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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MNS: Merdeka Greetings

Dear Members,

Happy Merdeka!
It's that time of the year again, where our nation commemorates yet another year of independence. MNS has been around long before our declaration of independence, and have been fervently advocating for the fate of those who cannot voice their grievances - our forests, its naturals eco systems and all the wildlife, plants and people who live within and around it.

As Malaysia celebrates its 53rd year of independence, let us not forget those who have yet to reach independence. Our forests and wildlife which have been 'residents' to this country long before we turned up, have been fighting for the right to live in peace and harmony, away from poachers and loggers who threaten their very existence.

As MNS turns 70 this year, we invite you to pledge your support to Save Temengor, one of the oldest rainforest in the world. Let us celebrate this Merdeka by signing the signature pledge to get Temengor gazzetted as a protected area, if you have not yet signed the pledge. Please visit http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/savetemengor2010 and get your family and friends to do the same.

This year, our society turns 70! We would also like to invite you to join in the celebrations of the 70th Anniversary International Conference (8-9th October 2010) and Royal Charity Dinner, graced by Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Seri Paduka Baginda Raja Permaisuri Agong (10th October 2010) which will be held at Doubletree Hilton, Kuala Lumpur. For more details and inquiries, please email call 03-22871176 (Angel or Stephenie) or email events@mns.org.my visithttp://www.mns.my/article.php?aid=913 for the Conference and Dinner details.

Hari Merdeka is more than just a holiday, its a celebration of all that's Malaysian. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Council, branch EXCOs and the secretariat, Happy Merdeka

Conserving Nature, Celebrating Life..

Tan Sri Dr Salleh Mohd Nor
Malaysian Nature Society

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mt Kinabalu – a biogeographical gem

A REAL GEM: Mount Kinabalu is a melting pot of northern and southern hemisphere plant life.

By Alan Rogers
MT KINABALU, rising to 4,101 metres, is indeed thegem of the Orient. As I write from Somerset, UK with my pitcher plant (Nepenthes), my orchidsand my flowering peach coloured hibiscus around me, I think back to the many times, as an educationalist, I have visited Mt Kinabalu National Park. I hasten to add that the tropical plants in my garden here have been purchased from reputable garden centres in the UK. Mt Kinabalu is a melting pot of plant life for northern and southern hemisphere species, which occur at all heights on the mountain, with Malaysian species dominating the scene. EJH Corner, an eminent botanist, leading two Royal 
Society Expeditions to the mountain in the early 1960s remarked that, “Mt Kinabalu is a scenic wonder... botanically a paradise!” Surely the Mt Kinabalu National Park is 
truly a beacon of diversity hanging above Borneo in an area just less than that of Singapore.

In two previous articles in thesundaypost (March 14 and 21, 2010), I wrote on the geology and effect of the Ice Ages on this mountain. Today as a biogeographer, I attempt to summarise the vegetation that may be observed in a climb upwards from the National Park Headquarters to the summit at Low’s Peak.
This summary is written as a pocket guide for those Sabahans and Sarawakians 
who I hope will trundle their children to the summit of this unique mountain this 
year or in years to come. Dr LK Wade, a distinguished American Botanist, in his report on the flora there in 1979 humbly stated, “Perhaps nowhere else on earth does such a mixture of plant genera occur as on the high mountain of this botanical province, making this mountain an object of unequalled biogeographical interest.”

I last climbed Mt Kinabalu in April 2000 with my UK senior students. Whilst my knees shuddered on the descent, the enjoyment those students expressed in observing the ecotones of vegetation I had taught them in the classroom from the Equator to Alpine areas were all brought to life, in reality, in the ascent to Laban Rata — all within a three-and-a-half-hour climb cultivation of lower slopes.
Plagiclimax refers to a combination of factors that are mostly human induced. Humans have changed the local environment and thus affected natural forces in the way that they can now adapt. Beyond the National Park Headquarters, the vegetation must be classified as Polyclimax with communities of plants in equilibrium with all their environmental conditions.
This is a climax community that is under the controlling influence of many environmental factors,including soils, topography, fire, and animal interactions. Actually there are no sharp ecotones on the mountain for all plants there do not occur in sharply defined zones but merge with each other through zones of competition.
Species of one plant may be found alongside another but as you ascend the mountain, there is a broad transition and a gradient along which plant communities and their environments change according to local environmental factors. Look especially for the plants growing in ultramaphic soils (rich in iron, magnesium, nickel and chromium) supporting the Red Seraya (Oak Forest) and enjoy the fresh mountain air as you climb upwards.There are yet more plants to record on this magic mountain. Perhaps you may observe a newly discovered plant that could hold your name for posterity.Before you take the summit trail from the National Park Headquarters to the summit of Mt Kinabalu, please take aboard the references below to enlighten you further than I may manage in this short article. It truly is an amazing experience.

