Contemplating the Orang Pendek

5 February, 2012

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 11:59 am

Over the past weeks, Paul and I have been having a most interesting discussion on the Orang Pendek. Paul Sochaczewski is an old friend of mine, and over the years, we’ve talked about much, planned to do about as much, and have managed to meet each other not very much. But we are muchly happy. One of our pet shared interests is Alfred Russel Wallace, which is what led to these discussions. You can check Paul out at www.sochaczewski.com.

Orang Pendek? In the Malay language, this means short man, like the Orang Utan means forest man. Who is this short man then? Over the past hundred years, an unknown “short man” has been reported from the deep jungles of Sumatra and Borneo. Until now, no concrete evidence has been found to validate its existence. Those who have seen it obviously swear to its existence. Those who haven’t are understandably skeptical. Several scientists of repute (and some of doubtful repute too) have gone in search of the Orang pendek. They have used DNA testing, they have examined footprints, poked around piles of dung and set up cameras all over the place. Still, no Orang Pendek has ever been captured or found, dead or alive. No photographs exist.

The question I would like to explore here is this: Could such a creature exist today, and if so, what would they be like?

What do we know so far? The Orang Pendek is described as a small hairy man, standing about 1m tall. It walks on two legs and is covered with short long reddish or greyish hair. It is very shy, and runs away really fast when encountered. It has the face of a human.

It is seen in deep jungle as well as the forest edge, near shifting cultivation in the hills. All records of Orang Pendek come from Sumatra andBorneo. On Sumatra, most records come from the high mountain range that forms the spine of Sumatra, the Bukit Barisan range, while most records from Borneo come from the mountainous Ulu Temburong of Brunei and the Kayan Mentarang mountains of eastern Kalimantan.

It walks on two legs: This is the most important clue as to what the Orang Pendek is. Firstly, if it is bi-pedal, then it cannot arboreal, meaning it doesn’t live up in the trees like gibbons and Orang Utans. This makes it more suited to open environments, which is why it would develop bi-pedalism! It doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t climb trees.

If this theory was correct, then it would mean that Orang Pendek tend to live in the higher mountains, where the forests are more open and not the dense impenetrable forests of the lowlands. Anyone of you who has walked the montane forests will know the environment here is easy to travel through, without tangled undergrowth and creepers.

Finding food: The Orang Pendek is most likely a hominid, which is a bipedal animal more closely related to humans than apes. This would mean it is omnivorous. It also mean it would possess a highly developed sense of where and when food resources are found, and have the ability to capitalise on seasonal availability of, for example, their favourite fruits. It would therefore be reasonable to conclude that the Orang Pendek move over large areas to find food.

It is unlikely that Orang Pendek would be carnivorous. Walking, and running, on two legs in the forest is a very in-efficient way of catching prey. Go ahead and try catching a deer or a pig in the forest, and I suspect you would be persuaded to agree with me. If they were predators, then they would most likely live in packs, like wolves.

Social structure: A ground-dwelling hominid smaller than an Orang Utan, but bigger than any other primate, means that it falls within the prey-size for Sumatran tigers and clouded leopards. It would then have a social structure that provides adequate protection against predation. If they sleep in the open, like gorillas do, then their group size would be reasonably large, and for the tropics, I would guess at 20-30 individuals. It could comprise a single family group, or a permanent association of several smaller family units. If their group sizes were any smaller, it would not allow them to secure themselves against predation in the open.

If Orang Pendek lived in caves, then their group sizes would definitely be smaller, say 3-7 animals. This would allow effective use of natural features for shelter… any larger and this becomes impossible. It is highly unlikely that the Orang Pendek is a solitary creature.

Living in Kerinci Seblat: The vast majority of records of Orang Pendek come from Kerinci Seblat National Park in Sumatra. At almost 14,000 sq. km., (for comparison, Taman Negara in Malaysia is 4,000 sq. km.) this is one of the largest national parks in Asia. It’s volcanic mountainous terrain makes the abundance of natural shelters (e.g. caves) a real possibility. This would be consistent with the other area where they are frequently reported, Ulu Temburong in Brunei, which is also very steep terrain. My guess would be Orang Pendek live in the higher altitudes of Kerinci Seblat where the rough, open shrublands may provide shelter for small family groups. Their food source is primarily elsewhere, lower down into the taller, more species-rich forests.

How large a population would there be? Using Kerinci Seblat, I would assume a home range of 20-30 sq. km per family group of five (the mean). Their home ranges will most likely overlap, say 3-5 groups overlapping. Let’s says that only 30% of the park is suitable habitat for Orang Pendek, which would be 4,500 sq. km. Divide that by 30 sq. km. per “range” and that’s 150 blocks. With each block able to support four overlapping family groups, it would give us a total population of 600.

This is merely an exercise, but regardless, it would be safe to assume that if Orang Pendek did exist in Kerinci Seblat, it would be a very small population spread over a wide area.

The Sumatra-Borneo Link: the fact that all records thus far have come from only Sumatra andBorneo is consistent with another ape, the Orang Utan, which also only occurs on these two large islands. We know that Sumatra and Borneo were connected before the last time sea levels rose and divided the great landmass that is Sundaland into the island archipelago that is today Malaysia and Indonesia. We also know that Sumatra and Borneo remained connected the longest. Long after the Malay Peninsula and Java were separated from Borneo, a land-bridge persisted where the Bangka straits is now. The islands of Belitung and Bangka are the last remaining stepping stones of this connection between Sumatra and Borneo. This is why Borneo and Sumatra share so many of its animals and plants. Now it appears it also shares the Orang Pendek!

Persistence of Hominids on Sundaland: the recent discovery, in 2003, of early hominids on Flores, called Flores man or hobbits, tells us that until just 12,000 years ago, there were hominids still living amongst modern-day humans. One of the oldest ancestors of modern humans was found on Java. Guess what we called him? Yes, Java man. It is clear that our little part of the world was just full of different types of man… different hominids possibly co-existing. Would it then be so surprising if there was one still living amongst us? Is this what Orang Pendek is? I have to admit, we cannot discount this possibility.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey of exploration with me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, as has Paul. Whether the Orang Pendek exists is not as important as is our curiosity about nature. Paul says ‘I want them to exist. I would be delighted if they exist, but I think they are in the same category as Santa Claus”. Tony says “I have to be skeptical, because when I stop asking questions, the world becomes a boring place. I don’t do boring!”

 

Losing your head in Sarawak

5 January, 2012

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 2:07 pm

In December 2011, this clouded leopard lost its head. Keeping one’s head in Borneo is not as easy as one would imagine. And I mean this figuratively as well as actually! You could lose your head whilst simply going about your everyday business of strolling to the rainforest you call your home, or sitting quietly in a tree waiting for some prey to pass by. Whichever, losing one’s head is permanent.

As a Sarawakian who deeply loves and treasures the wonderful wildlife my State possesses, it is increasingly easy to lose one’s head too. When this picture arrived in my inbox, sent by an anonymous friend from kapit, I lost my head. I felt a deep welling of anger rise within my body, from the depths of my stomach rising to my throat, and upwards to my head. It made my head swell, and tears came.

