Photos show the various stages of Schismatoglottis persistens. — Photos by Peter C Boyce
A new plant
A STRANGE plant has been found along Sungai Pedali – a stream which flows into Sungai Sumpa near Batang Ai.
The plant was located in the upper growing regions of a hill above the high water mark. A search only located a single specimen.
Tissue from the plant was brought back to the lab and it grew well for several years in shady conditions but did not flower.
When the plant was exposed to more light, a flower erupted looking like a long white shaft coming from a hood below it. The leaves holding the flower browned away and the plant was named Schismatoglottis persistens.
The plant comes from a rhizome, which is a stem just under the soil. From this structure, leaves are sent upwards and roots downwards.
From this angle, the plant was originally thought to be a Phymatarum, but the flower proved otherwise. The flower is remarkable because it has both a rhizome and a flower.
‘Studies on Schismatoglottideae (Araceae) of Borneo XXXIX: Schismatoglottis persistens, a new rhizomatous rheophytic species for the Schismatoglottis Multiflora Group’ by Wong Sin Yeng and Peter Boyce, Wildenowia 44-2014.
The saga of the Wedge Beetle
We begin with the collector Dr John Frederick Muir, who had been employed by the Sugarcane Association in 1907 to identify a beetle species to control the sugar cane borer in Hawaii.
His travels took him to China, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
While in Borneo, he sent a specimen of the Wedge Beetle to William D Pierce of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, USA.
Terse notes on the label show how the beetle was forgotten: “Pierce left in 1918”, “Got Swartz to find it”, and “called to the attention of Herbert S Barber but Muir refused to take it back”.
Photos show the Rhipidocyrtus muiri. — Photos by Michael S Engel
Readers might recall that it was Barber, who supposedly found Ali (of Alfred Wallace fame) on Ternate Island, now part of Indonesia, in 1907.
Barber dissected the beetle but the pinned animal and its various slide mounted parts became separated. They would remain separated for 50 years.
In 1996, a PhD student, Zachary H Falin, noticed the parts and discovered nothing in scientific literature. He discovered that a collection of Wedge Beetles had been loaned to John K Bouseman of the Illinois Natural History Survey around 1980.
Needing the material for his dissertation, it was transferred to the University of Kansas. He was struck by the Borneo specimen, but nothing happened for the next 14 years.
Coincidentally, Falin and Dr J Kathirithamby were sitting in the same room at the Smithsonian Institution, while working on different insects. She noted one specimen that she was working on was not Strepsipterans but Ripiphorids. Falin was working on Ripiphorids and instantly recognised them as the long lost parts to the Borneo Beetle. It was thus recognised and named Rhipidocyrtus muiri after the person who found it.
Three years later, the Wedge Beetle received its name after three institutions, five experts and 107 years later.
‘Serendipity at the Smithsonian: The 107-year journey of Rhipidocyrtus muiri Falin & Engel, new genus and species (Ripidiinae, Ripidiini), from jungle beast to valid taxon’ by ZH Falin and MS Engel (2014).
Fossils discovered in China
Twenty-eight fossil orangutan teeth from the Early Pleistocene (1.2 million years ago) have been found in the Chongzuo Ecological Park in Guangxi, southern China.
The teeth are coarser than those of existing orangutan in Sumatra, suggesting a more unrefined diet.
The name given to the organism is Pongo pygmaeus weidenreichi.
Further study needs to be done to determine its place in evolutionary history.
For more go to www.sciencedirect.com.
The fossil orangutan teeth were found in Chongzuo Ecological Park.
The Engkari River where the tagang system to restore fish stocks is implemented.
IN the past, there was so much misconception and protest over the gazettement of Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary (LEWS).
When the government gazetted the forests as national parks, the local people said the area would be given away for logging.
Now, they realise the gazettement is a government effort to conserve the environment and they are helping to stop unscrupulous people entering the area to catch their fish or hunt the protected animals.
The mindset of the people living near LEWS has changed. They no longer depend solely on the forests for their livelihood.
Fish rearing and fruit farming have not only helped solve their food supply problems but also brought additional income to families and longhouses surrounding the Sanctuary.
As headman of Rumah Anthony Bau confessed: “We’re very grateful to the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), for sponsoring the community development project (CDP) in our longhouse.
“We also thank the Sarawak Forest Department for implementing the project which has helped improve our livelihood.
“Besides, the initiatives undertaken by the two agencies have also raised awareness among us not to be too dependent on the natural resources found in LEWS for our livelihood.”
The CDP was implemented by the Forest Department’s Community Service Initiatives (CSI).
Anthony recalled at one time the relationship between the local communities, including those from his longhouse, and Sarawak Forestry was a bit strained.
This, he noted, was due to the community’s own fault, as they had blindly protested the setting up of LEWS.
“We protested because we weren’t aware of Sanctuary’s importance to us, especially when we relied solely on the forest and its resources for a living.
“Now, I thank the two agencies for their community projects which have made it easier for us to earn a living from other sources,” he said at the launch of the tagang system at his longhouse.