For more information read ‘Kinabalu Summit of Borneo Part 2’ published in 1978 by The Sabah Society; ‘A Botanist’s View Kinabalu Montane Alpine Meadow’ by Dr LK Wade Journal ofthe American Rhododendron Society Vol. 35, No. 2, Spring 1981; ‘The Vegetation Zones of Mt Kinabalu’ Ruhaizad David; or go to www.phylodiversity.net or www.mount-kinabaluborneo.com.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Taiping raptor count announcement : looking for Volunteers

Monitoring raptor migration over Taiping, Perak in autumn 2010

Dear friends,

In autumn 2009, Raptor Study Group (RSG) members, despite limited funds, managed to carry out 59 days of raptor counting at Taiping. That effort obtained valuable data on the timing of migration, species distribution, peak migration dates and other information. It is important to continue full season monitoring at Taiping as this will complement the current MNS spring raptor migration study at Tg. Tuan and also provide valuable insights into the regional conservation status of Black Baza, Chinese Sparrowhawk and Oriental Honey Buzzard, the three main species occurring at this site.
This year Perak Branch is fortunate to have obtained funding from the Merdeka Award Fund to carry out another full season count at Taiping. This means we will be able to pay volunteers a small daily allowance as well as provide accommodation. For this year we hope to have not only the regular raptor diehards but also new volunteers join us. The Taiping experience promises to be inspiring, educational and enjoyable!

The information below provides details of what is involved and on how to book your dates for the event.
·      Date: Saturday 25 Sept through to Sunday 21 Nov, 2010
·      Count site: Taman Lake View, Taiping, Perak.
·      Daily observation period: 0900 hrs till 1700 hrs, with closing time dependent on whether raptors are still passing or not
·      Work assignment: Due to limited funds, the counting team will consist of a maximum of only two persons who will be provided accommodation and be paid a daily allowance. However, the project leader will be on standby to provide guidance to the team as well as act as back-up counter during busy times. Volunteers who can serve for several days at a stretch, especially on week days, are most welcome. However, those who can volunteer for just a few days are also encouraged to sign up.
·      Transport:  Traveling subsidy to Taiping may be available on a case-by-case basis, depending on the amount involved and the budget available. To minimize our carbon footprint, participants are reminded to car-pool or to use public transport.
·      Accommodation: Volunteers will be provided free accommodation at 45 Lorong 25, Taman Lake View, Taiping, the site of the migration count.
·      Registration: To register your name on the dates you plan to volunteer, please send a email to me.

If you have any questions, please contact any of the following persons:
Lim Kim Chye (kcyian@streamyx.com) 
Lim Aun Tiah (limbird@streamyx.com) 
Khoo Swee Seng (swekhoo@yahoo.com) 

I look forward to welcoming you to Taiping!

Lim Kim Chye

Project Leader
Monitoring raptor migration over Taiping, Perak in autumn 2010

Local gingers, herbs for landscaping

STUNNING: Etlingera elatior adds drama to the home garden.

By PU Chien puchien@streamyx.com

PROFESSOR Dr Halijah Ibrahim recently gave a talk at the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre on local plants that have high potential for landscape work. She obtained her PhD in Botany from the UK in 1979.
Her vast experiences in teaching and research work, especially in the field of Zingiberaceae, have been recognised in four books and 150 scientific journals. She is the editor of the landscaping magazine ‘Garden Asia’. This magazine started in 2000 and has covered a wide range of plants and technical matters.
The talk was very enlightening and the following is based on what I learned as well as past experience.