Decapitated Head of a Clouded Leopard

Yes, I cried. But interestingly, I found myself crying not for the unfortunate leopard that met its fate in this gruesome manner. No, my tears were for myself, for my fellow Sarawakians, for my state I love so much. I was crying for the loss. The un-necessary loss we all suffer. The leopard has passed on. Its flesh was eaten, and provided (hopefully) a nice meal for someone. It time had come, and it has passed like so many others before it, and so many others yet to die in our forests.

Hunting is the bane of Sarawak. It is a curse we have upon ourselves. It is our shame. I know each and everyone of you reading this right now knows of someone who hunts. This person thinks himself some kind of hero, some kind of brave macho type who can take a gun, go into the forest (or wherever) and shoot a wild animal. Its cool….

Well, my friends, it is not. Human beings have progressed. Today’s big-game hunters are those who bring those inspiringly vivid jaw-dropping images we watch with awe on television. These days, we can watch them in high definition. Wild animals in all their glory, titans of the oceans brought right in front of our eyes like never before. These hunters use cameras of every form, harnessing every bit of technology and skill to stalk these wild animals, and capture them for us to see. These are the hunters we respect. They do not kill.

Body of a Bornean Clouded Leopard

Let us explore some of the myths about hunting in Sarawak.

Hunting is in our culture. It is our way, our Sarawakian way. – Rubbish! For 10,000 years, the natives of Sarawak lived in the rainforest. They were adept hunters, able to live off the forest. They had skills that allowed them to do this, and this is their tradition. This is their pride and glory. They hunted to live. And they had rules. They had adat. There was always, always, this underlying rule of law between the forest and the people. Hunting today respects none of these adat. Hunting today is solely for sport and profit. It is no longer cultural by any definition.

There are plenty of animals in our forests, hunting a few has little effect. Wrong! Our forests are shrinking faster than you can read this. And the wildlife that used to be there has all but gone. All our big game have been hunted out. Yes, we used to have rhinoceros and wild cattle… used to… even our hornbills have lived out their long years and are dying out, and no young hornbills are being added. We are indeed the former land of the hornbill. The Rusa (or Payau) is the largest mammal still living inSarawak. Ask any tour operator, and they will tell you: “If you want to see wildlife, go toSabah.Sarawak’s forests are empty”.

Our National Parks are protecting our wildlife, so we are okay. Wrong again! Today, if you are a hunter of any repute, you will be hunting inside Sarawak’s national parks. Why? Because there is nothing to shoot outside these last refuges. Sneaking in is simple, because boundaries are vast, and patrols are non-existent. If you’re not aware, Samunsam Wildlife Sanctuary west of Sematan, was set up to protect wildlife strictly. No tourism, no visitors of any sort. Only for wildlife… today, illegal loggers have had their way throughout the sanctuary, logging every single part of it. Hunters have free range within the sanctuary, shooting bears, leopards and proboscis monkeys to extinction. And that is a wildlife sanctuary in Sarawak.

Indigenous people depend on wildlife for food. Depends. You first need to define where an indigenous person lives, and what he does for a living.Sarawak’s indigenous peoples are mostly part of the economy these days. Only a small minority depend on the forests for their protein. These people rightly co-exist with the forests, and hunt for a living. However, how many of the hunters inSarawak fit this bill?

Eating wildlife is something special, it is good for us. Rubbish again! Contrary to the boastful claims of those who regularly consume wild animals, wild meat does not taste as good as the beef, chicken, duck or lamb we buy from the markets. Neither does wild meat have any special medicinal properties. It is all in the mind. People like to eat something special, something different. In the past, when we had a special guest, we would go out and hunt some animal to honour our guest. The honour was in the effort to serve him meat, not in the providing wild meat.

Restaurants serving wild meat – if I don’t eat it, someone else will. How about this: if we all don’t eat it, they will stop serving it. Once they stop serving it, they will stop buying it. Once restaurants stop buying wild meat, hunters will stop hunting far more than they need to eat themselves. And, once they stop hunting for commercial gains, our wildlife will begin to recover. Once our forests are full of wild animals, people will stop going toSabah.

Lastly, this animal that lost its head in Kapit is a Bornean Clouded Leopard. It is found only on Borneo, and is the largest cat inSarawak. It is a very rare animal, and in great danger of being hunted out. It is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful of the world’s large cats, and lives most of its life up in the trees.

If this article makes just one of us Sarawakians decide that you will stop eating wild meat, this leopard would not have lost its head in vain.

 

A Precious Life Remembered

9 April, 2011

Filed under: Dogs — admin @ 11:34 am

A Big Little Boy

On our shelf, we have three antique porcelain jars. One is much larger than the other two, pale creamy white with a blue dragon emblazoned across it. This is Husky, and today, 9th April, I took this jar down, wiped it and looked at the bleached white bones within. I touched them, and put them back. My mind travels back, reliving a tale…

Forced to leave the country in a hurry, a dog was left behind. The neighbours were at first puzzled at this dog wandering the compound, alone. Several days later, it dawned upon them that their neighbours have left and were not returning, and their dog was abandoned. By this time, this dog was in a sorry state, taken to lying in the drain, drinking from it, and starving.

A neighbour took it in, and gave it food and water. They decided to keep it as their own. Six months later, their life was no longer what it used to be. The dog had become a handful, and ended up chained up for the safety of the children. They finally decided to give it up, and this dog came to us.

Husky was a 55kg male German Shephard Dog. He was not small, and he was not at peace. In this traumatized state, he came to live with Wolf, a strong-willed female shepherd that didn’t take to other dogs kindly. Husky’s life was as close to a frantic existence as it could possibly get. But things were to get better… much better.

Six months on, he had made a friend, a friend who taught him, guided him and even took care of him. Wolf and Husky got along like they had grown up together. he gradually calmed down, and his own character slowly came to the fore. He became the gentle giant. His weight had come down to a healthy 45kg, and he kept fit with his daily runs around the park.

Throughout his life, he was to carry a fear of loud sounds. Firecrackers would send him into a frenzy, and we still have blood-stained walls in the kennel where he had his battles with his inner demons. Even thunder sent shivers down his spine. During the Chinese Lunar celebrations, where fireworks frightened every living thing for two weeks straight, Husky spent much of it driving around Kuching in his van, with the music blaring.

On 9th April 2007, the day came when we had to make the decision to relieve him of his pains. Several months suffering from advancing lymphoma, he could no longer carry his weight without excruciating pain, and his time had come. He had a good meal, had some pictures taken with his daddy and mummy, had a walk in the garden, and then the vet came. In 10mins, it was over, and Husky suffered no more.

He left behind a deep sadness, a wrenching twisting deep inside our insides, a large void. He brought vigour and life to our existence in several ways. His presence had filled our daily lives, and the large portion of our bed he took up each night was difficult to deal with. However, the sense of giving a life back to one of nature’s creatures cannot be replaced. What we got back was pure joy and satisfaction, but knowing the precious things in life, in the form of another living soul, has no compare.

Husky, we remember you today, and many days in between. We thank you for being Husky. We love you for just you, and we will never forget you… ever.

