Monday, August 24, 2009

More development for Kuala Baram planned

Miri Daily News on 21st August 2009 published a new revelation about further plans to develop Kuala Baram as a massive effort to counter heavy sedimentation at the mouth of Batang Baram, the effects of which have been seen as the main cause for dwindling cargo throughput to the new Baram Port.

The development was initially mentioned by Lee Kim Shin in an unrelated article elsewhere in another publication, this is the first time however that initial detailed plan of such a major undertaking came to light for the general public.

Kuala Baram before.

What Kuala Baram would be after the development.

In one concerted development phase, we will lose another of our most accessible stopping points for waders in Northern Sarawak, the first being the old Sungai Miri estuary, presently the Miri Marina.

The Kuala Baram section of the beach including Batang Baram estuary has always been a stopping point for many migrating waders over the years and perhaps also home to the resident and not very well studied Malaysian Plover. Oriental Darter which is now extinct in West Malaysia has made many appearances at Kampung Masjid and elsewhere in and around Kuala Baram. The fact that the area is important for these birds are undeniable.

A long list of waders and waterbirds have been listed from Kuala Baram by MNS Miri since 1998, the start of our birdwatching group. We've seen the loss of Grey Heron this year though Purple Heron are still sighted now and again in a few spots. Chinese Egret, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret, and Little Egret are frequent sightings in the area. We've recorded sightings of a healthy population of breeding Wandering Whistling Duck in the peatswamps nearby as well as several breeding pairs of Oriental Pratincole.

We have only started to monitor Pulau Bawai, first of which was carried out 14th February 2009. During our overnite outing on the island, we clocked several species of raptors Perregrine Falcon, White-bellied Sea Eagle as well as waders Sanderlings, Red-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, Lesser Sandplover, Greater Sandplover, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover including several pairs of the elusive Malaysian Plover.

MNS Miri together with Wetlands International conducted an Asian Wetland Census workshop fieldwork on Bawai early March of the same year which yield 200+ mixed flock of different plovers.

Just this recent season we've sighted Common Redshanks, Common Greenshanks, Pacific Golden Plover, Whimbrel and from our latest sighting, Eurasian Curlew, the largest migrating wader. It's a matter of time before more waders and waterbirds get on the list with more people going birdwatching.

Changes in the present natural structure of the coast will impact the lay of the mudflats and sediment deposition in the area. On top of this, construction activities at the start of the project will have already some contribution to the number of waders and waterbirds that stop by this area.

With half of Kuala Baram undergoing rapid reconversions these recent months, further development will spell more uncertain times for our feathered friends, residents and migrants alike.

Will Kuala Baram be another example of us losing what we never knew we had? Perhaps it's then immaterial for those who have absolutely no inkling of what's lost, however that then for those who do?

Checkout the list of birds from our AWC, several locations were from the Kuala Baram area:
MNS Miri's AWC 2009

Penan ups anti-logging campaign

AFP Picture accompanying the article.

LONG BELOK, Malaysia (AFP) - - Hundreds of Penan tribespeople armed with spears and blowpipes have set up new blockades deep in the Borneo jungles, escalating their campaign against logging and palm oil plantations.

Three new barricades, guarded by Penan men and women who challenged approaching timber trucks, have been established in recent days. There are now seven in the interior of Malaysia's Sarawak state.

"They are staging this protest now because most of their land is already gone, destroyed by logging and grabbed by the plantation companies," said Jok Jau Evong from Friends of the Earth in Sarawak.

"This is the last chance for them to protect their territory. If they don't succeed, there will be no life for them, no chance for them to survive."

Penan chiefs said that after enduring decades of logging which has decimated the jungles they rely on for food and shelter, they now face the new threat of clear-felling to make way for crops of palm oil and planted timber.

"Since these companies came in, life has been very hard for us. Before it was easy to find animals in the forest and hunt them with blowpipes," said Alah Beling, headman of Long Belok where one of the barricades has been built.

"The forest was once our supermarket, but now it's hard to find food, the wild boar have gone," he said in his settlement, a scenic cluster of wooden dwellings home to 298 people and reachable only by a long suspension bridge.

