Tuesday, May 10, 2016

To the River By Mary Margaret

The river called a small group of MNS members on Sunday, May 8, 2016 to venture out onto the upper reaches of the left branch of the Sungai (River) Sarawak.  It starts in the Penrissen Highlands and as it flows towards Kuching it becomes larger and larger. 
The starting point, Kampung Bengoh on the Sungai Abang, a shaded tributary of the Sungai Sarawak, foretold of what was to come.  We would experience the natural world and see man's positive interaction with it.
The fast-flowing Sungai Sarawak swept, us, the intrepid explorers along.  In reality all that we needed to do was to dip our paddles into the water to keep the kayaks going more or less straight.  This allowed us to immerse ourselves into the river, the trees, the sound of the water, the call of the birds and insects. We became one with the natural world.

This is the traditional homeland of the Bidayuh people; the mark of their hands is on the riverbank and incorporated into the natural world.  Towering durian trees (Durio sp.) rise above the bamboo clumps.  There are approximately 30 species of this tree (the number depends on the source) and this area produces durian with seeds covered with creamy white, yellow or red flesh.  The latter is less common and gets a better price at the market.

The emergent tapang (Koompassia excelsa), one the tallest trees in the rainforest and can reach a staggering 80 metres, dots the riverbank.  The fluffy umbrella-like crown and white bone-like trunk are easily seen distinguishing features.  It is fondly called the bee tree because honeybees, from the apidae family, build nests high up in the branches. This legally protected tree is highly valued by Sarawak's indigenous communities.    
The largest grass in the world, bamboo, is a perennial evergreen that is a member of family Poaceae family and Bambusoideaea subfamily.  This graceful plant, which shades many places along the river, has multiple uses.  

There was a rather extensive discussion about bamboo chicken, locally known as ayam pansoh.  Bamboo serves as the container to cook this delicious delicacy.  But this is only the beginning.  It is used for example to construct houses, weave baskets and mats, and serve as containers. Its fibrous routes stabilise riverbanks and bamboo shoots of some species are eaten.  It is a grass with an almost endless number of uses.  

At Kampung Danu the river changes.  It became faster and more challenging as we encountered rapids.  Some we flowed over and some we had to go around.  Limestone cliffs dramatically materialised and the river curved suddenly at the foot of theses starkly beautiful rock faces. The river provided us with a new perspective of the Penrissen Highlands. 
We paddled at the foot of majestic cliffs and looked upwards in wonder.  We smelled the guano of the bat droppings in hidden caves.  Our guides told us that they had visited caves and of a cave that connected villages.  The mystery continues. 
Unfortunately the adventure came to an end.  But we take with us calmness and memories. 
We would to extend our thanks Semadang Kayaking and the team for guiding our journey down the river. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Serpents in the city BY STORY PHOTOS BY GRACE CHEN