What are gingers and herbs? 
Some 350 species under the Zingiberaceae family can be found in Malaysia — one of 12 mega-diversity centres in the world. Southeast Asia houses the richest collections with nearly 30 per cent of the world’s plants in this category. The world is estimated to have more than 15,000 species of this flora.
This part of our natural heritage is actually quite new for landscaping use. Some good examples of this fascinating species recently introduced to our homes and public parks are the Alpinias, etlingera elatior (kantan) and Zingiber spectabile, which is only found in Sarawak.
Gingers have aromatic properties and are used as a herb as well as to flavour dishes. They are the largest group of monocots in the plant kingdom and are mostly perennial in nature.
The plants have underground rhizomatous outgrowths. They spread out by eyebuds that grow new shoots to be planted as new growths.
Local species are quite heat sensitive as they are found naturally in jungle areas where they are shaded by bigger trees. The shallow rooting rhizomes require good fertilised top soil.
Several species of Alpinias are found in Malaysia like the Alpinia petiolata in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, which grow in hill regions. Alpinias can be interspecies fertilised to get new hybrids such as the Alpinia palarzensie. The red and pink varieties of the Alpinia superata are widely used for landscaping.
Other varieties to look out for include:
1. Argentea — a species from Borneo. 
2 A zerumbet — from the highland or cool erregions like Kundasang in Sabah.
3.Curcuma longa (kunyit) is widely used in curries. Some species can be confused as orchids because of their inflorescence.
4.A mutica is a common choice for home landscaping.

Alpinias are the most easily grown and have beautiful flowers. They can be grown in large groups to cover unsightly areas such as septic tanks or as a hedge.
I personally feel they should not be planted too high above compound level unless watering is not a problem.
Many varieties are popular because of their bold, large and spectacular inflorescence. Some are ideal as cut flowers. Zingiberaceae come in various heights and will not grow too wild in terms of spreading rapidly like the heliconia.

Growing gingers
Propagation for some varieties is by rhizome pilling or seeds in various wet fertilised soils, while others prefer dry sandy loam. They can perform better under 30 per cent shade. A few varieties may require shade to prevent white spot disease caused by fungal pathogens.
To ensure good growth, add in new potting mix or mount the beds with new soil. This will encourage new rhizomes to form and thus new shoots for inflorescences.
For maintenance, prune away dead heads right down to ground level to encourage new blooms. Fertiliser is not necessary if you have good soil and potting mix. If necessary, a good choice is to use leaf mould and compost, or chicken or goat dung is also effective.
Tall varieties will not stand upright well without help. Use string to bundle them together or have a central stand or post. Another way is to fence them in using hardened plastic nets to surround the outgrowths. Also frequently remove unwanted shoots rising from the soil.I am very pleased to see some gardeners have done very well with these plants in Kuching. Just take a look along Jalan Stampin or along Jalan Bampfylde Heights. We can see good species of Zingiberaceae.

Other valuable local herbs and gingers
Borneo is blessed with many undiscovered and unexploited exotic Aroids and Bosenbergias. Potential ones include the Curcumas, Globbas, Kaempferias and Hedychiums. We also can find good species of Begonias here too. Orthosiphon stamineus (Misai Kucing) is a favourite for garden design and is also a useful medicinal herb. Another edible one is Kaempferia rotunda, which is said to be an aphrodisiac

Finally a note regarding the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC), which was established in 1998 to:
1. Implement bio-prospecting programmes for Sarawak’s indigenous biodiversity.
2. Document traditional knowledge of communities on the use of biodiversity.
3. Regulate biodiversity research with commercial potential in Sarawak.
4. Conduct biotechnology appreciation and awareness programmes.
5. Propagate Sarawak’s indigenous plants for conservation and appreciation.
6. Develop biodiversity databases for Sarawak.
7. Network with organisations with similar interests.
KEEP COOL: A zerumbet can be found in the highlands or cooler regions.

To learn more about the centre go to www.sbc.org.my.If you have any questions or comments, do send me an email. That’s it from me for this week. All the best and happy gardening.

Cities – people and nature

PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY: One of the few areas in the city where pedestrians come first.