Alah Beling said he fears that plans to establish plantations for palm oil -- which is used in food and for biofuel -- on their ancestral territory, will threaten their lifestyle and further pollute the village river with pesticide run-off.

"Once our river was so clear you could see fish swimming six feet deep," he said as he gestured at the waterway, which like most others in the region has been turned reddish-brown by the soil that cascades from eroded hillsides.

Indigenous rights group Survival International said the blockades are the most extensive since the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Penan's campaign to protect their forests shot to world attention.

"It's amazing they're still struggling on after all these years, more than 20 years after they began to try to fight off these powerful companies," said Miriam Ross from the London-based group.
Official figures say there are more than 16,000 Penan in Sarawak, including about 300 who still roam the jungle and are among the last truly nomadic people on Earth.

The blockades, which Friends of the Earth said involve 13 Penan communities home to up to 3,000 people, are aimed at several Malaysian timber and plantation companies including Samling, KTS, Shin Yang and Rimbunan Hijau.

After clearing much of the valuable timber from Sarawak, a vast state which lies on Malaysia's half of Borneo island, some of these companies are now converting their logging concessions into palm oil and acacia plantations.

"They told us earlier this month they were coming to plant palm oil, and I said if you do we will blockade," said Alah Beling.

"They told us we don't have any rights to the land, that they have the licence to plant here. I felt very angry -- how can they say we have no right to this land where our ancestors have lived for generations?"

Even on land that has been logged in the past, Penan can still forage for sago which is their staple food, medicinal plants, and rattan and precious aromatic woods which are sold to buy essential goods.

"Oil palm is worse because nothing is left. If they take all our land, we will not be able to survive," the Long Belok headman said.

Sarawak's Rural Development Minister James Masing admitted some logging companies had behaved badly and "caused extensive damage" but said the Penan were "good storytellers" and their claims should be treated with caution.

"The Penan are the darlings of the West, they can't do any wrong in the eyes of the West," he said.

Masing said disputes were often aimed at wringing more compensation from companies, or stemmed from conflicts between Penan and other indigenous tribes including the Kenyah and Kayan about overlapping territorial claims.

He said the current surge in plantation activity was triggered by Sarawak's goal to double its palm oil coverage to 1.0 million hectares (2.47 million acres) -- an area 14 times bigger than Singapore.

"The time we have been given to do this is running short. 2010 is next year so we want to make that target and that is why there may be a push to do it now, to fulfil our goal established 10 years ago," he said.

"In some areas the logging has not been done in accordance with the rules and some of the loggers have caused extensive damage. That does happen and I do sympathise with the Penan along those lines," he said.

"But the forest has become a source of income for the state government so we have to exploit it".
Driving through the unsealed roads that reach deep into the Borneo interior, evidence of the new activity is clear with whole valleys stripped of vegetation and crude terraces carved into the hills ready for seedlings.

Most of the companies declined to comment on the allegations made by the Penan, but Samling said it "regrets to learn about the blockades".

"We have long worked with communities in areas we operate to ensure they lead better lives," it said in a statement.

Its website says its acacia timber plantations in Sarawak will "enhance the health of the forests" and that it uses "only the most sensitive ways to clear the land".

The Penan allegations could discredit Malaysias claims that it produces sustainable palm oil, particularly in Europe and the US where activists blame the industry for deforestation and driving orangutans towards extinction.

Indigenous campaigners say that past blockades have seen violence and arrests against tribespeople, but village chiefs -- some of whom were detained during the 1980s blockades -- said they did not fear retribution.

"We're not afraid. They're the ones destroying my property. Last time we didn't know the law and now to protect ourselves, but now we know our rights," said Ngau Luin, the chief of Long Nen where another barricade was set up.

An AFP team reporting at the blockades was photographed by angry timber company officials, and later intercepted at a roadblock by police armed with machineguns and taken away for questioning.

The plight of the Penan was made famous in the 1980s by environmental activist Bruno Manser, who waged a crusade to protect their way of life and fend off the loggers. He vanished in 2000 -- many suspect foul play.

From :
Malaysia's Penan tribe ups anti-logging campaign
AFP - Sunday 23rd August 2009.

Map of the latest blockades and concessions owners. BMF.

