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.