 

Asian AQUARIA… Who’s doing what, where and how well…

27 November, 2010

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 2:27 pm

I love aquaria and I hate zoos. Zoos take animals out of their natural environment and place them in cages. Aquaria, while in some ways represent a somewhat similar concept, creates a miniature environment for each animal they display. Fail to achieve that habitat, and your prize animal dies …it is as simple as that. Zoos can (and regularly do) fail to do this, and the animal doesn’t die… it just exists in utter misery.

Expensive to create and maintain, but mesmerisingly worth it!

I visit aquaria whenever I find one, and I have visited many. I put together an evaluation sheet years ago, and have assessed seven aquaria in Asia here. Each aquarium is ranked against each other between one and seven; seven being the highest score, according to six categories. The scores are summarized in the table below.

HKG

BKK

JKT

SHG

KUL

BEI

PHU

Layout and design

4

7

2

6

5

3

1

Appropriateness of displays to species 5 7 1 6

3

4

2

Variety of exhibits 4 7 3 6

5

2

1

Special exhibits / themes 4 7 3 5

2

6

1

Interpretation 5 7 2 6

4

3

1

Merchandising 7 6 2 4

5

3

1

29 41 13 33

24

21

7

BKK= Bangkok, PHU=Phuket, JKT=Jakarta, KUL=Kuala Lumpur, BEI=Beijing, HKG=Hong Kong, SHG=Shanghai

Siam Oceanworld in Bangkok wins hands down, with Shanghai’s Ocean Aquarium coming in 2nd.  Hongkong’s Ocean Park comes in 3rd, despite scoring comparatively low according to its real worth, only because it is not only a stand-alone aquarium, but is an integrated theme park. One key aquarium remains to be assessed… Singapore’s Sentosa island Aquarium, self-claimed to be the best round these parts. I shall visit one day…

Layout and design of the Aquarium

(Size of the facility, design of the facility, visitor movement, tank sizes and variety)

Wow factor, combined with visitor comfort

The design of the building is an important part of creating a visual journey through all the exhibits. Some aquaria, like the Beijing Aquarium, are large stand-alone buildings, while others are smaller facilities attached to a marine research facility such as the Phuket aquarium, yet others are within shopping malls like the Bangkok aquarium located within Siam Paragon mall, or Kuala Lumpur aquarium in the basement under the Twin Towers.

The location of tanks, and how visitors are moved through the facility, is assessed according to connectivity of exhibits and ease of passage.

The Bangkok aquarium stands above the rest in terms of design of the facility, despite several others being much larger buildings. Hong Kong aquarium comes second, with its most creative movement of visitors, including its 3-storied spirally-descending walkway around the main large circular display tank.

The Beijing aquarium has categorized their exhibits, marine, corals, mammals etc etc, because they have the luxury of a huge area. Unfortunately did not maximize this with the variety of exhibits they could’ve had.

Appropriateness of display tanks to species

(number of animals within a tank, relative to space and size of animal)

Overstocking in Shanghai aquarium

While entertainment and education may be the prime objective of aquaria, animal health and welfare is equally important. Over-crowding in tanks, or animals confined to too small displays is not good, and sends the wrong message to visitors. Matching the viewability of animals and their health is a key challenge in modern aquaria. The Dugong in Jakarta was a fantastic exhibit, but it is within a tank far too small for an animal that size. Several aquaria have small-clawed otters, but none had enclosures that catered for the active and social nature of these mammals.

Bangkok aquarium again tops the list, with its relatively well-matched spaces to the species on display. Hong Kong comes in 2nd. Shanghai aquarium loses out, with massively over-stocked tanks… there were 9 green turtles in one tank, and at least 50 sea bass in the main tank…

Variety of exhibits

(number of species, number of exhibits, diversity of displays, number of individuals on display, static exhibitions, exchange programmes)

glass-bottomed boats take the visitor over the main tank

What species are on display at an aquarium makes for a better experience. How they are presented also brings home to the visitor the different aquatic habitats and environments that result in the world’s amazingly rich biological diversity. Freshwater and saltwater environments are contrastingly different, and present different challenges to aquaria to maintain. Phuket aquarium, despite its poor state of repair, has something other aquaria do not show… you can go around the back of the building to see how aquaria tank environments are controlled.. filtration systems, etc… well worth the walk around back to visit the other parts of the Marine Research Centre, including a visit to a marine research vessel at the end of the jetty… if its docked that day of course! Shanghai Aquarium also has a wide range of displays and exhibitions. Hong Kong ocean park has brilliant displays, including the sea lions, but has little variety, and therefore scores low.

Bangkok aquarium wins hands down for its variety of exhibits, and sheer diversity of species on display. Check out the giant atlantic crabs, penguins, otters… all with the best interpretation I’ve seen at any aquarium in Asia. Disappointingly, Beijing aquarium has little diversity in its displays.

Fossils in Shanghai

a Coelacanth in Jakarta

Special exhibits

(themes, special/flagship exhibits)

Every aquarium needs a feature exhibit, rare or endangered species

We cannot deny the attractiveness of a key exhibit or species – every aquarium needs a star attraction, its highlight for visitors. There are no clear winners here, although I am inclined to give the award to Beijing for having two star attractions – the huge Chinese Sturgeon display, and the pair of Beluga whales. Hongkong comes second, with probably the best presentation of jellyfish in the world, a truly enchanting experience complete with Bang-Olafsen delivered music. Jakarta has a dugong, its only attraction, while Bangkok has one of the best collections of sea horses in Asia, and a giant shark tank with nurse sharks and leopard sharks.

Interpretation

(in-tank interpretation, posters, information on species, interactivity with audience, targeted interpretation to age-groups, feeding times, video presentations, touch-screens, guided touching pools)

Simple, succinct, informative, interesting

Spending a few hours at an aquarium is made meaningful if you leave having learnt something about what you’ve seen, and are taking home some knowledge you didn’t have before you entered that aquarium. Interpretation makes aquaria educational and entertaining places to visit. Remove interpretation and you lose the very objective of running aquaria! Language is your means of transferring information, and correct language is very important. As an English speaker (and reader), obviously those aquaria with English interpretation had the most impact upon me… Beijing aquarium left me clueless as to what I was looking at most of the time, though it probably focussed on a 90% local audience. Bangkok and Hong Kong aquaria are the best, with Bangkok winning with its creative interpretation.

Merchandising

(availability of outlets, variety of merchadising, conservation messages, branding-related, pricing, target-audiences)

We all like to take something home as a memento of the places we’ve visited, and all aquaria cater to this seemingly irresistible desire. The shopping area is always at the end of your visit, all visitors are cleverly shepherded through the shops as you exit the aquarium… except for Beijing aquarium, which is so large that merchandising and restaurants are all over the building. Hong Kong aquaria had the best merchandising. Kuala Lumpur has a Bodyshop outlet within the aquarium, but it doesn’t sell any related merchandise.

————

Shanghai Ocean Aquarium

www.sh-soa.com

Nestled at the foot of Shanghai’s majestic Pearl Tower, this is a modern facility and very well designed. It has surprisingly large floor space dedicated to still exhibitions on aquatic animals, fossils and conservation projects and issues in China. The large exhibition on shark-finning is laudable, and much needed in the world’s largest consuming market for shark fins. This is one of the better designed layouts I’ve seen, and the building is spanking new and shining! Audio guides in English are available.