By Mary Margaret
THE ear-splitting roar of the passing hoard of motorcycles silenced the bird song of the garden. Noisy? Oh, it is not too bad, you get used to it. Just a raised eyebrow really ...
Traffic troubles (troubling traffic) were discussed during the recent International Public Transport Conference, which was held from
Aug 2-6. Kuching is very much a
car-centred city with only about 2 per cent of its half a million inhabitants using buses, according to the Aug 7 issue of thesundaypost.
I suppose we should not be shocked by this given the expansion of the road systems, for example the widening of the Setia Raja and Kota Samarahan roads.
Kuching’s streets do not encourage pedestrians (thesundaypost — Aug 7), as some are merely narrow cement bands beside monsoon drains. Others have been uprooted by the passage of time and water, or the lack of shade makes for very hot walking. Could the walker-friendliness of streets be increased?
Yes, the Kuching Waterfront is definitely an example of a walker- friendly area. It is — at least from my casual observation — heavily used by visitors and residents.
I really enjoy the occasional stroll. If I need to head down to India Street or Main Bazaar, I quite often park outside the city centre so that I can take pleasure in that very pleasant ramble along the Sarawak River.
I enjoy the tree-shaded path that meanders along the river, the opportunity to browse in the small booths that occasionally spring up, the bird song, brightly coloured flowers and nature.
Quick visits to a few of the green places in Kuching, such as Sama Jaya Forest Park and Friendship Park both in the Tabuan Jaya area and Reservoir Park (now Taman Budaya), in the early mornings or late afternoons any day of the week will reveal full car parks. Such parks are important places in cities.
We can reconnect with nature and are soothed and relaxed by the calming colours and sounds.
We attempt to control the environment in which we live by, for example building houses and airconditioning them (in the tropics) or heating them (in temperate areas) — and even here our actions are affected and controlled by the weather and climate — elements of the natural world.
The parks act as a refuge for nature. Plants, animals and other elements of nature find a home in the concrete and asphalt jungles of our cities. In Sama Jaya Forest Park, if we stop to watch, we might see squirrels springing from tree to tree and elusive forest birds. We might hear the call of the long-tailed macaques. For visitors it can be a living classroom.
These green places cool the cities and the trees are carbon sinks absorbing the carbon dioxide produced during normal day-to-day activities.
Many home gardens in Kuching contribute to it being called a garden city. Birds, like sunbirds, dart among the flowers, as dobees and other insects in the many private gardens. I am sure the squirrels eat most of the rambutans off the trees in mine. Like parks, these gardens soothe jagged nerves, provide a refuge for nature and cool the heat of the city.The participants of the recent International Public Transport Conference discussed public transport, but shouldn’t we when we plan the urban environment also consider ways of putting nature back into our lives?
Why not plant shade trees along the streets so that we can walk to the parks? These green corridors could also connect green spaces.
One participant, the former mayor of Bogota City, Columbia, Enrique Penelosa believes that a happy city is one where people want to be outside (thesundaypost — Aug 7). Would Kuching be a happier city if nature were given a place? What do you think?
MORE TREES WANTED: Planting more trees along walkways in Kuching would encourage more pedestrians.

Friday, August 13, 2010

MNS-BCC Waterbirds Group - Vacancy

Malaysian Nature Society
Bird Conservation Council Waterbirds Group

The Malaysian Nature Society – Bird Conservation Council Waterbirds Group will conduct a survey of the entire coastline of the state of Sarawak to identify key waterbird sites and to identify and count waterbird populations during the northern winter period of October 2010 to March 2011.

Position: Field Coordinator
The Field Coordinator position (Part/Full Time) will run from Aug 2010 – July 2011 and can be based either in Kuching or Miri.
Primary duties:

·        Coordinate all aspects of the project, including specific responsibility for:
o       Plan  aerial, boat and land-based surveys
o       Set-up and deploy field survey teams
o       Maintain a database of volunteers, survey details, community outreach and training programs
o       Coordinate training and public awareness events
o       Document project
o       Coordinate, store and analyse data
o       Create and maintain good relationship with community representatives within survey sectors
o       Liaise with media and produce press releases, etc
o       Write reports (weekly reports to BCC-WG, coordinate and input to interim reports, final reports)
o       Keep accounts for the spending of project funds
·        Answerable and report directly to BCC-WG Chairperson (and/or his representative) on all aspects of the project work
·        Liaise with volunteer bird group coordinators in Kuching, Miri, Sibu, Mukah, Bintulu, Lawas, Seria and Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei)
·        Liaise with agencies, institutions and corporations and potential co-funders within and outside Sarawak (attend relevant meetings workshops, etc)

