Monday, December 26, 2011

On the new postponed pay scheme

1. One afternoon I met my old classmate who had retired from government services a year after I did and complained about the new pay schemes that the PM announced postponed for a few days after the complaints from CEUPAC. He now did some odd jobs and spent more time with his grandchildren and also travel. He confessed he had a boring 30 years or so at the ministry and climbed the highest post and awarded a Datoship by a state and now the government is awarding 36 top-ranking officers a monthly pay of $50-60K.

2. I said I sympathised with him because at the university we have no boring time and we never complained of having low pay. I said he has no PhD but we have no choice but to slog 3-4 years to obtained that degree in order to be a lecturer and not respected by the likes of him at the Ministry. He asked me what did I do at the university and I said he surely remembered what his lecturers did in the 1970s at the University of Malaya then! Anyway i summarised to him.

3. I do teaching from Dec 1978 until yesterday, almost everyday except Friday all semester and all sessions. I was not bored as the cohorts are different. I do undergraduate and post-graduate courses. I set questions twice every semester and marked them. I supervised undergraduate students, MS and PhD students in their dissertaions. I read every line, paragraph and chapters before being examined.

4. I do research, applied for grants sometimes I didn't get in my chosen discipline which is botany and biodiversity. I prepared research reports, these are boring!. I prepared and published papers in journals, proceedings etc. I presented my research results in seminars and symposia, discussed with friends. I read and evaluated reserach papers sent to journals and I read and evaluated theses from UKM and also other universities as external examiner.

5. I do community services, scientific community I mean not like the convicts! I am active in the Academy of Sciences Malaysia in different capacities as Chair to Discipline Group, Chair the Expedition Task Force and attended various meetings. I am Chair and Trustee of WWF Malaysia, Pulau Banding Foundation and Trustees of Malaysian Timber Cerification Council, Orang Utan Island Foundation, Wildlife Protection Foundation.

6. I still have time for my children and grandchildren. What are you complaining about? I asked chose the the wrong job and you missed all the spices in life. My friend kept quiet and promised to meet me again and discuss the good old time of university days. I said cheerio and see him again soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Imbak Canyon Scientific Expedition

1. In late November to early December 2010 over a 100 scientists and their assistants including supporting staffs from Sabah Foundation took part in the Scientific Expedition to Imbak Canyon Conservation Area in Sabah. barely 4 months after the expedition, and especially when many reference collections were yet to be identified and analysed we met again this week to discuss the findings. The seminar was officially opened by ASM Secretary-General Academician Tan Sri Dato Seri Dr. Salleh Mohd. Noor.

2. The geologists led by Prof. Felix Tongkul, Prof. Che Aziz and Sdra Khairul Azlan and soil scientist Dr. Baba Musta made us understand the genesis of the Imbak Canyon. Prior to the expedition we seemed not to know that there was a fault at its southern tip and also a granitic intrusion in between the sandstones and mudstones. The soils are however rich in As and Fe.

3. Dr Mohd Kamil informed us that the river water is of class I but contains a high concentration of Cd. Prof. Abu Hassan and his PhD student Ms Nurita studied the aquatic insects and Dr. A Hamid is still to unzipped the taxonomy of the Gastromyzon fishes.

4. The muscologist Dr. Monica Suleiman believed there were some new records for the Borneon and Sabah bryoflora. She also collected over a hundred specimens of liverworts. Mr. Shim believed there are at least tw new species from the genera Selliguea and Amphineuron (ferns). Mr. John Sugau reported the altitudinal distribution of dipterocarps and Dr. Nazip also mapped the general altitudinal distritribution of non-dipterocarps. There are some possibly new Begonia and orchids. Prof. Laily was disappointed that his lichen collections don't have secondary metabolites. However, all of us observed the beautiful regeneration of seedlings of Dryobalanops lanceolata and other timber species. The largest tree was Shorea johoriensis.

5. There were many reports on fauna. The beetle researchers are still struggling with the identification of the various beetle taxa; Dr. Faszly and his co-workers are also struggling with stick and leaf insects, daddylonglegs, and other invertebrates. Dr. Mahathevi had settled down with her termites; Dr. Norela and her students found both the moth and butterfly fauna not that diverse, while Dr C Y Choong collected a Protosticta sp. which happens to be a new species but awaits description by another specialist in Leiden. The mammalogists thought Imbak Canyon has become a refugia for the small, medium and large mammals as the adjacent areas were somewhat disturbed.