HIGHS: Fossil displays are fantastic, and the conservation messages are well presented throughout the facility. Good interpretation and reasonable diversity of species exhibited. The static exhibition on China’s efforts to save the baiji or Yangtze white river dolphin) is good. Don’t’ forget to check out the giant salamanders!

LOWS: in typical over-achieving Chinese style, many of the tanks are seriously overstocked with fish. In the main tank, I counted 9 green turtles, and so many rays the essence of recreating a coral reef was lost.

Phuket Aquarium

www.phuketaquarium.org

Part of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC), Thailand’s premier marine research and conservation facility. The focus of PMBC on marine research is reflected in the quality of its aquarium. The visitor feels this is very much a display of species, rather than creating a visually exciting experience that many other aquaria achieve. This is a great facility for students and interested persons to learn about what PMBC is doing in Thailand, and the elements of research.

HIGHS: the PMBC facility is much more attractive than the aquarium itself, taking the visitor on a tour along its 8ha beachfront property. A visit to the moored research vessel is very good. I liked the models and simulations of the tsunami.

LOWS: there is a distinct lack of staff presence, and the visitor is on his own, especially around the back, where interpretation and contact with researchers would greatly improve the visitor experience and learning. The exhibits inside the aquarium are sparsely stocked, dimly lit and nothing really exciting greets visitors.

Aquaria KLCC Kuala Lumpur

www.aquariaklcc.com


Integrated into the iconic Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur, this aquarium is ideally situated within a busy shopping area, thus maximizing visitorship. This is a small facility constructed in the basement, compared to the vast space available amidst the KLCC compound. Sadly, this aquarium doesn’t meet its full potential, given its resources and its fantastic location. Its exhibition on Endau Rompin, a forest ecosystem under peril, is good, but misplaced here. Aquaria should focus on being aquariums first!

HIGHS: touching-tanks are very good, and a real hit with all visitors.

LOWS: the space is cramped, with too many small exhibits too close together, thus diminishing the visitor experience. Many of the exhibits are not aquatic animals, such as spiders, tarantulas, lizards and snakes… keep focus!

Seaworld Indonesia, Jakarta

www.seaworldindonesia.com

Located along the waterfront of old Jakarta, one travels through old Batavia to get here. The aquarium is situated within a larger theme park, and is not a very large facility, and a bit worse for wear. The exhibits are old and weary, and diminishes the visitor experience.

HIGHS: a single dugong has to be its claim to fame. There is a preserved Coelacanth, which is worth viewing.

LOWS: The dugong display is far too small for the poor animal. Interpretation is extremely poor.

Siam Oceanworld, Bangkok

www.siamoceanworld.co.th


Taking two basement floors within one of Bangkok’s prime shopping malls (the Siam Paragon), this is perhaps Asia’s top aquarium. It has a huge diversity of species exhibited, freshwater and marine, including polar exhibits. Its design is very good, guiding the visitor through very viewable displays. Its main claim to fame has to be the creativity in interpretation. No aquarium came close to the depth and quality of its interpretation, and its wonderful ability to keep the audience constantly captiviated.

HIGHS: leopard sharks are a must see, and it has glass-bottomed boats that take you into the huge main tank. Check out the sea horses – most exquisite, and the giant crabs were amazing. There are several tongue-in-cheek displays sponsored by companies… a car aquarium, and microwave exhibit…

There is a section just before the exit displays preserved specimens of new species to science, and some yet-to-be-identified aquatic animals. Don’t miss the giant blue-fin tuna kept in a block of ice.

LOWS: the only criticism I would state would be the matching of viewing space to the exhibits. Some exhibits need space to truly appreciate the splendour of the creatures in their natural habitat, and this is obviously a premium within a shopping mall. More seating areas are needed for those tired legs, especially when people like me spend 4hrs there… and I’ve been there 3 times!

Ocean Park, Hong Kong

www.oceanpark.com.hk

This aquarium is not a single building, but spread out across a massive theme park on a promontory. This is a full day experience for families, with roller-coasters, panda bears and almost everything that would make your heart stop. Expect to walk huge distances, though the escalators make the steep climbs a breeze.The aquatic exhibits are placed far apart, with the sealions at the very peak of the promontory. The Chinese sturgeon exhibit was closed when I visited… the one exhibit I really wanted to see! Sigh… anyways, I got to see them in all their prehistoric splendour in Shanghai.

HIGHS: The jellyfish exhibit has to be one of the best in the world, complete with Bang Olafsen driven music – a must see! The dolphin shows are spectacular, but shows are fixed-timed… I hear there are killer whales too.

LOWS: Surprisingly for intellectual Hong Kong, interpretation was good, but not what it could have been. And distances between exhibits are tiresome, so don’t come here just to visit an aquarium… go drop yourself 100m from the sky!

Beijing Aquarium
Located within the Beijing Zoo, this is reputedly the world’s largest inland aquarium. Big it is, and big empty spaces are also a feature. For aquaria, big is not always better, especially when your roof stretches 4-stories high and you don’t use the space.This is the only aquarium I’ve visited where merchandising is everywhere, and restaurants and kiosks are spread around… of course it is, there’s all this space to fill up. It’s a real carnival atmosphere inside.

HIGHS: Two Beluga whales take the cake, I loved it. But the aquarium’s highlight is the giant Chinese Sturgeon display, with 3m specimens. Almost extinct in the wild, it is indeed an honour to witness these ancient creatures swimming..

LOWS: poor species variety, with many of the large display tanks without anything in them. Interpretation in any language was virtually absent.

Remembering Wolf 7 years on…

7 October, 2010

Filed under: Dogs — admin @ 8:58 am

our family in 2003

The 7th of October is a special day for us. It is the day our dearest friend, companion and teacher left us. Wolf died just before dawn on this day, seven years ago. Let me recount that day, for it is still fresh in my memory after these years. Wolfie, as we affectionately called her, had cataract in her golden years, and her eyes turned an opaque blue. She also had lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands. We will never know how much sight she had in 2003, but my guess was that she was almost totally blind. But amazingly, it didn’t bother her at home. She knew every corner of her home, she could go upstairs to bed, walk around without knocking anything.. she knew exactly where everything was… except the times when we left the shopping on the floor, and she would be most upset when she bumped into it.. “Hey! That’s not supposed to be there!”

Because of her blindness, she herself decided to stop going to the park, which was, and still is, a daily ritual for us all. We have a park in our housing estate, a large tree-covered public park that closes at 10pm every night. Well, that’s according to the sign outside… which we never read, and wolfie didn’t give a hoot about. You see, Wolf was a proud girl. She didn’t like the indignity of falling into a wet drain, or walking into a hedge. But, she wasn’t to be left behind at home when the rest of her family made their nightly walk. She would come along, hop into the back of the van, and sit in the van while the rest of us, Husky and Glo trotted around the park. Then we would all get back in the van, and head home. Husky and Glo would both get a scolding from Wolf when they returned, not because she was upset or anything, it was just her way of telling them don’t be too high-nosed, “I went to the park too!”