Antiaris toxicaria (ipoh tree) sap for blowpipe poison is found at the Sanctuary.
The headman said families at his longhouse were learning to become more enterprising and had been earning additional income from the indigenous fruits they planted and fish they reared in valley ponds.
He said aside from that, the relationship between the local community and Sarawak Forestry had become more cordial, adding that they always fully supported any development involving the local community in his longhouse.
The 19-door Rumah Anthony Bau is one of the longhouses located near LEWS. It’s about 40km from Sibu and between three and four hours boatride from Nanga Entabai in Jalau.
LEWS, covering 193,039 hectares of relatively undisturbed primary forest, is located in southwestern Sarawak.
The area includes patches of rugged terrains and hills, and Bukit Lanjak forms the highest peak which stands 1,285 metres above sea level.
Formerly constituted as a protected forest, the area was reconstituted as a Wildlife Sanctuary in February 1983 due to large presence of orangutans and hornbills.
It is believed there are over 30 Iban longhouses in the area, located along Sungei Engkari, Katibas, Ngemah, Kanowit and Mujok.
When the Sanctuary was set up, the longhouses were granted rights to collect forest produce in three designated areas. The activities, however, impacted negatively on the Sanctuary.
Cooperation from the local communities was also lacking in the past as they did not understand the purpose of conservation and felt the government was depriving them of the use of the forest in LEWS that provided their many daily needs.
Illegal encroachments into these areas, particularly by local communities, were still occurring then.
However, strategies to reduce their dependencies on the forest were put in place. These included involving the local communities in managing the Sanctuary and boundary clearing as well as employing them to work at the Ranger stations.
Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Len Talif Salleh said the government had appointed community leaders in the area as honorary wildlife rangers and special wildlife committee members.
Following the appointment, the leaders will report illegal activities to the wildlife authorities or police.
They are also responsible for educating their own communities on the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 and other wildlife issues as requested by the Controller of Wildlife and other wildlife staff.
(From left) Julau MP Datuk Joseph Salang, Datuk Len Talif Salleh, Wan Shardini and Tuai Tumah Anthony Bau sharing a light moment during the launch of the tagang system at Rantau Tapang, Ulu Mujok in Julau.
Moreover, they are required to advise and help wildlife staff conducting field programmes in their areas, particularly on local wildlife issues and problems as well as provision of relevant background information.
The Rangers and the committee members are also involved in discussions, enforcement and decisions pertaining to the management of the Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Through this initiative, the government hopes the local community and their leaders will become its eyes and ears in its effort to preserve the protected forest and prevent illegal encroachment,” said Len, formerly the director of forest.
He added that with this kind of active participation by the local people, the management of the Sanctuary had been more efficient and acceptable to the communities in the surrounding areas.
With the collaboration of ITTO, the Forest Department has also successfully implemented a Community Development project in the buffer zone, actively involving local communities in various activities.
Sarawak Forest Department deputy director Wan Shardini Wan Salleh said since the implementation of the ITTO-supported project in 1992, the Department had encouraged and helped the local community within LEWS to rear indigenous fish and cultivate indigenous plants, and also trained them in some kind of basic technical knowledge in agro-forestry, fish culture as well as park and wildlife management.
He said throughout the implementation period, some 30 valley ponds had been built while over 50 plots of indigenous fruits had been developed within LEWS buffer zone through gotong-royong.
“Aside from that, the local community were also involved in other activities like research, monitoring and natural environment studies.
“About RM10 million had been spent to implement these activities over the last 22 years,” he said.
An important component of the project is the integration of the use of resources and conservation in the buffer zone outside the Sanctuary.
The local communities are encouraged to develop various projects on plant and animal species of economic potential to supplement their income, at the same time reducing their dependencies on the resources of the sanctuary.
Farmers were selected to participate in the cultivation of indigenous crops.
These crops were selected based on their potential for domestication and commercialisation and in consensus with the participants.
In addition, the farmers were provided with commercial fruit species, some of which are non-seasonal in an effort to have an integrated orchard to ensure fruit supply on a daily basis.
With active participation in these activities, the local people spent less time in the forests of the Sanctuary to look for wild fruits and other jungle produce.
They were also taught to monitor and record the growth performance of the plants and to submit it to representative of the Forests Department or ITTO.
The local communities view the project very positively as admitted openly by Anthony Bau.
He said the community now valued the Sanctuary, particularly its rich natural resources, clean water and fresh air.
The landscape of Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary. — Photos courtesy of Forest Department.
They appreciate the great potential benefits that can be derived through a joint effort with the government to sustainably manage the natural resources.
According to Len, the government always tries to implement the community’s economic activities towards a competitive direction based on current development.
“This is important because forest or traditional farming does not guarantee a steady income.
“Because of that, the government always strives to bring changes by encouraging the local community to get involved in commercial agriculture like planting fruit and gaharu trees or fish rearing as an additional source of income.”
The pilot project on fish rearing is said to have been implemented for three longhouses in Ulu Katibas and Ulu Mujok.