6. Ms. Rashidah M Rehman who successfully climbed Mt. Kuli informed us the Imbak Canyon has some ecotourism potential if packaged scientifically. It has diverse forest landscape, geomorphological landscape, rich flora and fauna including a rich ethno-culture just outside the consevartion area.

7. The social scientists who surveyed the communities of Orang Sungai and Murut took the stage to inform us of the timber-coffins and the rich socio-culture of the various subsects of the Orang Sungai. What intriged me was the fact that some of them decided to prepare their putative coffins when they are still kicking and healthy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Comments on Natural Sciences in Malaysia

1. On Friday Feb. 18th 2011 Prof. Emer. Dato' Dr. Zakri A. Hamid, the Science Adviser to the Prime Minister wrote an interesting viewpoint in his regular NST column "climbing an awesome mountain of stairs". This country of ours is awefully rich in natural sciences particularly the biodiversity (flora, fauna and geology) yet we don't witness a resurgence of R & D in these natural fields of science

2. When we were under the British, Malaya made a tremendous climb in these fields putting our neighbours particularly Indonesia and Thailand to shame as we had "the Flora of the Malay Peninsula" and 4 instalments of the Flora of Malaya (Orchids, gingers, grasses, ferns). Between 1972-89 we dished out the Tree Flora of Malaya. In addition, there are many other publications in zoology and geology, and yet we have yet to have a Museum of Natural History.

3. The bastion of our natural history was plenty to be seen not only in our protected areas in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and also in Sabah. The potential and opportunities afforded by the Maliau Basin CA, Danum Valley CA and the Imbak Canyon CA are just too many to portray and exhibit in our museum. The various species of plants and animals to be discovered and named as new are too many. Just to quote the revision of Hanguana malayana in Peninsular Malaysia had yielded 4 new forest species once lumped under the above taxon. I was informed there are manu more Hanguana in Sarawak and Sabah waiting to to collected and named new to science.

4. What had happened to our natural science after Independence? One obvious answer would be there was a significant research shift to applied sciences in particular biotechnology that promised monetary returns. I have yet to witness the by-products from these undertakings. In the meantime the "stamp-collecting" science suffers and our ecosystems degraded and species of plants, animals and microbes lost. The other answer would be due to our own fault, mine in particular as we had failed to address these issues more aggressively and positively to the policy makers who made the decision.

5. All is not lost and we still have the time and energy to rectify the wrongs. However, we can't depend on the "young generation" to bring back the past glory of natural science for most of them see applied science as the 21st century agenda for science and technology. To be a taxonomist and systematists would be a blunder for the family members who financed their university education.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Bukit Larut, Perak

1. Established by the British in ca. 1870 Bukit Larut a.k.a. Maxwell Hills was a gem for Taiping (means ever lasting peace in Hokkien) and Perak. It was meant to be rest and recreation of the British officers who established three firsts for Taiping - First railway line from Taiping to Port Weld (Kuala Sepetang), first prison, near Bukit Jana and first tea plantation before it was moved to Cameron Highlands. And of course Taiping Botanical Garden is among the first in the country. For the visitors like me the only means to go up is to go by the old land-over which made so much noise of great pain and it costs me a mere $8

2. After Independence the place is taken over by Taiping Municipality and what we witnessed today are pure British heritage and legacies which the authority wishes to inherit to the next generation. Going round the Tea Garden, Bukit Hijau and various stations one couldn't miss the fact that ...once it was a great R & R place. It seems to have almost everything ..... a church, a hostel,bridges, palace, rest-houses, telecom station, The Box etc. but most of all the items that interest me the flora and the plant species that were introduced there by the British and also by the Perakians.

3. Prior to this decade it has deteriorated so much that the authorities are considering plans to bring back the past glories and the visitors to the place. I reiterated to my friends who were with me the fact that there are many species of plants named after Bukit Larut (or Bukit Maxwell) by the likes of Father Scortechini, L. Wray, G. King, Kunstler etc, either collected from this area or in the greater Larut district. To me this is pure botanical history and of great interest to the future students of botany and biodiversity.

4. Years ago I visited the place with my scientists friends, Prof. Charlie a microbiologist, Prof. Laily a lichenologist, Prof. Ikram a natural product chemists plus a few more whom I have forgotten. We all enjoyed collecting plant samples and enjoyed the cool atmosphere. Yesterday the mist is still around and Pak Ngah told me at night the temperature goes down to even 12 C. Of course there were plenty of Usnea, Parmotrema etc.