That was Wolf, a highly intelligent, strong-willed and confident german shepherd dog. She had serious attitude, a problem only to others who had the honour of meeting and interacting with her. She had a highly developed pack-sense, and took the protection and safety of her family totally seriously. She was 2nd in the hierarchy. Daddee was top dog, no doubt about that, but everyone else… mamee, grandpa, husky and all… were below her. With this elevated position in the pack, she thrived on her responsibility for order and discipline, and the safety and strict compliance of all. She showed especially astute cognition of the condition of a person… with grandpa and grandma, who are elderly, she would stay back and wait for them, always keeping herself behind them.. watching them.. like a shepherd. She behaved the same with young children, never allowing a child to stray from the pack.

On 7th October 2003, Wolf surprised us all. She seemed very anxious to go to the park that evening. One of her moods, we thought… later at night, when park-going time arrived, wolf hopped in the van as usual, followed by husky and glo. Off we went to the park. When we arrived, and all jumped out, so did wolf! We were surprised, since she hadn’t wanted to walk in the dark for months. Anyways, we put a leash on her, and she happily, but gingerly, walked around the park as she had done for the past 6 years. Twice she slipped and put her foot in a drain, but she didn’t seem to mind. 15mins later, she wanted to go back, so we all did. Back home, she ate like a horse! Hmmm, that walk must have really tired her out.

Daddee, tired out from the walkie walkie, went to bed early, about 10pm. At 11.30pm, mamee wakes me up, with tears in her eyes. “wolfie is trying to come upstairs, but she can’t. Her back legs have given up” Wolf had collapsed on the kitchen floor. She was in pain. Her lymphoma had flared up, and it was apparent that she was experiencing organ failure. There was nothing we could do, and nothing we wanted to do anymore. Her time had come…she knew it, and we knew it.

The three of us slept on the kitchen floor for the rest of the night, switching between dozing then holding her as her breathing became slower and slower. By 4am, wolf had slipped into a deep sleep, or maybe a coma.. I couldn’t tell. At 6.05am, she took a deep breathe, held it for a few moments, then let it out. And she was gone.

We cried. They were tears of loss, a deep loss. But the loss was tinged with beautiful things… I was happy that wolf, obviously knowing her time had come, decided to join us for our evening walk one last time. I was happy that we were there with her in her final hours, which helped her relax… knowing she was in the arms of her most dearly loved.

All was well in our world, minus one. And that was fine. We had our time together, and for that we are grateful. Thank you Wolf for spending 10 years with us… we couldn’t have asked for, and received, more!

Suffolk House, welcome back to Malaysia!

2 October, 2010

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 11:47 am

In 1985, whilst a student in Penang, I visited this derelict colonial mansion within the grounds of the Methodist Boy’s school. I wandered the building and its surroundings, watching birds and treeshrews frolic the twisted fig roots and lianas, reminiscent of Angkorian temples.

In Sept 2010, I paid a small fee to Melanie Anthony, and she took me on a tour of Suffolk house. A walk backwards into time it was, both into the times of Francis Light, and myself as a student… and a heart-warming experience it was.

This was where the founding of Singapore was plotted by Stamford Raffles, and where I saw a Blue-winged Pitta for the first time in my life. Today, Suffolk house as it stands is a testimony to the deep appreciation of our history that still prevails amongst some Malaysians today. It is growing, as it should, but it stands above as the true Malaysian spirit of preservation and restoration, as opposed to replacement.. We lose a bit more of our rich history every minute somewhere in the country.

As a member of Badan Warisan, I applaud those who lead this journey of restoration, and share the joy they undoubtedly experienced through the difficult and often hair-tearing task of bringing Suffolk house back.

have tea and scones, and walk back in time

If you are reading this, go visit the next time you’re in Penang. Have a cuppa on the terrace, and contemplate what our country would be like if we aspired to restore, and not destroy… Give Melanie a call (+6017-4921119; email: melanie@suffolkhouse.com.my) and she’ll take you down a delightful story of this magnificent edifice and its journey back into 2010. In the mean time, I now head, not without a tremour, into my archives to retrieve those images I captured 25years ago…

Reflections of a tiger, in the year of the tiger

18 August, 2010

Filed under: Tigers — Tags: — admin @ 6:10 am

Five years ago, I took part in a flea market campaign. What began as a contribution to raising money for sufferers of thalassemia, became a once-in-20-years spring clean. Amazingly enough, I found myself to be the owner of some 50 items which had a tiger on them, posters, jigsaws, paintings, tapestries and various other trinkets and t-shirts. A 30-something walked up to me at the flea market and asked me “You really like tigers a lot, don’t you?” “Guess I do” I replied, looking at the virtual gallery of tigers in front of us. He took them all! Yup, my entire collection went, in one go, from my house to his house. “I was born in the year of the tiger, you know” he commented, to which I replied “Me too”. We laughed, shook a firm handshake in silent comradeship, and parted ways.

This year, 2010, is my 4th cycle in the Chinese zodiac year of the tiger, which tells you my age. I often think back to that day at the flea market, and that other tiger I met briefly. I felt a connection with that man, and somehow understood why, at a whim, and an opportunity presenting itself, he bought those tiger images. I too have had a life-long fascination for this black-striped orange animal. I love its colour… so people like me are attracted to bright things. Let’s face it, how many orange-coloured large animals are there?

Being orange aside, it eats other animals. Sometimes people too. Now that puts the hairs on the back of your neck up, doesn’t it? And you know what? The more you learn about this animal, the more fascinating it becomes. It can jump 10-feet straight up into the air. Watch your home tabby, and you’ll see all cats can do that… stroll up to a table, look up, and phuff, its on top, some 3 times its own height… vertically! Well, imagine a tiger, at some 10 feet in length, doing that, and you just simply go “waaaaaH”.

Fading into oblivion…

As an ecologist, the decline of species fascinates me. Living in the times when an animal goes extinct is sad, but in some ways, poignant. I don’t have hangups about dying. Death is necessary for evolution to occur. In my lifetime, the Baiji (Chinese River Dolphin) has disappeared from the Yangtze, and I have seen a wild one.. one of the last. In the same area in Hunan province in 2001, I also saw a Chinese Paddlefish, a freshwater behemoth that is also gone… forever. I have walked amongst teeming hordes of white-rumped vultures on the Rajasthan desert plains, and now they are the most critically endangered vultures on the planet, all in the span of just 15 years. In my own country, I have counted 110 milky storks in the mangroves of Perak, and last year, there were just three left. In my life time, in 1984, the last Javan tiger was shot. Am I fortunate, or am I cursed?

Skin of the last Caspian Tiger in Iran, from the collection of Shah Pahlavi

Skin of the last Caspian Tiger in Iran, from the collection of Shah Pahlavi

Iran lost its last Caspian tiger in 1959, and a skin hangs, framed, in the museum of natural history at the department of environment’s Pardisan park in downtown Teheran. I stood before this skin, and reminisced the days when this magnificent orange predator prowled the forests of Daz Teh Naz, where I had just been. A beautiful forest, and all that is left of the Caspian lowland forests. I could just picture a tiger strolling through those oaks. In this instance, I consider myself fortunate… fortunate to have walk the same forests a magnificent animal of yesteryear called home. I left with an uplifted spirit.