The blockade story was also covered on Borneo Post's Saturday (frontpage) and Sunday (2nd page) edition over the weekend albeit with a different slant.

In BP, a lot of emphasis was given on presence of "foreigners" as instigators on Saturday, and how they orchestarted the blockade. On Sunday the coverage feature how a timber camp manager was apparently "intimidated" by these foreigners. Not much was mentioned on the reasons behind the blockade ie. rainforest destruction, loss of land and livelihood as well as the massive change of lifestyle on the parts of the Penans.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Penan Children and Government Schools

From the Borneo Post January 6, 2008 – article - School winning over Penan children : “I teach you so that you can teach your children next time.”

That was the simple and logical explanation Jason Juk Epoi, senior assistant for students’ affair of SK Long Kevok (primary school) in the upper reaches of the Baram came up with in persuading the Penan children to remain in school.

Sitting in a classroom and paying attention to the teacher presents a special challenge for the Penan students who until a few years ago lived a nomadic life roaming the jungle with their parents.

Under the programme to settle this nomadic people, the government had built several villages at the fringes of the jungle, their erstwhile home, to help them adapt to a settled lifestyle.

The long term success of this programme hinges on educating their children through schools like the one at Long Kevok where Jason teaches. And he is glad his Penan students heeded his advice and were motivated to take their education seriously.

Jason, a Kayan from Long Panai, happily pointed out that an increasing number of Penan children were beginning to show interest in studying. Many, the 32-year-old added, had enrolled in schools.

In SK Long Kevok where Penans made up a large portion of the students’ population, the boarding school registered a 70 percent attendance rate. Last year, 121 students were enrolled in the school, of which 63 were girls. Students in the school came from 15 villages: Kampung Baru Sungai Patah, Long Kevok, Long Kawa, Ba Kabeng, Long Ham, Ba Pakan, Long Nen, Long Liwok, Long Latei, Long Beluk, Long Kerangan, Long Sayan, Long Siang, Ba Puak and Ba Kajau. The school, staffed by 11 teachers, including three temporary teachers, has six classes, with each class having about 25 students.

In spite of the remoteness of SK Long Kevok (located about seven hours’ drive from Miri city through a dusty logging trail), students in the school are making waves both academically and in sports. In 2003, the school received a nomination for ‘Sekolah Harapan Negara’ award. That year public examination achievement rate for the school was 60 percent and there were students who scored 3As 2Bs in the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR). Given the trying circumstances for both students and teachers, it was an impressive result. The students have also proven their prowess in sports, with some being selected to represent Sarawak in several sports meets.

The school recently took the initiative to bring in children from the Penans who are still living a nomadic life. About 20 of them were brought in from Long Siang and Ba Puak areas, but unfortunately, according to Jason, the children only came to class for a few days before running back to their forest home.

“The children apparently want to be closer to their parents. But truancy for the rest of the students is really minimal here in SK Long Kevok,” assured Jason, adding that the school authorities did not have to worry much about students not turning up for their classes.
He further pointed out that the school had gone out of the way to bring the Penan children to school, including providing transportation to fetch the children from their remote villages after the semester holidays.

“We engage the assistance of the Resident’s Office to transport the Penan children from their villages. The transportation itself is not cheap as it cost about RM2,000.”

Sadly this noble effort suffered a setback when the Resident’s Office no longer had such allocations for transportation, said Jason, adding that the school later had to resort to seeking assistance from a logging company.

“Luckily I have a friend working in the logging company and I requested for his assistance. The company expressed its willingness to fetch the children from their respective villages after the semester break and to bring them home for the school holidays.”

Jason observed that there was a lack of understanding on the importance of education among the Penan parents.

“For two or three months, the parents never turned up to find out the problems of their children.

That is why the school has to resort to seeking assistance from the Resident’s Office. For instance, if the children do not have exercise books, we will provide them with the books. The school also took the initiative to secure financial assistance from Kumpulan Wang Amanah Pelajar Miskin.”

Assistant Administrative Officer who oversees Long Lama sub-district, Gima Mangkang, 44, concurred that Penan parents were not aware of the importance of education. In Long Lama, there are more than 10,000 Penans and they make up the third largest ethnic group in the sub-district after the Kayans and Kenyahs.

