Saturday, July 4, 2009

Orang utan expert amazed at Sabah's conservation

Daily Express
Published on: Thursday, July 02, 2009

Kota Kinabalu: The world's leading orang utan expert, Dr Birute Mary Galdikas, is full of praise for the Sabah Government's conservation efforts to save the apes, one of the world's most endangered species.

She told Daily Express in an exclusive interview that Sabah is doing progressive work in orang utan conservation by making efforts to eliminate illegal logging and trying to find a permanent home for orang utans such as in the Malua forest reserve.

"I am also impressed to learn that the Government is going to create 'corridors' to protect wildlife. That's wonderful and I am not saying it just because I am in Sabah.

"I would say exactly the same thing in Indonesia or in the United States (where she is often invited to give lectures). We need to do more for the future and I am so glad that you are already doing it. We can all do better."

Last December, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Hj Aman announced that 250,000 hectares of lowland forests in the Ulu Segama-Malua area would be set aside for the orang utans. It is estimated that there are more than 3,000 orang utans in the Malua forest reserve alone.

On Tuesday, State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun, said the State Government wants to purchase privately-owned land at zones neighbouring the fragmented Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary to ensure the long-term survival of iconic Sabah wildlife such as the orang utan, rhino and elephants.

A committee was set up under his Ministry to prepare the policy that will be known as Kinabatangan Corridor of Life (KCoL).

Dr Galdikas, 63, who is based in Indonesia, has been studying and living with the orang utans at a reserve in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) called Tanjung Puting Reserve (now a national park) since age 25 in 1971.

She has worked ceaselessly to save orang utans, especially orphaned ones, and rainforests, and to bring their plight to world attention.

This was her second visit to Sabah, having been invited by the Sabah Government to attend a conference in 1990. She has been touring places of interest and one of the things that caught her attention was the gated checkpoint put up by the Wildlife Department at the Tabin Wildlife Centre to curb illegal poaching.

Dr Galdikas, who founded the Los Angeles-based Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) in 1986 and became its President, noted there are some 5,000 orang utans in the Danum Valley as calculated by scientists.

What fascinated her in the Danum Valley was also the diversity and richness of wildlife there.

"The forest (Danum) is awesome and just takes one's breath away. I am not joking. The only forest that comes close to the forest of Sabah that I saw in Danum are the redwoods in northern California. They are beautiful, breathtaking.

"In the Danum Valley, there are 400 different types of birds recorded but in Tanjung Puting where I work, we have something like 200 recorded.

That in itself tells you about the richness in the Danum Valley, and I am so glad that it is protected."

Dr Galdikas, who visited Sepilok then and had an amazing experience with the orang utan, is equally impressed with the fact that Mt Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia is in Borneo, and likewise, the tallest tree in Borneo (standing at 88.3 metres) is also found in Sabah.

From her observation, there is massive tourism in Sepilok, Sandakan, compared with the much smaller tourism in her place.

"The real work, like what is done in Sepilok, gets done in non-public facilities, so we don't have the visitors. We get a few thousand foreigners a year."

Dr Galdikas attributed the situation in Kalimantan Tengah to the total lack of infrastructure, saying the Indonesian Government has to deal with the fourth largest population on this planet.

"Conservation is important to the Government but I think it's such a wide and diverse nation that it has many priorities, not just conservation."

Asked whether she would convince the Indonesian Government to make a similar conservation move, Dr Galdikas, now an Indonesian citizen, said:

"The problem is that we have to worry about infrastructure at a very basic level. You have excellent roads in Sabah but in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), especially Kalimantan Tengah, the roads are still being built, and some of the bridges have not yet been completed. The problems in Indonesia are much more overwhelming."

Making a further comparison, Dr Galdikas, noted that Sabah has been very fortunate because it has magnificent forests that allow great prosperity.

"And now you are paying back, you are giving back," she quipped. "In Kalimantan Tengah, the forests are not as tall and don't have as much valuable timber.

"So the prosperity that was made possible in Sabah by the abundant resources you have here by your history simply does not exist in Kalimantan Tengah, Central Indonesian Borneo. That's my's the poorest of all provinces in Kalimantan." However, she was proud to say that there are no beggars in Kalimantan Tengah.

When told that only one-fifth of the land in Sabah has been cleared for oil-palm cultivation, Dr Galdikas said some 50 per cent or up to 70 per cent in some areas in Kalimantan Tengah is planted with palm-oil.

Describing palm oil as the Number One enemy of orang utans and all wildlife, she lamented that these creatures are being annihilated in Kalimantan because of the mass destruction of rainforests for oil-palm plantations and timber estates.

"Tropical rainforests constitute the orang utan species' only natural habitat.

But what is happening makes me worried about the future of the orang utans. Their population has declined in recent years. Maybe there are about 30,000 left. You can see the forests being destroyedÉwhere there were trees five years ago, there is now a palm-oil plantation."

Asked if the continued poaching and habitat destruction due to deforestation truly signals the end for the orang utan population, Dr Galdikas said:

"I think we are not losing but we may not be winning. As long as we can save some trees, and some forests, save orang utans, make a difference, we are not losing but the problem is we may not be winning.

"I will not give up as long as I can breathe."