Daz Teh Naz forest, Mazandaran Province, Iran

Daz Teh Naz forest, Mazandaran Province, Iran

China also had three sub-species of tigers, and very likely, have already lost all three. The Caspian tiger was last seen in 1923 in Xinjiang province, and is officially extinct. The Siberian tiger, on its eastern frontier, no longer lives in the wild in Heilongjiang province, but occasional visits from tigers wandering across the China-Russia border are recorded, as recently as 2009. The southern Chinese tiger P. tigris amoyensis is extinct in the wild, the last shot in 1994. There are only 59 animals left in zoos, all born from just 3 pairs, and are all genetically unviable. These 59 southern Chinese tigers are the last.

In 2001, I stood before an emancipated Southern Chinese Tiger in a cage, somewhere in central China. I’m not telling you where, except that it wasn’t in a zoo, and not one of those 59. It was huge! it was the tallest tiger I had ever seen.  Fattened up, it would be larger than any Siberian tiger… i wonder about the siberian tiger being the largest of the sub-species now… by sheer shoulder-height, I think amoyensis is the largest!

As the tiger joins the host of species that call time-out this century, and something deep inside me tells me the tiger will, I find myself contemplative… rather than jolted into action. Maybe its my good fortune to have lived in the same time as the tiger, and be one of those called witness to its extinction. I have never seen a tiger in the wild. Yet. But i have had numerous close-encounters with tigers, in the wild and elsewhere. Each and every of these encounters have left a deep impression upon me. I relate two here:

The Pulau Serapung Incident – I arrived at the timber camp jetty early in the morning to a large gathering of workers. Something bad happened last night, and no one wanted to go back into the forest. This is the story they told me. Labourers working to clear the peat swamp forest in Sumatra’s Riau province (for Acacia plantations) one morning came upon two tiger cubs in a ditch. One man, from Sambas, jumped into the ditch, and took the two cubs back to camp, where he crushed their skulls with his boot, and had them for breakfast. This greatly aggrieved his fellow workers, most of whom were from Riau itself. You see, Sambas is a province on Kalimantan, the island of Borneo, where there are no tigers, and where people eat anything they can get their hands on in the forest. Riau, on Sumatra, has tigers, and therefore there are “pantangs” or taboos… two lost cubs in a ditch only meant their mother was somewhere close by!

Anyways, although upset, they shrugged off the incident and went about their chores. That very night, a tiger entered their work-camp in the forest, attacked this individual on his bed and broke his neck with a single bite. His fellow workers were too shocked to do anything, stunned as their watched this tiger walk right past them dragging his body, through camp and off into the forest.

No one slept a wink the rest of that night. The next morning the man’s mangled body was found some 200m from camp, in a ditch. His bowels had been eaten. To all, this was his karma. He came to Sumatra and did not respect the tiger. The tiger retaliated.

The Fruit-stall Seller Incident – In my hometown of Kuching, Sarawak, we don’t have tigers. They died off on Borneo some 40,000 years ago. One morning, at a fruit stall in a local market in kenyalang, I was waiting to pay for my purchase, when this motorbike pulls up, this young man jumps off and hands over this metre-long bundle to the old man at the counter,. He then speeds off. I think to myself “wonder what fruit is that!” The old man un-wraps his parcel, and inside is the whole hind-leg of a tiger… minus its skin and flesh. The hip socket shines bright white in front of my wide-eyed face, the stout femur still with flecks of dried flesh on it, and the foot a reddish-brown straining array of bones, cartilage and tendon. There were no claws, just stumps where they were clipped off.

The old man looks at me, and realizes I am staring open-mouthed at his inspection, and quickly rewraps it, and puts it under his counter. I pay for my purchase, and head to my car.

I sat in my car for a while, reflecting on what just happened. Surely someone could not have got that past customs at the airport! And both airports! So where did it come from? My guess would be from across the very porous border we share with Indonesia, where I know wildlife is traded daily. It must have come by boat from Sumatra, probably to Pontianak, then by road to the border, then to this little fruit stall in Kuching.

I call the Sarawak Forestry Corporation hotline, which rings… and rings. I then call the head of the wildlife unit, whom I know, and don’t get a reply. I send text messages to several wildlife enforcement officers I know personally in SFC. None reply. Sitting there in my car, I also realize that even if they did reply, and were able to respond to this case instantly, arriving here and arresting that old man, what would have changed? I would have had a good feeling knowing I played a small part in apprehending one person in this global wildlife trade network.

But I also know that nothing really would have changed. That tiger remains dead, dismembered and its body distributed across several countries. The forest remains one tiger less to maintain its ecology, and yes, one Chinese medicine shop somewhere in Kuching ends up with less tiger bones for its demanding and discerning clientele. In fact, the result would likely been an anxious phone call, demanding another tiger shipment now!

Authorities really have no capacity to deal with hunting/poaching of tigers, and its trade. Kenya stopped the ivory trade within its country, but did not stop it outside. And, they used force against force.

Larger than Life

I stand beneath this metal tiger, the largest copper tiger in the world, soaring high above my head, and I gasp. Not in awe at this gigantic sculpture, but in fascination of the minds that created it. No small sums of cash have gone into building this. But the question is what, deep inside those minds, made them decide to honour this creature with this monument.

Largest Copper tiger sculpture in the world, Hutou, China

Largest Copper tiger sculpture in the world, Hutou, China

I am in the town of Hutou, on the banks of the Ussuri river, China’s eastern border with Russia. The name Hutou means Tiger’s Head, and is the site of one of the last bastions of the 2nd world war between the occupying Japanese Imperial army and the Russian Red army.

The county here is named Hulin, or Tiger Forest. It seems tigers are everywhere here. In 2009, just 20km from this town, tracks of a tiger were seen in the snow. One Siberian tiger wandered across the frozen Ussuri river, into the forested hills of the Wanda mountain range, within Zhenbaodao National Nature Reserve. This was not the first time! In 2007, tracks of a single tiger were also seen in the same place. It would seem that there is at least one individual tiger that has this little corner of China within its range, and comes each winter for a bit of a walkabout to mark its territory, and roar its presence within China’s political boundary. Clearly, it lives in neighbouring Russia, where it has plenty of forested habitat. It is a visitor.

It is also the only Siberian tiger to set foot on Chinese soil in the past 20 years or so. As long as it lives, it will continue to set foot in China, but after this, that will be the end. Until this happens, the Siberian tiger is still, officially, not extinct in China.

Haunting eye-socket stare of a tiger in wine, on display at the Tiger Farm, Harbin, China

Haunting eye-socket stare of a tiger in wine, on display at the Tiger Farm, Harbin, China

That day, when it comes, will be a sad day for the Chinese people, the day when both of its two sub-species of tiger becomes extinct in the wild. The tiger is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture, the Chinese psyche and its mythology. In fact, it is this deeply divided complexity that has caused, and continues to cause, the demise of tigers all over the world. The tiger embodies majesty, power, pride, strength of character and longevity. It is believed these attributes are infused in every sinew and hair of this magnificent animal. Therefore, consuming it brings about infusion of these strengths into our own bodies, making our weaknesses and illnesses go away.