The rising rat population in urban areas combined with the heatwave have increased the incidence of city folk coming into contact with venomous snakes.
ON MARCH 31, the Remote Envenomation Consultancy Services (RECS) in Ampang Hospital treated an 11-year-old girl for suspected snake bite on her left foot. 
Case files reported that she was bitten at a night market. The location was not recorded and the snake was not positively identified. But symptoms exhibited were characteristic of a cobra bite. 
Doctors had to remove dead tissue destroyed by what was suspected to be neurotoxic venom from a cobra. 
The patient required a skin graft. 
In another case which happened a year earlier, the RECS team in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre (UKMMC) reported a Malayan pit viper biting a 32-year-old woman from Taman Bukit Segar Cahaya 2, Cheras. 
She was bitten on her right hand but it was a “dry” bite (where no venom was released) and was discharged. 
Last July, the same team reported another pit viper bite from the same area. 
The victim, a 12-year-old boy, had found the snake in his neighbourhood and was bitten while trying to put the snake into a bottle. 
All three cases happened in urban locations and the snakes were venomous. 
Malaysian Society on Toxinology president and RECS consultant Dr Ahmad Khaldun Ismail confirmed that out of 24 cases reported by RECS from Ampang Hospital, Kuala Lumpur Hospital and UKMMC between 2015 and 2016, five snakes were identified to be venomous. The snake species identified were the Malayan pit viper and mangrove cat eye. 
“This year, we are seeing two to five consultations per day for Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. 
“There was once we had five within 24 hours in the Klang Valley alone,” said Dr Ahmad. 
Judging from the number of times he had been called in to remove snakes from residential areas in the Klang Valley, snake venom researcher and conservationist Arun Raveendaran agrees the snake population has increased in the past 10 years. 
Arun has removed up to 50 snakes, mostly monocled and spitting cobras from Ampang alone. 
Khaldun with the pit viper he caught in Cheras.
Khaldun with the pit viper he caught in Cheras.
Both types of cobras are venomous. 
He has identified Ampang, Cheras, Melawati, Setapak, Selayang and Kepong as habitats. 
In Gombak, he has extracted 100 pythons from the homes of startled residents. 
One recent case was in a restaurant near Kuala Lumpur city centre. According to Arun, pythons are not venomous but their teeth may contain bacteria which can lead to infection. 
“Cities make the most ideal breeding grounds. 
“They can breed in drains, rat holes, rubbish dumps and underneath houses. 
“Market areas are the best because the high rat population provides a large food source,” he said.
Explaining the cycle, Arun said food waste would attract rats which in turn attracted snakes. 
“This explains why there is a possibility for snakes to thrive better in cities than in the wild.”
Arun with his monocled cobra.
Arun with his monocled cobra.
His opinion is backed up by the large captures he has carried out in houses and building. His record catch is a 1.9m-long monocled cobra. 
From RECS records, Dr Ahmad confirmed and verified six to seven cases of Malayan pit viper bites in Cheras residential areas since 2011. 
The latest incident occurred early this year. 
An exploratory trip to the area saw Dr Ahmad discovering two live adult specimens.
While jungle clearing for development is regularly cited as a reason for the migration of serpents into populated urban areas, Dr Ahmad notes that pet owners are also contributing to snake bite statistics.
“More animal enthusiasts are buying snakes as pets. 
“Non-venomous exotics like corn snakes, Burmese and ball pythons are popular but some collectors go for venomous and dangerous snakes. 
“Whether the snakes are venomous or not, their owners are at high risk of getting bitten.
“In the case of exotic venomous snakes, there will be an issue with anti-venom in case of bites. 
“Pet suppliers do not provide or sell anti-venom because it is a controlled drug and need special care and medical specialists to administer them,” he pointed out.
From RECS records, two Malaysians were bitten by rattlesnakes in Selangor. 
As the species is exotic here, there was no anti-venom in the local hospitals. 
It had to be brought in from the Singapore Zoo, an extremely expensive affair for the patient.
Former National Zoo employee, Tayalan Rahman said there was a strict procedure to follow when importing venomous snakes.
“When the zoo brought in an African king cobra, it had to be reported to the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) and the National Poison Centre. 
“It was especially necessary to inform the National Poison Centre so that it would have the anti-venom in stock in case of emergency. 
Tayalan advised keepers of venomous snakes to get a licence from Perhilitan and, for their own safety, inform the nearest hospital that they have these snakes as pets. 
He reckoned that one reason why the rattlesnake case required the help of Singapore Zoo might be due to the owner’s failure to tell the nearest hospital of the existence of their exotic pet. 
Commenting on the case, Malaysian Association of Reptile And Exotic Animal Keepers (Marak) founder Mohd Nazri Hassan Basri said permits for the keeping of exotic venomous snakes were highly regulated by Perhilitan. 
“Permits are only issued to zoos and permanent display facilities, not to individuals,” he said. 
On cases of pet snakes escaping from their confines or were abandoned by their owners who thought it would be best for them to go back to the wild, a 2013 story in The Star cited then Perhilitan law and enforcement director Burhanuddin Mohd Nor describing the impact of such actions as “devastating.” 
There are precautions one can take to avoid snake bites.
“Cut away the rubbish and lalang and you would have addressed a big part of the problem,” said Mohd Nazri.
Arun said: “Don’t look for trouble.”
“If you see a snake, do not disturb or try to catch it. Chances are high that it will move away when it feels the vibration of human footsteps.
“Snakes do not usually chase after humans. 
“It is usually the other way around,” he added. 
RECS was developed to assist healthcare providers at various levels of clinical management for snakebite (and bites or stings from venomous animals) and envenoming. Established in early 2012, it is made up of emergency physicians who are members of Malaysian Society On Toxinology. 
A consultation network among members is established through telephone calls, email and various forms of short text messaging systems.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Onto the River, caving trip for mns members