Most Penan children, noted Gima, studied only up to Primary Six.

“The Penan parents did not really give the encouragement to their children to study. But time has changed and slowly the Penans are beginning to realise the importance of education. Some of them now have studied till Form Five.”

Best friends Adeline James and Sheila Awing are an example of some of the young Penans who aim high. The girls who are students of SMK Tutoh Apoh harbour a similar ambition — that is, to enter university one day. This year the girls will be sitting for their Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR).

Although a bit apprehensive at having to sit some papers in English, they are determined to score excellent results.

“I am just worried I do not know how to answer. I really hope to do well in the exams,” said the bubbly Sheila.

Adeline chips in: “Whenever I think of PMR, I am a bit terrified.”

As the two girls steel themselves for their biggest educational challenge, they are also carrying an even bigger burden on their young shoulders — the future of their community.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Tengkorong Waterfall is one of the six waterfalls that are relatively accessible to the public in Lambir Hills National Park. The other five waterfalls are the most popular and visited Latak Waterfall, Nibong Waterfall, Pantu Waterfall, the delightful Dinding Waterfall, and Pancur Waterfall.

Tengkorong Waterfall is on the longer and more remote trail from Lambir Park HQ. Mixed dipterocarp forest dominate the trails all the way to the waterfall. The forest canopy here is dominated by Dipterocarpaceae tree family, some good examples of giant trees can be seen along this trail.

The Engkabang trees (genus Shorea of the Dipterocarpaceae family) had been fruiting in the forest for the past two months, their distinctive 5-wing fruits could be seen scattered on the forest floor at some of the places and especially on the Inoue trail.

A hiker in a previous trek not so long ago reminisced that in her childhood years when the Engkabang trees near her longhouse were fruiting, practically the whole community went into the forest to collect these seeds. The seeds were then soaked, dried and pounded to extract the oil which would coagulate into something like lard. According to her, when the Engkabang fat was added to steaming rice, it tasted better than chicken rice!

From the Pantu intersection to the Km 4 T-junction, the path goes up and down quite a bit as we traversed across a few ridges and the intervening valleys. Two streams were crossed, the first being Sungei Letik not long after we left the Pantu intersection, which dropped into Pantu Waterfall, and the second Sungei Lepoh at 2km further on. Water level at both streams was especially low that day as Miri had been experiencing an unusually dry spell for weeks, hence we were able to cross the streams without taking our shoes off.

At Km 4, the path forked, the right one led to Dinding Waterfall and Bukit Lambir, and the other one in the opposite direction joined Bakam trail which has 2 branches, namely Tengkorong trail and Pancur trail that ended up at Tengkorong and Pancur Waterfalls respectively.

Tengkorong Waterfall appeared to be even less visited than Dinding Waterfall as we trudged on the thick layer of crunchy leaf litters which made descent down the hills rather slippery. Fortunately the gradients of the hills here were gentler. Still, it took us a total of 3 hours to reach Tengkorong Waterfall where we spent about half an hour soaking up the peace and solitude of the place, and stocking up energy for the return trek.

Tengkorong Waterfall is a pretty waterfall. The stream Sungei Liam-Libau drops about 2 to 2.5m into a fairly large circular pool.

The emerald green pool is surrounded by lush vegetation and enclosed by semi-circle ochre-coloured sandstone wall which is draped with ferns and moss. The stream then continues on to Pancur Waterfall, another waterfall for us to checkout.

A taller than average walking palm.

The Tengkorong pool.

From Tengkorong to Pancur.

Write-up and photos by Sara Wong, MNS Miri.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Birdwatching at Pantu Buri

This place is just off the road to Lambir Hills NP, right after Bukit Song. These days there are plenty of 4WD roads connecting a few of the smaller villagers in the backwaters of Lambir as well as to the various newly opened farms, and oil palm plantations.

