Friday, November 24, 2017

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation - An Unconventional Hero

There’s something to be said about conservationists and their quest to save the world. They’re relentless and driven. “We have to be,” remarks Wong Siew Te wryly, “...but it’s possible to make a difference,” he adds after a pause.

He looks a little travel-weary as he sits across me in the crowded KLIA2 cafeteria. Securing an interview with the CNN Hero hadn’t been easy, as he’s been “living out of his suitcase” as he describes it. “I use every opportunity I get to raise awareness,” he says, telling me that he had just flown from Hanoi after attending the 9th East and Southeast Asian Wild Animal Rescue Network Conference held in Vietnam. “We’ve got a few hours to talk before I fly back to Sabah,” he tells me matter-of-factly.

“You’ve been hailed as a ‘Superman of sorts’,” I begin, wasting no time and he laughs heartily. “It’s an amazing opportunity to put the plight of the sun bears in the international spotlight,” he says of his recent achievement of being hailed by the global television network CNN as a ‘CNN Hero’.

For Wong, every media attention he has been getting is an “opportunity” to spread his message of conservationism. “I used to call the sun bear a forgotten species. When I first started almost two decades ago, most people didn’t know they even existed. Now that’s beginning to change and thanks to international attention, the message of protecting this wildlife is spreading to a larger audience.”

The 48-year-old wildlife biologist has been gaining attention both locally and internationally for his tireless work in championing and protecting the smallest bear species in the world — the sun bear. From being conferred the “Wira Negaraku” by the Prime Minister’s Office to being hailed as one of CNN’s Heroes, or as the global network describes as “everyday people doing extraordinary things to change the world”, Wong is not one to rest on his laurels.

“There’s still so much to do,” he says earnestly. After all, the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok, Sabah is on a mission to “be the voice of the sun bears” and to fight for their survival in the wild.

Bear-ing a burden

Many have heard about larger bear species like the ferocious Grizzly or the more docile American Black Bears but the diminutive sun bears remain the least known and least studied species. Historically, sun bear populations were found in most of Southeast Asia but the total population has seen a drastic decline by at least 30 per cent (IUCN 2007).

Although sun bears have been listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species in 2007, the current status remains unknown because there still isn’t enough information about wild sun bear populations. “It was worse when I first started,” recalls Wong.

As a young Masters student working on his thesis on the “The ecology of Malayan sun bear in the lowland tropical rainforest of Sabah, Borneo”, Wong worked alongside Dr Christopher Servheen from the University of Montana, where the former was pursuing his undergraduate studies on wildlife biology. The professor had come to his class to give a talk on his projects working with various bear species, and Wong soon found out that he was looking for a Malaysian research assistant to help him with his pioneering sun bear project in Malaysia.

He quickly volunteered for the position: “I told him ‘Hey I’m your man!’”. In 1998, Wong completed his degree, got into the Masters programme and snagged the coveted position as Servheen’s research assistant for the sun bear project in Sabah.

Still, the project was fraught with many challenges. For one, there were no precedent for researching sun bears anywhere in the world. “It dawned on me that I was working with a very rare mammal whose numbers were very low and nobody had studied them before.” The lack of data meant that Wong had to rely on his own creativity to track down the elusive wildlife. “It was all one big question mark.

How do we trap these bears to study them? How do we even see them?” he says, recounting with a chuckle that it took at least four very frustrating months of trying to outsmart the bears before he managed to trap his first wild sun bear. “I named it Dally” he says with a laugh because it was found within the 438-square-kilometre tract of the relatively undisturbed Danum Valley lowland dipterocarp forest in Sabah.


Sarawak banks on rich biodiversity to boost tourism

KUCHING: The tropical rainforest in Sarawak – recognised as the oldest of its kind in the world – still has many ‘gems’ that have yet to be discovered and explored.

Permanent secretary to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datu Ik Pahon Joyik said the state is banking on this attribute, along the ‘myths and mystery of Sarawak rainforest’, through its tourism tagline: ‘Sarawak — Where adventure lives’.