You know what I think? It is all in our minds. Humans have been both blessed and cursed with the gift of imagination. Our imaginations have taken us to the moon, given us the tools by which I am able to write to you right this moment, and will serve us well along our evolutionary journey. It has alas, also shackled our bodies and souls. It has made us slaves to our beliefs. We kill in the name of creed, and we believe we are greater than all others. We believe the tiger can make us stronger by consuming it, like part-taking of the body and blood of Christ will save us from eternal damnation. A wise man told me once “What we know, is fact. What we don’t know, we believe”. And woe is the animal who has been made larger than life by man.

anything you want with a tiger on it

anything you want with a tiger on it

Dragons, unicorns and the phoenix

I grew up on a healthy prescription of dragons and the kraken… larger than life creatures of great strength, jaw-dropping awesomeness, and worthy of the worship of feeble helpless man. Large powerful animals excite me, and I wish dragons existed right now, in our world. Never mind that they ate some people here and there, but I don’t think they would.. they would just be another animal out there, and one I would go in search for.

Years ago I visited the British museum of natural history in London, and headed straight for the one exhibit I have always wanted to see since childhood. When I finally found it, and stood there in silence, gazing at this skeleton of a… sabre-toothed cat. It was small. It wasn’t the huge menacing cat of the past I had imagined. Its elongated canines weren’t even that long! I thought it resembled a tiger. But dead it was, and dead for a long, long time.

Today, I think back and wonder about the animals we give special places in our hearts… and find that most of them that capture our imagination are dead ones. The sabre-toothed cat was just another cat in another time, and while it lived, it made little impression on man, except for the occasional feast. But gone now, it has been elevated to a place of respect… it has become something that once preyed on lesser animals, something that had strength, speed, agility and a presence that would make one shit in his pants when faced alone, without a iron fence in-between.

I sometimes wonder where the tiger is heading… and if it will one day be an animal of folklore. A mighty beast that roamed the earth, inspired man to greater things, embodied strength and majesty, and adorned badges, logos, symbols across countries. Now gone, we tell stories of the mighty tiger, and our children’s children will sit around the fireplace in silence, enthralled by these tales of bygone creatures, and like me, will wish they could see one, and go off to bed to dream exciting dreams of encounters with wild tigers, riding a huge orange cat across the world with the wind in my hair.

Extinction – a passage into immortality?

In 1947, the Maharaja of Surguja gained the dubious honour of being the man to shoot the last three cheetahs in India. I read an account of the hunt, in western Madhya Pradesh, some years ago, written by one of the palace officials who took part in the hunt. He wrote of his sadness in hearing, some 20 years later, that those 3 animals were probably the last cheetahs, and the species was considered extinct in India now. He wrote saying perhaps they did not die in vain.. but have been elevated to glory by being the last, being the ones that died and became extinct, only to be resurrected as a animal that would forever remain in the memories of India.

In 1941, the last Sumatran rhino was shot in Sarawak, by the museum staff. I was once chatting with a former curator of the Sarawak museum, and asked him about this. He told me that being shot was a better fate for the last living rhino in Sarawak, making it famous, and contributing itself to the museum’s collection for the future. Imagine being the last of your kind, wandering alone in the forests until you die of old age or an accident. Hmmm… is there sense in what he said?

I don’t know, but sometimes I wonder which is better… to be a critically endangered species or to be an extinct species. The latter brings fame and immortality in some sense, and less suffering. It is indeed a sad truth that we humans place greater value on the things we have lost than those we still have.

Saving tigers – our acid test

Obviously we need to understand the nature of the beast to save it. We need to know how it behaves, where it lives, how it hunts, how it brings up its young, and a whole lot of other information on tigers. This is called research, and we have plenty of that going on. Every where tigers occur research is being done. Taking nothing away from these passionate and committed scientists, research on tigers almost always comes up with findings such as these: we don’t have enough time to study them in detail; they cover huge distances in the forest you know, its not easy to find them, let alone observe them!; we don’t have enough funding to do the studies we need to do… etc etc..

For years the world has been pouring money and ideas into efforts to conserve tigers. Websites cry the same cry the world over – tigers stand on the brink of extinction, and we must take action NOW! Well, India’s much celebrated tiger project over 15 years reported success after success, attracted millions of conservation dollars, set up numerous tiger reserves across the country, and reported to parliament in 2009 that India’s tiger population had crashed to just 1,411 animals. There were around 4,000 before project tiger began! Bottom line to me… big-funded projects have not brought returns to tigers.

We must stop the trade in tiger parts to remove the primary reason why wild tigers die each day across the world. This is another cry from the hallowed meeting rooms of CITES, TRAFFIC and the CMS.. and they have the statistics to prove it. These same statistics show between 1975 and 2009, 12.42 million tigers have been traded from one country to another in some form or other, i.e. alive, half-alive, dead, or dead in little pieces. Some part of a tiger is sold or bought 2.8 days somewhere in the world. Here in Malaysia, we lose maybe 2-3 tigers a month to poachers. This is 2-3 tigers more than we can afford to lose. Really! Bottom line to me… monitoring trade does nothing to stop trade.. it only tells us what we already know… tigers are dying out, and we know who is at fault.

The point I’m making is this: for a critically endangered species like the tiger, our efforts need to be directed where they obtain the most results – plain and simple common sense if you ask me! We know this: tigers live in forests, and need large prey animals to survive. We also know that the forests tigers need are being lost to oil palm estates, forest plantations and urban development. Additionally, tigers themselves are being caught for trade, to feed the demand for traditional medicines. This means poachers add to the problem.

The solution, simplistically put, is therefore to stop de-forestation and stop killing of tigers. Preserve a large landscape forested bloc with tigers in it, and prevent the killing. Large forest landscapes don’t require lots and lots of money to protect. All we need is sufficient money to patrol the boundaries regularly and efficiently, and be ruthless about it. Kenya’s elephants and rhinos were only saved when the government put its foot down, and took on the poachers head-on – shoot to kill! You can’t fight the fight without making the game your own. You can’t take a pretzel to a knife fight.. Poachers today know they do not risk their lives to catch tigers… if caught, it’s a cursory slap on the wrist, maybe even an inconvenient brief jail term, or a small fine. Well, we need to decide whether living wild and free tigers is worth the commitment to put a final end to poaching. This to me is not a conservation action. it is a political action. it is the will to do so.

Preserving a large landscape bloc of forest is, in my opinion, less simple. As Malaysia struggles to put crutches under a crumbling timber industry, common sense and political astuteness is glaringly absent. Malaysia is no longer the timber-rich country we were decades ago. Gone are our vast forests, and consequently, gone is our timber industry that served us so well over the past 50 years. We need to accept this, and come to terms with what this means. Industrialization and chip-based industries is our future. Even primary producing industries like palm oil are good, and a viable economic base to move to. Diversification is talked about widely, and mentioned in every development plan we have produced to date. But our timber industry cannot sustain itself on old-growth forest any longer. And so, we shouldn’t try and extend it. Let it go. What forests we have left need to be kept locked up. There are so many other uses for these forests, so many critical functions they play, and will continue to play, as we progress on. We cannot compromise Malaysia’s life-support systems any more, especially not now with changing climates, dying species and political re-discovery.