Interestingly, Dr Galdikas revealed that she initially applied to come to work in Sabah in the late sixties after graduating with a Bachelor's degree in zoology and Master's degree in anthropology from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

"But there was no reply. I don't know what the problem was. We didn't get a reply from Sabah, we didn't get a reply from Malaysia. So we wrote to the Indonesian Government, and there was a reply. I think I was fated to go to Indonesia," she quipped.

Currently, she heads the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine near Pangkalan Bun. It is an official co-operative programme between OFI and Indonesia's local Nature Conservation Agency.

She has successfully lobbied the Indonesian Government to set aside parks and curb illegal logging and orang utan trading at the expense of being threatened, harassed and even kidnapped by those who oppose her work.

Between 1996 and 1998, she served as a Senior Advisor to Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry on orang utan issues. In June 1997, she won the prestigious "Kalpataru" award (or Indonesia's Hero for the Earth Award), the highest honour given by the Republic for outstanding environmental leadership.

Born Lithuanian, she is the only person of non-Indonesian birth and one of the first women to be recognised by the Indonesian government for making outstanding contributions.

Orange-Backed Woodpecker (Chrysocolaptes validus)

Early morning the next day, I woke up early because I have to be ready for my hiking. I have to go up to the waterfall peak. Okay, we are not there yet. What I want to share is about my first sight for the second day of my trip. After we had our breakfast we saw a flowerpecker feeding on the fruits near the camp site. I brought along my binocular and my friend trying to observed the deer at the Deer Farm. While he observing, something catch his eyes and he handed the binocular to me. Since I have my bird’s field guide book, he shows me the bird that catches his attention.

It was an Orange-Backed Woodpecker. There are three of them, one male and two female. They are feeding on something (I am not sure what it was but maybe insects) and they keep on making calls. While the male foraging on the standing trees, the other two foraging on the fallen tree. I tried to walk closer to them but they are very anxious. As I move closer, the male started to make noise and warn the other two on the fallen log. He started to fly away followed by the other two female.

Even though I can’t get any shots of them but they are in my memories. I am not sure if this is my first sight of this species. They are very pretty bird with very obvious orange colour at the back for male while female only white colour at the back. They are medium sized bird (28 cm).

Alright, that’s all for today and for sure will keep on continue with my next discovery.

Friday, July 3, 2009


As I have promised, I will write about what I have seen and find during my trip. Let started from the night I arrived. After had our dinner, we have a rest and chit chat among us but my eyes keep on following something flying above our head. I am wondering what species of bats is it. It reminds me of the old days (not so old, just a year back) where I used to follow my friend capturing bats for our bats inventory. My interest is still there even though I am not good in bats identification.

So, I ask one of the guy to captured it. They told me just wait, it will enter their room and even my room. So, we wait.

In a few minutes, zap…hehe, it enters the room and I was in the room too. We close the door and windows. I use my long sleeve shirt to catch it and we success.

This is it. I didn't bring my field guide book so i can't identify it right away. From my previous experienced i thought it was Hipposideros sp. but i am not sure what species was it. It is the most common bats we found in Bintulu especially in one cave at Tubau. So, i thought it maybe the same species.

I only manage to took this close up photos and it doesn't help me on identification when i get back home. When i refer to my field guide book, there are two species of Hipposideros that look very similar. They are Hipposideros cervinus and Hipposideros bicolor . Dr. Don and Kris did teach me very clear the distinct difference between these two species but i forgot about it now.
The best thing to do is to get the forearm (FA) measurements but i didn't brought my ruler with me and for sure no measuring tape. This doesn't help me much too. So, i am not sure which species it was.
So, this is the first animal i find for my trip. Wait for tomorrow and i will share more of my discovery. I miss doing all kind of wildlife inventory and this time i just do what i can do by myself and with help from my friend here.
See you tomorrow.

Guess Who Am I?

Allow me to start my writing about my trip by play a simple game here. Guessing what is actually i captured in these two photos.

I give one clue. I captured the same animal for both of these photos but i took different part of it's body. This two is the only photos that i can get for this animal.

Try your luck, look clearly and find out what is it? Good luck!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Back From Jungle

I am leaving the jungle around 2pm today. It was a great adventure for me because i observed and find very interesting creatures and sceneries although it was only three days and two nights trip. The weather also very good yesterday until i leave today. When we leave, the rain started and i am lucky i am done with my work.

However, i have dificulties to get the GPS coverage because of the cloudy skies and canopy cover was very dense. Even though i am very excited about this trip but i was not aware about my camera. I forgot to upload and clear my memory card before i leave to the jungle. So, i have to delete some of my photos and miss some nice shot. is okay. I still have a few great photos and i will share it in my next posts.

Till then... Have to rest first...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Talking About Myself

Last Saturday i feel so upset and dissapointed but today i feel more motivated. Hmm..i will be visiting the forest again tomorrow and i am glad that i can smell the freshness of the forest and listen to the chirping of the birds.

Last weekend, in the town that i live now they have a festival celebration for three days but i am not sure what is it for. I am kind of funny person, i don't like to spend my time in the crowd of people but i like to spend my time in the forest. Not to say i will stay alone because it is dangerous for a small size girl like me.

What the difference between this two situation for me? In the crowd of people especially during festival, it is really uncomfortable, hot and not much interesting events to watch or observed. If i stay inside the forest, i have lots of things to be observed, from as tiny as snail until as big as Deer. Besides, it is so peaceful and of course fresh air.

BUT i am not anti-social...:D