5. I am indeed impressed by the effort taken by Pak Ngah and his friends to begin replanting many species of gingers especially Alpinia and Etlingera, two species of Tacca, many species of ferns especially Huperzia and Cyathea, Goniothalamus macrophyllus (Annonaceae), two species of Begonia, many species of orchids in either rows or avenues or in aggregation in various landscapes. I encouraged them to do so with many more local species and by next year the place is going to look like a garden .........

Friday, February 11, 2011

In the name of Orang utan

1. Last month the Orang Utan Island Foundation (OUIF) was accused by a writer of a letter to the editor of the Sundaydaily as playing God. To be honest God does not like any play mates. She quoted the noble aims of the OUIF correctly - to carry out the orang utan research, education, development, conservation and rehabilitation programmes and drawing up protection policies. In 2008 the OUIF organised a two-day symposium on ex situ conservation. Researchers on orang utan from USA, Japan, Indonesia, Sabah, Sarawak and some locals spoke on various topics on orang utan's biology and conservation.

2. The symposium augurs very well for the education awareness and R & D of orang utan not only at Bukit Merah but elsewhere in Borneo and Sumatera, especially the rehabilitation centres at Sepilok, Semenggoh, Lanjak-Entimau, Tanjung Puting and Bohorok. In the past many researchers from overseas came to these rehabilitation centres to study and helped out in in situ conservation. Numerous papers were published and millions of USD were spent to help this species from disorientation due to habitat loss and land-use changes both in the Heart of Borneo and Sumatera.

3. As a Trustee of OUIF I personally took exception to the accusation by the writer(s) and also by the newspapers, namely Malay Mail and Kosmos. If ever the Editors wanted to report some sensational news items it would be wise to check with the accused i.e. OUIF for some kind of statements or even some denials! It looked bad on both of these newspapers, let alone printing the ugly political propaganda to suit ones masters.

4. As a biologist or botanist and Prof. Mashhor Mansor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, an ecologist are Trustees of OUIF felt greatly insulted by the accusation that the OUIF intended to release the orang utan into the Royal Belum State park in Perak. All stake-holders especially the Perak State government, the Perak State Park Corporation, the Department of Forestry Perak etc surely felt the same for implicating them.

5. In honesty this issue had never been discussed in the OUIF Board meeting, for all we know what we have wanted to do was to send them back where they belong, Sarawak. I believed either the reporter(s) misunderstood the statements from OUIF Chairman in his press releases or the reporter(s) purposely wanted to create an issue on this - to create a hoo-haa among the conservationists in the country. They were successful because I received many emails either asking for comments or asking me to read the cries from them.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Trip to Maliau Basin

1. On the 29th January WWF Malaysia signed a MoU with Sabah Foundation witnessed by the Prime Minister and other dignitaries. The MoU was attempting to address carrying capacity and human resources to manage the protected areas in Sabah. At the same time the Prime Minister was invited to witness the handing-over a cheque of RM 30 millions by the Sime Darby Foundation to the Royal Society of UK. The SDF is represented by Tun Musa Hitam and the RS by Dr. Glen Reynolds. The money was under a programme called SAFE.

2. I will write at later time about SAFE and now I want to describe my journey from Kota Kinabalu to Maliau Basin and back. We started at about noon on Friday 28th. with Dr. Rahimatsah at the steering of the Toyota Fortuner. We passed the Lok Kawi army depot, to Tuaran and Kimanis pass. I was here at Kimanis Pass in the 1980s doing field work. We arrived at Keningau for a refill and headed east to Sook and Nabawan. We passed by the Sook Plain to Sepulut. All along it was marvelous as the road is tarred.

3. After Sepulut we had to travel on the unfinished highway. The surface was good, except for a few areas where the surface subsided. It was the same road that we took in 2006 from Tawau to Maliau when it was under massive construction. I was told the highway was unfinished but the millions of budget was finished. We arrived at the Maliau Gate before 5 pm.

4. At about 6 pm we started to move in as the day was getting dark. This time the road was slippery as it rained the previous two days. We observed other vehicles had problems to move straight but with Dr. Rahimatsah at the steering our vehicle went smoothly in. As we arrived at the Maliau Basin Research Station, I was really surprised as the station is completed. The facilities were superb with hostels, laboratories, chalets, dining rooms, conference rooms, seminar rooms, etc. It is the third generation field station by any standard.