As someone important once said “don pray pray I teaw you!” Yes, this is where we are at in 2010. We need to focus our country’s development, and future functionality, clearly. We need an objective to be set, one that would deliver all, or most if not all, of what this country needs. I say tigers! If we did what we needed to do to once and for all, and save our tigers forever, we would have achieved the following along the way:

One – Malaysia would have large landscape forested area, where tigers, rhinos, elephants, gaur, tapirs and every other species of wildlife live… as our generous unselfish contribution to our own people, and to every human being on this planet. This thriving and truly amazing environment of ours will be our pride, and our asset, which people from all over the world will come to visit, to experience and to spend their money, and it will never be lost, die or be taken away from us.

Two – we would be preserving, for posterity, a treasure-house of organisms and plants which one day will provide us with cures for diseases, crops to feed us, materials to build things, and places to seek (and find) inspiration and tranquility.

And Three – we will be ensuring water to drink, plant crops and provide for our industries will never have to be purchased from others, or fought over.

A National Treasure and Treason

I have a solution for poaching of tigers in Malaysia. Death! We put people to death for trafficking in narcotics. Without exception, the law is clear. Death to traffickers. We are now seriously considering the death penalty for child rapists. I agree. The crime is heinous in our culture, molesting a helpless child, and so should the punishment fit the crime. First degree, premeditated murder is also a crime deserving the death penalty. Well, planning a trip into our forests, with clear intent to capture and murder a tiger, is premeditated murder in the first degree… in my opinion. how about you? The tiger is on our National Emblem. Close your eyes and recall for a minute… how many emblems, logos, brands in Malaysia have the tiger in it, or are formed around the tiger? Is the tiger not a National Monument for Malaysia? Is that reason enough for the King of Malaysia to declare it a national treasure?

Any act of aggression towards a National treasure would be treason. years ago, I recall the widespread discussions and arguments over the execution of two Australians convicted of trafficking in narcotics. Everyone in Malaysia had an opinion, but the one that prevailed was that drugs erode our society, destroy our values, and attack us from within. This is treason. Conscious actions that affect the very core our Malaysian society, and therefore deserving of the highest penalty.  I consider the tiger as much a core value of our society as integrity, pride and identity. This tiger of ours is truly ours, its called the Malayan Tiger, and it is a sub-species all of its own, found only on the Malay Peninsula… no where else in the world. It is ours in every sense. Walking free without restraint, confinement and harassment is as much its right as it is the right of every Malaysian to want the Malayan tiger alive and well in our land.

Malaysia likes firsts… the world’s first twin-towers, the first proton dropped on the south pole (yes, we paid the fine for littering) and the world’s first smart tunnel. let’s really lead the way and declare the tiger our national treasure, and apply the death penalty for killing a tiger. I say to you politicians out there.. put this on your manifesto, and I’ll vote for you. I know some others who would too. This is one Malaysian who wants tigers alive and well in my country. Do you?

Kuching

1 December, 2009

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 2:10 am

A big village and a small city, wrapped into a delicious package of history and natural beauty, with an appealingly un-hurried disposition… not surprising Tony & Rebecca have chosen to call this quaint backwater home for the past 13 years.

kuching1

A stroll through the historic old town along the riverbank will take you back 200 years when this was a small trading post.

Kuching2

With 286 days of rain each year, Kuching is one of Malaysia’s wettest places. Seen here is a typical afternoon thunderstorm approaching the town centre.

Kuching3

In this old cemetary rest some important people from the past…

One day, undoubtedly, Kuching will wake up to the 21st century, and reach out to take its place among the big boys, but by that time, Tony & Rebecca would have snuck out the back door in search of another quaint, quiet enclave to call home…

Whale Watching

Filed under: Everything else — Tags: — admin @ 2:01 am

Have you ever been close to a whale?

A whale is a very large animal, and lives in a very big ocean. there are only two ways we can get close to a sea-creature such as a whale: take a boat out into the sea and find one, OR, be in a place where whales come close to the shore… to you!

whale watching - peninsula valdes

Well organized boats take tourists out into the bay to get close to the whales, and there are plenty of whales out there. The lectures are good, the practices are proper and the whales are happy. We had a bonus with a albino calf and its mother allowing us to approach them, but we left in a hurry when the calf decided it wanted to watch us!

There are few places in the world where whales are found with regularity, and in numbers. One of them is the town of Hermanus, in South Africa, and the other the Peninsula Valdés, an odd-shaped peninsula in northern Patagonia, Argentina. Every year, some 2,000 Southern Right Whales Eubalaena australis congregate in Peninsula Valdés to breed and nurture their calves.

southern right whale - Puerto madryn

The pier at Puerto Madryn serves both as a landing point for the cruise ships, the cargo ships and the whale watchers. It’s a long pier, and in winter, it’s a cold pier. But the whales warm your heart and soul, if not your hands and nose. You can also see the occasional sea lion, a wandering penguin and those giant brown gliders that swoop past you – the Southern Giant Petrel. The aluminum smelter right next door has its own pier now.

Playa Doradillo

Just a short drive north of Puerto Madryn, this tranquil bay is a hotspot for tourists, and one cannot complain… really! Despite the steady stream of tourist vehicles, it is still most worth visiting, especially at sunset, when the crowds tend to disperse slightly. The whales come so close to the shore you find yourself standing there with the gentle surf wetting your jaw.

One of the three right whales in the genus Eubalaena, it gets its name from the olden days of whale-hunting, being the “right” whale to kill. Adult females grow to 18.5m, weighing 130 tons. In the town of Puerto Madryn, the whales come so close to the shore that you can watch them over breakfast from your hotel’s restaurant. Heading out to the pier brings you right up-close to these behemots, but taking a drive north to a secluded bay called Playa Doradillo is a truly special experience. Here you can stand on the pebble beach and have whales right in the surf next to you. You will never see a whale in the same light again, and will forever have been touched by a close encounter with the largest animal on our planet.

Whales may be the star attraction, but any ecologist in Patagonia will be overwhelmed by the history of this part of the world, where dinosaurs once roamed in numbers and diversity. The steppes come right down to the coast, and although it is all privately owned now, the regulatory practices within the park give hope to the still abundant wildlife here.

Whales may be the star attraction, but any ecologist in Patagonia will be overwhelmed by the history of this part of the world, where dinosaurs once roamed in numbers and diversity. The steppes come right down to the coast, and although it is all privately owned now, the regulatory practices within the park give hope to the still abundant wildlife here.

If you spent all your money flying first class to get here, and have none left, then stay in one of the beach-front hotels – you can still see the whales while tucking into the cheapest breakfast. Its worth a walk too… its free!

If you spent all your money flying first class to get here, and have none left, then stay in one of the beach-front hotels – you can still see the whales while tucking into the cheapest breakfast. Its worth a walk too… its free!

Farming Tigers in China

Filed under: Tigers — Tags: — admin @ 1:52 am

China has two sub-species of tiger: the Southern Chinese Tiger Panthera tigris amoyensis and the Siberian Tiger P. t. altaica. The Indochinese tiger Panthera tigris corbetti, may have occurred in parts of what is geographically China today, but is almost definitely extinct within China proper now. China’s tigers are in desperate shape, with the southern sub-species listed as one of the top ten most critically endangered animals in the world today, and may no longer exist in the wild. The northern tiger is not in danger of imminent extinction as a species, but within China, it is on the verge of disappearing completely. There is only one site where tigers are occasionally seen, when they cross the frozen Ussuri river from Russia.

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