·        Previous experience in environmental field survey work, engaging agencies, institutions and corporations at the highest levels, preferably in Malaysia or Southeast Asia.
·        Very good strategic and planning/organizational abilities, with an aptitude to work on own initiative with minimum supervision and to stay on task.
·        Malaysian national  resident in Sarawak
·        University degree in a related field or equivalent practical experience. Good written and oral communication skills in English and Bahasa Malaysia. Additional languages will be an advantage.
·        Good interpersonal and leadership skills, innovative thinking, versatile ability to work in a team and independently.
·        Willingness to travel and work outside office environments, as required.
·        Ability to work effectively at all levels, with above-mentioned institutions, governments and non-government agencies and build excellent working relationships.
·        Familiarity with and interest in waterbirds and wetland habitats an advantage
·        Experience in scientific report-writing an advantage
·        Computer literate
·        Use of GPS in field and storage of GPS data an advantage
Please  send CV to:
Anthony Wong
BQ204, 1st Floor, Batu Kawah New Township (MJC)
Jalan Batu Kawa,
93250 Kuching, Sarawak
Tel: 082-463803 Fax:082-462803
Hp: 013-8333163



Composting...what is it and why should we do it?

A contribution from an MNS Kuching member and self-confessed “composter”.  If you have your own composting tales, we’d love to hear from you!
Earth knows no desolation.
She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay.
-   George Meredith
Composting may be regarded as the deliberate recycling of waste organic matter. In nature it happens all the time...leaves on the forest floor gradually decompose and provide nutrients for the trees to use again. If you dump a load of mown grass in a particular area, eventually it will rot down to a fine tilth probably teeming with earthworms, which will be an excellent fertiliser for your garden!

When we compost we organise this process in our own backyards. We gather organic waste from our kitchens and our gardens and so treat it that it turns into wonderful fertiliser for our plants. This process is beneficial to us in many ways:

Ø  It provides a useful means of disposing of organic garbage. No more smelly prawn and fish wastes in our rubbish bins!! 

Ø  It provides us ultimately with excellent fertiliser for our gardens.

Ø  In sorting out our compostable organic waste from our garbage, we reduce the massive amount of rubbish that needs to be collected and disposed of somewhere in our local area. In particular it provides a means of disposing of the kind of garbage that is smelly, messy and attracts flies!!

Ø  Composting is also a particularly satisfying activity. There is a real feel-good sensation about making something useful out of waste. Be warned, you can become so hooked on composting that you go actively seeking organic waste beyond the actual perimeters of your home compound!! Even if you do not have an extensive garden, you will find that you have plenty of organic waste to keep your compost bin happy, and your pot-plants will enjoy the resulting fertiliser.

I have many books on the subject of composting, and if you go into the subject scientifically, you can spend a lot of time worrying about the correct ratios of nitrogen to carbon. In fact, as a life-long composter I have never worried too much about such matters. All you have to do is keep an eye on your bin and respond to its needs!!

First of all what can you compost? Well, to begin with, dead leaves and grass and plants from your garden. The latter compost much more successfully if they are chopped up (or cut with secateurs) into smallish pieces. Bacteria are going to work on these plants to turn them into soil, and the more surfaces they have to work on the quicker the process will be. Then there is all the organic matter from your kitchen. All the fruit peels, prawn and fish wastes, chicken bones and feathers, durian skins, outer leaves of vegetables, dead flowers from your vases, hair, dust from your vacuum cleaner, eggshells (best crushed a bit)....anything from plant or animal sources except  cat and dog excreta which can present a health hazard.

Now what do you do with all these things? What my father did in his New Zealand garden, and what I have done for years in my Sarawak gardens, is have a couple of enclosures made of either timber or concrete blocks with removable boards in the front to assist in the removal of the final compost. One of these bins is in active construction; the other is left to decompose into compost. A cover of some sort is provided to shelter the bin from heavy rain and keep out marauding animals. The mixture needs to have moisture to rot, so the cover can be left off sometimes to let some rain in, but too much water will wash all the nutrients out of your pile.

