hunting, increased predation, invasive species and being killed by vehicles.”

She said that limiting the width of roads, reducing vehicle speeds and maintaining a continuous forest canopy above roads were ways to reduce the impact on tropical rainforests.

Meanwhile, Dr Susan Laurance said animals see roads as barriers. “A striking feature of tropical forests is the high proportion of species that tend to avoid even narrow clearings or forest edges. Many species – such as those that are completely arboreal, adapted to flying in dense forests, or depend on specialized food resources – are halted by linear clearings.”

There are those species, however, that do not avoid roads or other such clearings, resulting in what the scientists call “road-related mortality.”

[The original press release, titled "Roads top threat to rainforests" can be found here]

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Animal expert Jack Hanna is currently in Borneo as part of his two-week tour of Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia where he will be shooting wildlife for his “Jack Hanna’s Into The Wild” television show.

The 62-year-old and crew members will film orang utans, sunbears, proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants in their natural habitat in Sabah and will later head for Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. You can follow Jungle Jack’s adventure on Twitter or Facebook.

Hanna, whose visit to Malaysia is at the invitation of Tourism Malaysia, told the media in Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah, that he had always wanted to visit Malaysia but was delayed due to his tight schedules.

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A group of vigilantes is threatening to invade Malaysia by “air, sea and land”, with the Malaysian states on Borneo island — Sabah and Sarawak — being the main targets.

The invasion was supposed to take place yesterday, involving 1,500 men with sharpened bamboo poles, bows and arrows, but had been postponed to today, according to the Malaysian Insider.

They should instead go to Padang and help the earthquake victims there.

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A Change of Heart

by Jaxon S on September 14, 2009

in Borneo Blog

I’ve done translating part of the report on the rape of Penan girls and women in the interior of Sarawak but now having a second thought about posting it online.

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[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.

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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.

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Borneo, the world’s third largest island, is divided among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. I would like to think, however, that the best of Borneo can be found in the two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

If you have three weeks of backpacking in Borneo, where should you go? Where should you start?

I guess you can start the tour from Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Sabah. You can access Kota Kinabalu either from Malaysia’s KL International Airport or Singapore’s Changi Airport. Budget carrier AirAsia also flies to Kota Kinabalu from these two airports.

Here are 14 things you can do in Borneo but first a brief disclaimer. This is neither a definitive nor a comprehensive guide as it only touches on tourist attractions in Sabah. Please check with Sabah Tourism or local tour agents for a more information.

This blog has no business relations with tour agents mention in this entry.

Without further ado, here are the 14 things you can do in Borneo

Assuming that you start your tour in Kota Kinabalu, you can check these out:

1. Explore the city on your arrival, go to the museum, night market, Gaya Street Sunday bazaar or laze on the seafront.

2. Visit Monsopiad Cultural Village for a unique cultural experience. Located 20 minutes from Kota Kinabalu, the village is a traditional as well as a historical site maintained by the descendants of the feared and legendary Kadazan head-hunter warrior Monsopiad. His trophies of 42 skulls and a thigh bone are still kept at the village, in a hut called the House of Skulls.

3. Visit Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, about 15-20 minutes by speed boat ride. The park is a cluster of five islands — Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. You can dive, snorkel and learn how to scuba dive there. You can also do seawalking in Pulau Sapi where you’d get to walk on the sea bed as though you are walking on land.

From Kota Kinabalu you can plan your trip to:

Mt Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu

4. Climb Mt Kinabalu (requires 2 days minimum). Mt Kinabalu is Borneo and Malaysia’s highest mountain.

The 4,092.5-metre mountain is used to be the highest mountain in Southeast Asia until someone pointed out that the Hkakabo Razi, at 5,881m in northern Myanmar or Burma, is the tallest mountain in the region. Myanmar is of course a Southeast Asian country.

So we now say Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The mountain is the central piece of the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site, located about an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu.

5. Take a bath at Poring Hot Spring after the climb. The hot spring is located 40 minutes drive from the Kinabalu National Park.

You can also plan your trip (after climbing Mt Kinabalu or even before) to:

6. Klias Proboscis Monkey Cruise , a 2-in-1 excursion, where you are taken on a boat along the Klias River (two hours drive from Kota Kinabalu) to see proboscis monkey and then as night sets in, treat yourself with spectacular display of nature’s own neon lights — thousands of fireflies lighting up trees by the river. More info here.