Steve Dexter, Musa Musbah, Marijke Jannsens and yours truly piled up in Steve's Dmax and off we went on a bumpy ride on a dirt road to Pantu Buri. We were already in beautiful setting surrounded by prime rainforest even before we reached the main dirt track to Buri. Along the road down the side of Bukit Song, we heard and saw plenty of birds: 6 Slender billed crows, 4 Red-bearded bee-eater, 1 Black and yellow broadbill, 2 Blue-throated bee eater, 4 Hill Mynas, 2 Large woodshrike and several unidentified little sunbirds ... they were fleeting too fast for us to bother.

The dirt track with a view of the forested (prime) back of Bukit Song.

Barn Swallow on a wire! The other 20+ not in the picture.

Off we went on our way to Buri after ticking of the bee eaters. We stopped by a little pond where Musa last enjoyed close-up views of Oriental Darter. Te bird wasn't there today. Instead we were happy with 20+ Barn swallows and Pacific swallows perched on telephone lines all along the track to the kampung. We heard Pied fantails and another group of Hill nearby, the mynas later flew past.

Pantu Buri is located along the Bakong River ... there are 2 clusters of longhouses, the traditional massive woodenand zinc types. There were several more modern individual houses to located alongside. LAKU's waterpump is located at the end of the dirt track. What's more interesting is the expanse of swamp (used to be paddy fields but were left fallow after this year's massive flooding in the area). The huge expanse of open space with numerous blackened dead tree trunks seemed ideal perching place for raptors and darters. Other smaller typical small birds were also seen in the area.

The paddy field left fallow located across from the longhouses. The dark shadow on the horizon marked the water level from last February massive flooding, the village was left cut-off from Miri for several days.

A little stream leading to Sg Bakong from the longhouse.

Sampan in a row at the bank of Sg Bakong. Those interested to go for a boat ride along Bakong can make arrangement with the longhouse folks, apparent you can go all the way to Marudi this way. Imagine the birdwatching and crocodile watching that can be made along this route.

A beautiful longboat parked in the sun, a perfect mode to experience riverine community of rural Sarawak.

Bakong River looks massive with the amount of water flowing through it. The banks were crowded with not so tall trees that looks perfect as perches for kingfishers, darters, raptors and others. Crocodiles are also residents here according to the kampung folks we spoke to, though we didn't see any today.

Our friendly new buddies from Buri, the two girls are both 10 years old and the bigger boy is 7. They all go to a school located not far away from the longhouse.

We saw 4 Black-thighed falconets right in front of the smaller longhouse! This could be the closest all of us had been to one ... did I say four! The family unit were seen busy handling butterflies on the telephone wire. The area in front of the longhouse was overgrown with tall grasses and flowering shrubs, which explains the presence of butterflies and maybe the falconets. Upon closer scrutiny we noticed that the birds kept flying back and forth to a bare branch nearby. This might be the falconet's nest hole. Other birds we saw here were Dusky munia and numerous Chestnut Munia.

The closest we've gotten to a family unit of Black-thighed Falconet, a possible nest tree is located nearby.

Feasting on a bountiful supply of butterfflies from the open area in front of the longhouse.

Two of the falconets on the same wire. We were completely stoked at the "friendliness" of the falconets, they must have been accustomed to the presence of humans in the area.

After the excitement with the falconet we moved on to the back of Bukit Song, another ideal spot for quiet birding. Here we saw Black -headed bulbul, Hairy-backed bulbul, Cream vented bulbul, Pale bulbul, female leafbird sp., a family of 4 woodpeckers sp. One interesting sighting was that of the Purple-naped sunbird!

It wasn't such a hassle to get to this new birding location, it's a nice quite corner for birding with quite a few nice birds, perhaps we'll come here more often. The kids from the longhouse too seems excited with the birds we showed them, maybe next time we'll cart along a slide projector and laptop for a bit of show and tell for the youngins : surely with the nice birds in the neighbourhood they should pick up some birdwatching.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Development Plans For People Affected By Dam Projects Poorly Implemented - Suhakam

BINTULU, July 23 (Bernama) -- The current state of the indigenous people affected by dam projects in Sarawak shows that the development programmes planned for them have been poorly implemented.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk Tunku Nazihah Tunku Mohamed Rus said the poor implementation could have been due to lack of monitoring or enforcement by the relevant authorities to ensure that the development programmes were executed according to plans.