5. Hundreds of vehicles went in for the occasion and 7 or 8 helicopters brought in the VVIPs. It was so noisy that the wildlife especially the Bos javanicus disappeared into the wilderness. Anyway, all the MoUs were signed, speeches given and discussions pursued. I met several old friends including Datuk Henry Barlow, Dr. Chey & Dr. Robert Ong from Sandakan, Dr. Zainal Z Zainuddin & Datuk John Payne from Tabin, Dr. Glen Renolds from Danum Valley, Dr. Stephen Hutton, and many others.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Flora and Fauna dispersal

1. This semester I am once again lecturing Economic Botany to MSc students. Altogether there are 29 students who registered this 3-credit course consisting mostly Malaysians, one Indian national and three Arabs. Some of the most challenging questions that I faced year in and year out was about how plants and animals species were dispersed from one continent or country or region to another. The easiest answer was to give credits to the European colonialists who plundered the whole world five or six centuries ago in search of spices, cotton, silk, minerals and heavy and hard-wood timbers.

2. Notable among them were the Portuguese and Spanish armadas which sailed east and west from the Iberian Peninsula under their rich and adventurous patrons in search of spices, silk and other oriental goods. At least we learnt the Portuguese sailed to the coast of Brazil, coasts of Africa via the cape of God Hope, to Goa in India, Melaka, in the Malay Peninsula, Macau in China, etc. The names like Vasco da Gama etc were on our lips. The Spanish were in South America and Central America, the Philippines etc. Magellan who was a Portuguese but sailed under the Spanish flag came to the Philippines and was killed there in the local disputes. The French, British, Belgians, Germans, Dutch etc came later to the east......and they claimed their colonies till the 20th century.

3. I told my students the Spanish brought Achras zapota or Mersawa manila, various species of Annona or Durian belanda (why was Annona reticulata was attributed to the Dutch?), Ananas comosus to cite a few from the tropical America to our part of the World. The Chinese and possibly the Champas brought us Hibiscus rosa-sinensis that become our National Flower. The Chinese also brought maiize or corn (Zea mays) from South America to the Philippines. Various animals were introduced too either from China and the East to the West and from the New World to various continents and countries.

4. Later I discovered that the Chinese explorers introduced the Asiatic hens to Central America, sea otters to New Zealand, Ficus religiosa to Australia, Cocos nucifera from the South Pacific to all parts of the World. Rosa laevigata was introduced from China to California, the Tajikistan ponies and pigs were introduced to many continents ......etc. Of course the British introduced camels to Australia. The Chinese too were the early settlers in many parts of South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand, South, Central and North America ...but not to Europe. Unlike the Westerners who came to trade and spread Christianity, the earlier Chinese traders and explorers didn't want to spread Buddhism to the natives of the continents that they visited.

5. Of course in the 15th to 20th centuries when the Chinese started to isolate themselves, the Europeans had their days and decades. The Europeans explorers learnt from the Chinese and they did with diplomacy and wars. They fought each other to control the products from the East. They introduced many plant and animal species from all parts of the continents to other continents. They globalised the flora and fauna. In the Malay Peninsula they offer protection to the warlords in exchange for tin ores and other minerals, including spices and hard and heavy timbers.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hunting for Porpax and Nepenthes at Langkawi

1. About a month ago friends from Langkawi emailed Prof. Che Aziz of Lestari several pictures of an amazing orchid and monkey cup from Gunung Machinchang. Subsequently Prof Che Aziz emailed me and I was so excited to view an orchid which I have never seen before and a new record of monkey cup from Langkawi. In 1981 I collected Nepenthes mirabilis from Kubang Badak paddy field, the only known nepenthes species from this archipelago.

2. On 15th January accompanied by Prof. Che Aziz and Ku Ismadi we took the cable car and alighted at the middle station and walked up to the top station through the valleys and boggy forests. We came across stands of Vatica cinerea (Dipterocarpaceae), climbing bamboo, Dinochloa malayana, Livistona ?saribus (Palmae), an elegant Hoya, many other palms and gingers and many other trees, shrubs and herbs.

3. We came to a place where Ku Ismadi observed and photographed Porpax elwisii (Orchidaceae) and we started our hunt for it. We did for about half-an-hour and despair started to creep in our mind, until Prof. Che Aziz took his camera to photograph a lichen, Parmotrema sp. and inside the screen there appeared the amazing green pseudobulbs of the orchid. The top of pseudobulb has radiating white lines; the 1- to 2-leaves have dried and one pinkish flower was also drying. No wonder we had tough times to locate the orchids .....the populations were drying!