“It (Sarawak) is blessed and is rich in ecosystem and biodiversity,” he spoke during the ‘Sarawak Focus’ session of the 13th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) at Borneo Convention Centre (BCCK) yesterday, where he presented the paper entitled ‘Sarawak As A Premium Tourism Destination’.

Ik Pahon said the state government strives to conserve and practice sustainable management of the island environment, seeing that Sarawak holds great potential as a premium destination for tourists through the consolidation and strengthening of its existing products and services.

“Sarawak can become the world’s last bastion of pristine environment. Our Unesco World Heritage-status Gunung Mulu National Park and other national parks possess their own unique features and content as far as geosystem and wildlife are concerned.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sarawak banks on rich biodiversity to boost tourism

Reaching top of Borneo by helicopter and paragliding

KOTA KINABALU: There are other options to reach the top of Sabah’s most iconic mountain, Mount Kinabalu other than climbing up – by using helicopter and paragliding.

This is proven by Sabah Parks Board of Trustees chairman Dato’ Seri Tengku Dr Zainal Adlin Tengku Mahamood.

“We made a successful historical helicopter landing and tandem paragliding after that on 16 November at 0700 hours.

“The historical landing on Mount Kinabalu summit plateau 3932m was done with single engine helicopter Bell 206 Jet Ranger by Captain Jack Bianncchi of Layang Layang Aerospace, guided by me.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Once in a Lifetime Journey: Fun Facts About Sabah state in East Malaysia you never knew

The geographical division of Borneo is sometimes confusing to understand. It is the third largest non-continental island in the world (after Greenland and New Guinea) and shares space with the nation of Brunei and Indonesia’s Kalimantan region. I have met many people on my travels who are still unsure if Borneo belongs to Malaysia, Indonesia or is its own country.

Let’s clear the air quickly.

The island itself is called Borneo and consists of the five Indonesia provinces that make up Kalimantan, the Islamic sultanate of Brunei and the northwest area of the island known as Malaysian Borneo or officially East Malaysia, which includes the constituents of Sabah and Sarawak (together making 26% of the population of Borneo). 

Each part of Borneo is therefore administered by different countries. So next time someone tells you they’re going to Borneo, you can show off your geographical skills by asking them to be more specific.

East Malaysia is divided into two states. The northern tip of Borneo is called Sabah (capital Kota Kinabalu or KK) and Sarawak (capital Kuching) covers the north-west area of the island.

1. Malay or Chinese

It was reported in 2015 that Sabah’s population amounted to 3,5 million, making it the third most populous state in Malaysia with the highest non-citizen population. Although Borneo is surrounded by mainland Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, the largest group of non-indigenous Sabahans is in fact ethnic Chinese, mostly of Hakka descent, who make up close to 10% of the population. So while Bahasa Malaysia (national language) and English are widely spoken, there are also a lot of Mandarin speakers in Borneo.

2. Land Beneath the Wind

Sabah is known as ‘Land Beneath the Wind’ because it is located 6? north of the equator, just below the tropical typhoon belt. It misses the devastating effects of the typhoons that frequently hit neighbouring Philippines. Being an equatorial country, Sabah experiences year-round summer of 22-33?C for most areas, with Kinabalu Park being the exception, with temperatures dropping to as low as 2?C up on the mountain.


Pullman Miri Waterfront holds Christmas tree lighting ceremony

MIRI: Pullman Miri Waterfront began its year-end festivities with a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on Tuesday.

Over 200 guests, including Interhill Group chief operating officer (hospitality division) Eric Tan, attended the event.

Hotel manager Jayson Chong said in the spirit of Christmas, the hotel will distribute gifts to Sarawak Children’s Cancer Society Miri, Miri Methodist Children’s Home, Miri Hospital Paediatric Ward, and Catholic Society for the Urban Poor.

Tenby International School Miri Year 2 pupils sang Christmas songs led by Expressive Arts and Technology Department head Sara Hill, while a group from St Columba’s Church sang Christmas carols conducted by Josephine Augustine.

Made with recycled drinking bottles collected by the hotel throughout the year, the 16-foot Christmas tree features in the ‘Guess the Bottles on this Tree’ contest, runs until Dec 18.

The winner will receive a two-day, one-night stay in a deluxe room with breakfast for two.