Proboscis monkey... photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, via Wikipedia

Proboscis monkey... photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, via Wikipedia

By now, you would have spent about eight days of your trip. Now it’s time to take a flight to Sandakan (or six hours by land) to experience Borneo’s wildlife adventure. Sandakan can take you approximately five days to cover. Things to do in Sandakan:

7. Visit the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. To many tourists, going here is among the main reasons — to some, the only reason — why they come to Borneo. Make sure you reach this centre by 9.45am in time for the orang utan feeding time at 10am. The orang utan are fed again at 3pm.

Why must you come during feeding time? Because that’s the time you’d get to see these men of the forest emerging from their jungle habitat.

There will be a video show after that and it is recommended that you go and watch it. It is enlightening, to me at least. More info here.

8. After seeing the orang utan, you can proceed to the Rainforest Rediscovery Centre not too far from Sepilok. It is dubbed as the most accessible rainforest in Sabah. More info here.

9. Visit Selingan Turtle Island and see marine life, turtles lying eggs and so on. You can also contribute to the conservation of this planet’s turtles by helping to release young turtles to the ocean.

10. Explore Sabah largest limestone and bird nests cave called Gomantung Cave.

11. Join Oxbow lake cruise for another wildlife excursion.

For more information about what you can do in Sandakan, the available tour packages and so on, refer here.

From Sandakan, you can access either Semporna or Lahad Datu, both about two hours by land:

12. Ah, time flies. It going into the third week already. If you are a diver, diving in Sipadan is a must.

You haven’t seen anything yet if you haven’t dive in Sipadan. Maybe that’s an exaggeration and coming from a non-diver, you need not take my word for it. But you should really take Jacques Cousteau’s word seriously.

13. If you are not a diver, and want to see Sabah’s own version of the Amazon rainforest, you should really come to Danum Valley Conservation Area in Lahad Datu. There’s a jungle lodge there.

It is an ancient jungle, minus T-Rex and co, of course. There is also an ancient burial ground which is not really a burial ground but rather a place where the dead in their timber coffin are stashed away in caves.

14. I guess, by now you have seen most of the major attractions Sabah has to offer. By now your three weeks is almost over. You can now return to Kota Kinabalu to catch your flight back.

However, if you still have a day to spare, you can make a quick dash to the northern part of Sabah to the village of Tinangol where you can see the traditional longhouse community.

That’s three weeks for you… and you still haven’t discovered the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Well, you can come back later for another three weeks of experiencing Borneo from Sarawak, the Land of the Hornbills. Lots of amazing things there… limestone landscape, people, world’s biggest cave and so on.

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The panel of experts has chosen 28 Official Finalists for the New Seven Wonders of Nature, eliminating 49 other sites, including Sipadan Island. Below is the screenshot of those which made it to the final stage of voting to choose the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

List of 28 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of Nature

List of 28 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of Nature

The 28 finalists are: The Amazon, Angel Falls, Bay of Fundy, Black Forest, Bu Tinah Shoals, Cliffs of Moher, Dead Sea, El Yunque, Galapagos, Grand Canyon, Breat Barrier Reef, Halong Bay, Iguazu Falls, Jeita Grotto, Jeju Island, Kilimanjaro, Komodo Park, the Maldives, Masurian Lake District, Matterhorn/Cervino, Milford Sound, Mud Volcanoes, Puerto Princesa Underground River, Sundarbans, Table Mountain, Uluru, Vesuvius and Yushan.

The 28 were chosen based on the following criteria:

  1. Unique beauty of the nominated site
  2. Diversity and distribution (accounted for in 7 groups)
  3. Ecological significance (in terms of either stand-alone eco-systems and/or their significance for human beings)
  4. Historical legacy (relation that human beings and/or indigenous populations have or have had with the site)
  5. Geo-location (even distribution of the 28 Official Finalists between all continents)

We are disappointed… but still, Sipadan is a wonder of its own. Kudos to the Sabah Tourism and Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun for a hugely successful campaign during the first round of voting.

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