Onto the River
The meandering road to Borneo Highlands or Annah Rais Longhouse in the Penrissen Highlands edges the Sarawak River. But have you ever thought about exploring the river; bathing in the golden sunlight as it edges through the trees; observing man's influence on nature and nature's influence on man; and pretending that you are the first person to do so.
The Kuching Branch of Malaysian Nature Society is giving all members an opportunity to take a journey of discovery down the Upper Sarawak River, on Sunday, May 8, 2016. This voyage, which is organised through Semandang Kayaking (), will let you explore the river.
Please note that children must be over 6 years old. However, all minors must be accompanied by a guardian.
The discounted package price for MNS members is RM165. This includes kayaks, paddles, life jackets, lunch, and pick up. The pick-up / drop-off point is the parking lot in front of the Choice Daily in Tabuan Laru (map attached).
Registration for this adventure is a must and the closing date is Thursday, April 28, 2016 through email at mnskuching@gmail.com. Full payment must be made and the completed attached indemnity form submitted by Monday May 2, 2016 to Ann or Alcila
Trip Details
Day / Date:
Sunday, May 8, 2016
River: Upper Sarawak River
Pick-up / Drop-off Point: Parking Lot in Front of Choice Daily in Tabuan Laru Starting Time: 8:30am (sharp from pick-up / drop-off point)
Return Time: Approximately 3:00pm (to pick-up / drop-off point)
Cost Per Person: RM165 (inclusive of kayak, paddles, life jacket, lunch and pick up) Contact: Ann (010-9837564 -Please message or whatsapp)
Required Information for all Participants Including ALL Family Members:

  • Information Needed for Registration:
  • Complete Name
  • Membership Number
  • IC / Passport Number
  • Handphone Number
  • Email

(Please note we cannot register participants without these details.)
Closing Date for Registration: Thursday, April 27, 2016
Final Date for Payment: Monday, May 2, 2016
Final Date for Submitting Completed Indemnity Form: Monday, May 2, 2016
Contact for Registration: Cynthia at mnskuching@gmail.com
Contact for Payment: Ann (010-9837564 at the weekend - please message or whatsapp)) or
Alcila (014-6881301 during office hours)
You do need to bring a few things with you in a waterproof bag and please wear shoes that

will not
• • • • • • •
come off; slippers should not be worn while kayaking. The items are: Sunblock
Extra water

Change of clothes Towel
Spectacle / glasses strap Sunglasses

This is a members-only trip and families need to have a family membership if children and partners are joining. If you would like to convert your membership, for a mere RM10, please contact the MNS Membership Officer at 03-22879422 or email membership@mns.org.my .
An opportunity to explore the Upper Sarawak River does not happen often. So join us.
Love Life Love Nature