"On paper, the planning looks good but when it comes to implementation on the ground, there is a glaring gap that needs to be addressed," she told a news conference at the end of a forum on "Implementing Hydroelectric and Reservoir Dam Projects While Preserving Human Rights and the Environment", here, Thursday.

She hoped the shortcomings in the services rendered by the government to the Bakun people who were moved to the Sungai Asap resettlement scheme, about 175km into the interior from here, would not recur in the current or future resettlement programmes.

Another Suhakam commissioner Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng expressed disappointment that the living standard of some of the Bakun people had worsened after being moved to the resettlement scheme.

She said during her visit to the resettlement area yesterday, she learnt that new requirements such as paying utility bills had caused a number of the resettlers to become poorer that they had to sell off the longhouse units allocated to them.

"As a result, there are units shared by three families each," she added.

Chiam who made two previous visits in 2001 and 2005, said the people there had also not been able to overcome the psychological effects of being displaced and resettled.

"I learnt today that the birth rate there had dropped to 1.6 per cent, much lower than their birth rate before, and of course, mental problem can affect fertility," she added.

Suhakam commissioner Datuk Khalid Ibrahim is concerned about the Penans in Long Jaik, one of the villages affected by the Murum Hydroelectric project, should they be relocated without their registration and basic problems being addressed first.

He said from the over 1,000 known villagers in Long Jaik, only two possessed identification documents and the rest would be bound to face difficulties to go to school or look for a job should they be resettled to a different place.

Khalid said the people there needed transparent decisions and actions from the government whom they felt should focus more on their needs rather than being "project-oriented".

Datuk Dr Michael Yeoh Oon Keng, also a Suhakam commissioner, expressed hope that the Social Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) study to be carried out on the Murum hydroelectric project would be able to identify the social needs of the affected people better than through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study adopted in the past.

He said requiring the SEIA was a step forward by the state government in its effort to improve the living standard of the indigenous people without hampering the development programmes.

BERNAMA Full link to source

Friday, August 7, 2009

Pulau Talang Besar's Sojourn with Turtles and Salco

SALCO (CMS-Rio Tinto) sponsored several people each from Salco and MNS to participate in SFC’s Turtle Islands package from 3-6th August 2009. This maiden group consisted of Ryan Ng, Michael Scotton and Julia Chua from Salco; Ting King King, Aidil Adnan and Nazeri Abghani from MNS Miri. It's unfortunate that no representation came out of Similajau National Park, perhaps on another trip.

Further details on the actual program can be found here:

Participants from MNS Miri members were chosen from a pool of volunteer members who have agreed in advance to be a part of any future turtle monitoring programme in the Similajau National Park if and when initiated by Salco in due course.

Thus was the impetus of our 4D/3N sojourn on Pulau Talang Besar.

Pulau Talang-Satang National Park staff , participants of Sea Turtle Adoption Program and Ambrose guide from Masama Tours posing in front of the park's sign board. We were told by Tony Ganyai, SFC Park PIC that this is the thing to do for all visitors.

The entire crew of the 4d/3n Sea Turtle Adoption program. Most of the park staff are fromPulau Talang Besar and two from Pulau Talang Kecil. During off season, there'll be 3 permanent staff for both islands.

Participants from the recent Sea Turtle Adoption program (from left : Ryan Ng-Salco, Michael Scotton-Rio Tinto, Ting King King-MNS Miri, Tony Ganyai-SFC, Aidil Adnan- MNS Miri, Julia Chua- Salco and Nazeri Abghani-MNS Miri) posing with the template for their respective adopted turtles and nests. Six mother turtles and six nests were adopted courtesy of SALCO. Picture courtesy of Ryan Ng, Salco.

A lone mother turtle leaving the island after depositing her brood on the island. Picture courtesy of Ryan Ng, Salco.

More stories and pictures from SFC's Sea Adoption Program in our next installment.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tusan Fossil Hunt and Sea Level Changes

The crowd that gathered for the trip consisting of a mixed bag from Curtin University students, MNS Miri members and friends.

Charlie doing his stuff, briefing participants on what they should expect on the trip.

Maarten fielding some tough questions on climate change and global warming at the introduction to Sea Level Changes which will also be covered in the day's event.