Two valley ponds and a concrete tank for fish rearing were constructed by the local communities on gotong-royong with the building materials supplied by the Forests Department or by ITTO office.
The participants were encouraged to rear the high-value indigenous fish such as empurau, tengadak and semah for own consumption and for sale.
Additonally, Sarawak Forestry had assisted in the implementation of the tagang system.
The first one was implemented in 2009 in Ulu Sungai Engkari while the second one was launched by Len recently in Sungai Sugai, Rantau Tapang, Ulu Mujok.
Wan Shardini said the tagang system in Ulu Engkari had been successful.
It is said the residents of three longhouses in the Ulu Engkari have learnt the techniques of restoring fish resources in the river through the tagang system introduced to them five years ago.
Following the success, residents from Rumah Anthony Bau too have adopted such system.
The system at Sungai Sugai was only implemented in December last year and the fish have returned.
At the official launching of the tagang system at his longhouse, Anthony said they had noticed an increase in the fish stocks in Sungai Sugai five months after implementation.
“Our tagang system was implemented late last year and it has started to show the depleted fish stock in our river is being restored.
DID you know that birding is a very popular activity these days and that people travel across the world to see a specific bird that might not be the most colourful, but is a rare or endemic species? Tourists might come just to see a hornbill because Sarawak is often advertised as the Land of the Hornbills.
For real birders, it is a challenge to find a tiny bird that is on their bucket list. One of the most sought-after groups of birds by real birders are the pittas, which are very beautiful, but a challenge to see or find in the forest since they are very shy.
Some other birds are beautiful with bright colours but others a bit dull in some people’s eyes, but for birders that may be the one they want to photograph or see through their binoculars (called bins by birders).
Birders will write in their birding notebooks the bird species, place and date. As a guide, you don’t show them birds that are common and easy to see in many places but try to locate the one they came to see.
Another rare bird is the Bornean Bristlehead, which is endemic to Borneo and birders will fly from the United States of America or other places, and pay a lot of money for a good guide to show them this particular bird. They don’t want to see it in a cage or in a bird park, but want to walk around in the forest and hope to see it.
I was lucky being one of the 25 participants to join a three-day workshop sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor and Kuching branches. They successfully held a Beginners Bird-Watching Workshop for licensed tourist guides from the Sarawak Tourist Guides Association as well as Sarawak Forestry Corporation staff and park guides.
Participants compare their notes with field guides.
The three-day workshop in August took place at Borneo Highlands Resort (BHR), a popular birding destination in Sarawak, which is also an Important Bird Area. Endemic birds of Borneo that can be seen at Borneo Highlands, but are hard to find elsewhere, include the Bornean Barbet and the Pygmy White-eye or Bornean Ibon. Dusky Munias are endemic but not specifically for Borneo Highlands.
Two trainers from MNS Selangor branch explained how to use binoculars and bird field guidebooks, to draw a bird and add details that you see through the binoculars, adding colours to the parts you see and how this helps to identify (ID) the bird. Some of the participants were park guides and others tourist guides and some hoped to become good bird guides.
Wildlife conservationist, naturalist, writer and birder Ron Orenstein explained how much people would pay to get a good bird guide with good recommendations by other birders through Facebook or other social networks or blogs. He gave the inspiring talk ‘Birding Tourism in Sarawak’.
The guides were hoping to improve their skills by attending this workshop. The trainers also played the sounds of several birds and told us to learn to listen, to try to ID the birds by means of their calls. We also had to study bird field guidebooks in our free time and go out and learn how birds behave, listening to the sounds. I must say it’s not very easy and will take some time to be able to ID a bird from its sound.
Early the next day from 7am till 10am, we went in different groups with a trip leader and started looking around. We learned not to point at birds since they might get scared thinking you are pointing a gun at them, to be as quiet as possible by only whispering to each other and to wear dull clothes.
We slowly looked around. We saw many birds flying so fast that we could not identify them so they didn’t count. My group was lucky to see nine different birds. They had to sit still on a branch to give us enough time to write down what we saw through our binoculars. In class we had to check with our notes, discuss and look in a bird field guidebook on Bornean birds.
Another field trip was from 3pm till 5pm and it was hard to see birds, but birds also rest when it’s hot and become more active in the late afternoon.
We birded at different locations around BHR to ID birds. With the basic birding skills acquired over the weekend and spending time birding and reading bird field guidebooks, the trainers assured participants they should be able to ID birds within a reasonable time.
The trainers were impressed with participants’ enthusiasm and hoped a few participants would become serious birders and bird guides.
The impression I want to leave behind is to instil a love for birding and protecting their habitats, while at the same time sharing our birds’ diversity with people from around the world.
For more go to http://ronorenstein.blogspot.com, http://birdiwitness.blogspot.com, www.xeno-canto.org, and http://ibc.lynxeds.com.
Also read ‘Phillips’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan’ by Quentin Phillips and Karen Phillips, and ‘A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo’ by Susan Myers.