To start the composting, you gather a lot of dry leaves, grass clippings and chopped-up garden waste and pile it all in the bin. Then, every day you dig a hole in the leaves, empty your kitchen compost-collecting bucket into the middle, and carefully cover it up again so that it is not open to flies and does not smell. If you dig your holes in careful rotation eventually you will have dumped your kitchen waste (which provides the nitrogen starter) pretty much throughout the bin. If the mixture is sufficiently damp, decomposition will start at once, and the whole pile will become very hot. This is very desirable. After a few days, the pile will be cool, and it is good at this stage to stir it all up with a garden digging fork, to get the pile to heat up again. Then you can let the pile rest under its cover, while you start bin number two.

These days plastic composting bins are beginning to become available in this country. These make the process a whole lot easier, because you have a ready-made receptacle with a lid in which to make your compost. However the same principles apply. You must have a mix of dry leaves, chopped up green matter etc, and kitchen wastes (or handfuls of chicken manure) and the mixture must be just moist enough to start the decaying process. The contents will heat up as in the open bins. A good stirring up is also useful to hasten the decomposition. And it is best to have more than one bin so that you can leave one to finish off, while you start a new one.

It is incredibly exciting to harvest your bin when you have finished! If you have left it to finish off as suggested above, it will often have many earthworms in it. These are further improving your finished product...in fact in many parts of the world worm farming is practised as a slightly different means of composting!! Worm casts are held to be one of the best fertilisers you can get!!

It will be of real benefit to the community if such compost bins can become easily and cheaply available....and if members of the public can be encouraged to obtain them and use them!! It will also of course be in the interest of the local authorities to do everything possible to encourage the composting habit to reduce the volume of garbage!!

For more information check out A Complete Guide to Composting at: http://www.compostguide.com/

Thursday, August 12, 2010


As the first and oldest official Protected Area in Malaysia, Taman Negara was originally called King George V National Park. It was gazetted in 1938 by the Sultans of 3 states - Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu to preserve the land's indigenous nature in perpetuity. The park was renamed Taman Negara after the nation's independence in 1957. Taman Negara is the largest of all Protected Areas in Peninsular Malaysia with 4,343 sq km spanning over these three states with the Peninsula's highest peak, Gunung Tahan at 2,187m rising in the Pahang sector of the park.

Taman Negara is indeed one of the oldest rainforests in the world. The abundance and diversity of nature is phenomenal in one of the world's most complex and rich ecosystems and the best part of it is it's in our own backyard! Lying along Kuala Lipis-Gua Musang road is the quaint village of Merapoh, one of the four entrances to Taman Negara. This entrance is far-less visited as compared to the Kuala Tahan entrance and much more accessible than the Kuala Koh and Tanjung Mentong, Tasik Kenyir entrances.

To experience Taman Negara at its best, we'll be exploring Gua Gajah, a fascinating cave where elephants come to rest or take shelter. If the lucky stars are upon us, we may even encounter these magnificent beauties along the trek. Also don't miss out on the night safari. Common sightings are Leopard Cat, Palm Civet and Wild Boars. After a good night rest, wake up to the calls of Siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus). We will be going down Sungai Tanum and its tributaries to visit the Kelah Conservation Sanctuary. Feed the frenzy fishes swimming at your ankles as they fight against the current. Also, experience the vanishing trade of 'mendulang emas' (traditional gold prospecting) in Merapoh.

Fitness level: Easy (this trip suitable for child under 10)
Cost per person: RM300. Price includes accommodation, guide fees, entrance fees, all meals and activities except car-pooling charges payable directly to the drivers.
Accommodation is in chalets (3 single beds). First pay first served basis – limited places. All 
food served is halal. We will leave KL/PJ on 15 October after work.

Trip briefing will be held on 6 October (Wed), 8.30pm at Damansara Jaya. 
Direction map will be provided to participants.

Contact: John Chan at chankokaik@gmail.com or call 016 3569 169. For more info, check out http://www.facebook.com/johnchanka

Your Nature Guide,
John Chan