4. Then we climbed upwards a hill and came to one of the many summits and we were welcomed by stands of Nepenthes sanguinea, the new record for Langkawi. We collected some specimens and took many pictures. The hill has many more orchid species of Dendrobium. Bulbophyllum and others but most are sterile ....not the flowering time! We were delighted with our finds.

5. The next two days I went hunting for N. mirabilis where I collected some 30 years ago at Kubang Badak. We were met with cows and buffaloes grazing there. We saw sparse vegetation and the leaves of Licuala spinosa were grazed by the buffaloes. We searched and searched and failed to find a stand of it. We asked the locals and still we could not locate it. The area has changed to orchards of bananas. mangoes and rambutans etc. According to the locals, once upon a time there were scattered populations but now they seem gone. I was frustrated as I think I have witnesses a local extinction of N. mirabilis in Langkawi. Ku Ismadi promised to look for it and deep in my mind is still there.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On the Three Foundations

1. This morning we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Emkay Foundation. Apparently it was established on 10th January 2001 with the mission to offer helps to the less-privileged in education, health, sports & welfare, amongst others. In his press statements the Chairman reemphasised his desire to give back what he got from the community to the less privileged communities and the environment. In the last 10 years the Foundations had spent millions in education of the Orang Asli communities, established dialysis centres etc. Many donours came forward to contribute donations to the Foundation for its activities in the next phase.

2. The other Foundation that received donations is the Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation which stated its 5-year future activities that include an extension of 100 meter tunnel to the existing one and also to reintroduce the Orang utan to the BJ Island. This is an experiments to be undertaken by the Foundation to introduce the Orang utan to the wild. The BJ Island includes a Research facility to monitor the behaviour and biology of the introduced Orang utans.

3. Pulau Banding Foundation also received donations from well-wishers for its 5-year activities that include the promotion of Belum-Temenggor forest complex for the benefits of ecotourism in Perak. The Foundation also plan to initiate a few research projects to understand the biology and ecology of the vast tropical forests and aquatic ecosystems.

4. The Advisor of the Pulau banding Foundation and the Chairman of Emkay Foundation and the Bukit Merah Orang utan Island Foundation promised to spend his energy and interests to ensure that the three foundations would be on an excellent footings to address what the foundations have promised to address in the next 5 years for the benefits of the less-privileged communities, Orang utans and the environment and biodiversity in the country.

5. These visions and missions augur very well for the well-being and welfare of the targeted communities, the conservation of Orang utan and the potential of ecotourism in Upper Perak and Malaysia, in general. I wish all the best of luck for the foundations and pray that many more charity-lovers and philantropists to come forward and donate some funds for these good cause,

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Year of Forest

1. Last year 2010 was the year of biodiversity. The year was celebrated with many events such as symposia and seminars that discussed the biodiversity issues. The meeting at Kyoto, Copenhagen and Cancun discussed the fate of fragile biodiversity and yet there were not many optimisms expressed on the fate of dwindling biodiversity.

2. Closer to home it was the same fate that befalls biodiversity as it was in 2009. The government and her officials paid lip-services to biodiversity as it did not promise income-generating. The officers in the ministries also didn't address biodiversity as they only followed the fancies of their bosses. It was during the time of Dato' Subuh Yaasin when he was the Sec-general of MONRE that biodiversity received some encouragements.

3. This year is the year of the forests. While the arboreal and temperate forests have not much to celebrate, the tropical forests have much to offer and deliberate. Every month more and more tropical forests in Amazonia, Madagascar, Central Africa and Indo-Malesia suffer in the hands of tree-cutters, loggers and unsustainable developers. In Malaysia it is not much different over the last decade as more ecosystems and species are put in peril.

4. But the year is here to stay to celebrate in what-ever form. I must say in the last decade the Department of Forestry Peninsular Malaysia with the assistance of all State Forestry Departments had embarked on a challenging scientific expeditions to generate biodiversity data to help them manage the remaining forests in a very sustainable manner. It is not impossible to achieve it if ones put some thoughts and sincerity and accountability in it.

5. Yet the forests in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, Perak, Kedah, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan are regenerating at a pace too slow for the annual coupe to allocate. That is possible as the tree-cutters and loggers didn't follow the strictest prescriptions when felling the timber trees. So much so river corridors were not observed and the effects on wildlife and seedlings including the regenerants were not monitored.