Drought and floods: the connection? April 24, 2016, Sunday Mary Margaret

Photo shows an aerial view of the recent flood.
Photo shows an aerial view of the recent flood.
KUCHING was wet; very wet. The incessant rain on the night of Feb 26 and morning of Feb 27 resulted in floods that brought many parts of unsuspecting Kuching to a halt.
Floods flooded social media sites. Sarawak General Hospital patients and staff waded through mid-calf deep water. Cars were partially submerged along some roads, which had literally become rivers. Coffee shop patrons sat with water around them while having their morning cups of tea or coffee. Despite the potential dangers and initial panic, Kuching residents did not loose their sense of humour as a mermaid even floated down the flooded streets.
Numerous government agencies sprung into action issuing notices on roads inundated, establishing evacuation centres and ensuring safety. For the security and the humour, we say thank you.
Kuching is in the wet tropics, so heavy rain and the associated flooding is almost normal, but extreme flooding was not. The Borneo Post reported on Feb 29 that 300 millimetres of rain fell over a short period of time. This combined with high tide left many parts of Kuching underwater.
Kuching is not alone. Floods have hit several countries, including the United States, China, India, the United Kingdom, and Germany, as well as many in Africa. They generally lead to economic loss as, for example, roads and infrastructure in general need to be repaired, business and production have few clients and individual salaries may be cut.
The Padawan Municipal Council (MPP) indicated on March 1 in the report ‘MPP assessing flood damage, appeals for patience’ that the bill to repair roads, drains, clear up landslides was between RM20 million and RM30 million. Individuals whose homes were flooded also experience personal losses since damaged electrical appliances and furniture may need to be replaced. Victims, in addition to economic ramifications, may experience stress and emotional turmoil.
Concerns about and the hope for action to prevent floods were expressed in The Borneo Post and other newspapers, as well as online news portals. MPP echoed the feeling that planning has to be re-examined and that they are not able to solve the floods without working with other agencies.
Possible preventative actions, which include the identification of long-term solutions and development of infrastructure to minimise flooding, were reported in The Borneo Post on Feb 28-29. On March 1, Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof requested developers to plan for future extreme weather patterns when developing projects.
Drainage was cited by many as the culprit, but Fadillah suggested that Kuching, Serian and Samarahan were hit by floods because of the quick pace of development that has taken place. The lands that used to serve as storage areas of water are no longer there.
Ironically, while Kuching was flooded, Miri and most other parts of Malaysia were on extreme alert for fires. This means that fine fuels, such as twigs and grass, are so dry that they can be easily ignited by even, for example, a dropped lighted cigarette or match. A front page article in a national newspaper on Feb 29 also commented that Kuching, unlike most of the country, was extremely wet.
However, as the month of March marched on, the daytime temperatures began to rise. Kuching, unlike other cities, has been spared droughts (so far) and extreme highs. However, schools in Kedah and Perlis were ordered closed due to the extreme heat of 39 degrees Celsius for three consecutive days. Unfortunately as the heat returns, so generally does the haze. In September 2015, schools in four states were closed because air quality reached unhealthy levels.
These reports highlight two extreme water situations — too much and not enough. Could the solutions be connected?
Environmental science degree holder Rebecca D’Cruz, who has been involved in wetland management for 25 years, gave a talk entitled ‘Wetlands: Our First Line of Defence’ in February. She discussed ways in which natural features, such as wetlands, can be incorporated into water management plans that include excessive and insufficient water.
Wetlands, according to the Ramsar Convention, are any lands that are wet, including rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, coastal areas, and paddy fields as well as coastal areas and underground aquifers; but the definition varies according to locality. In 1971, 168 countries signed the convention and committed themselves to using wetlands wisely.
Senior citizens wade through the recent flood.
Senior citizens wade through the recent flood.
D’Cruz said managing for floods and droughts involve the entire watershed, including land use, wetlands, forests, agriculture, and housing areas. Land use, whether natural or man-made, in the upper reaches of watershed affects the downriver areas. She noted that flood control measures such as barriers and dams are expensive to build and maintain, whereas the use of existing wetlands would be more cost efficient and increase in effectiveness over time.
Conservation worker Cynthia Chin said the economic benefits of keeping wetlands to absorb the rains should be readily and immediately measurable on an economic basis. In addition, water would be available during droughts.
Forests and wetlands can reduce run-off and pollution, soak up water and then release it as the land dries during the dry season; a service provided by nature. It is a safety net and is called natural capital. Another benefit is that animals living wetlands, such as fish and dragonflies, prey on mosquito larvae and are a natural control of the population of this pest.
Natural capital refers to services and renewable and non-renewable resources (including air, water, biodiversity, life, oil and other minerals) provided by nature (www.davidsuzuki.org). Services include purifying water, regulating climate, reducing flood risk and pollinating plants. The concept extends an economic value to natural resources, although, as Chin pointed out, they are priceless.
As mentioned many regions are facing floods. Cape Town in South Africa applies the principles of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS). This system aims to imitate natural water regimes by reducing the volume and speed of run-off, increasing absorption into the soil to replenish ground water and integrating storm water management with the environment.
Measures include reducing hard surfaces and directing rain to permeable areas such as flower gardens so that water can sink into the ground, thus reducing the amount of water in the drains. Also storm drains, rivers and wetlands, which are flood control measures, are part of the city’s green spaces.
The planners in Cape Town appear, in the implementation of SUDS, to have considered water management rather than only flood control. The Department of Irrigation and Drainage in the proposal to implement the Sarawak Urban Storm Water Management Manual, which is a guideline on urban storm water management, also seems to be looking at the larger picture. This strategy, which would require developers to include water storage units either as ponds or underground, is under discussion. This was reported in ‘DID hopes state govt will adopt SUStoM to mitigate floods’ on March 1.
The planners for the River Devon in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, north of Edinburgh are experimenting with the management of the entire watershed to address the actual reasons for floods not just the symptoms. This includes restoring wetlands, planting native trees along the riverbanks, controlling erosion and slowing the flow of water into the river. This water management, described in the WWF leaflet ‘River Devon Project: Slowing the Flow’, incorporates cost effective natural features and man-made ones.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2016/04/24/drought-and-floods-the-connection/#ixzz46oWhVOZ3