News & Updates

Sec-Gen Tourism Ministry visits Sandakan tourism projects

SANDAKAN: Secretary General of the Tourism Ministry, Dato’ Dr. Ong Hong Beng and his officers from the Ministry’s development division have visited several tourism projects in Sandakan. The purpose of the visit was to monitor the progress of tourism projects carried out under the 10th Malaysia Plan (1st Rolling Plan) for 2011 and 2012.

Most of the projects are located at Sepilok, Which is one of the most well known tourist spots in Sandakan. There are four on-going projects under federal funding costing RM12.54 million. They comprise the upgrading work on facilities at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, the Sun Bear Conservation Project and the Heritage Forest Park at the Rainforest Discovery Centre.

In conjunction with the visit, State Forestry Director Datuk Sam Mannan announced that the Mangrove Discovery Centre (MDC) at Sepilok Laut was successfully upgraded and completed on Jan 12 this year at a cost of Rm1.04 million. The site is only 5.5 km away by jungle trail from the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre.

“The centre definitely will create a unique and magnificent experience for visitors to Sabah’s natural mangrove habitat by walking along the 700 m of Belian boardwalk connecting the existing information centre to the camping site, which is also equipped with resting areas, bridges and a multipurpose tower,” he said.

The Forestry Department plays an important role in the operation and maintenance of this centre, which is also in line with Sustainable Forest Management principles.

With support from the Federal Government, the Ministry of Tourism is confident that the number of visitors to Sandakan will increase in the coming years and this will benefit the state and the local economy.

Gayana Eco Resort will organise ‘Marine Awareness Month’

KOTA KINABALU: Gayana Eco Resort and Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa will be organising a ‘Marine Awareness Month’ from March 22 to April 22 this year to highlight the importance of giant clams and celebrate the returning of their baby clams into the wild. In a statement yesterday, the Gayana Eco Resort said its Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC) has been propagating and caring for giant clams for the last four years.

“We are finally at the stage where the baby clams are mature enough to be reintroduced into their natural environment. This has become the driving force behind the awareness month as we would like to do as much as possible to ensure that the baby clams make it to their teens,” said the resort.

On their coral reef restoration programme, the resort said they are aiming to transfer 1,000 pieces of planted coral fragments back into the coral reef.

The programme will end with a beach party at Bunga Raya featuring local artists Zumba (Aerobics cum dance routine) with Michelle Koh, coral planting activities and lunch on the beach with tickets at RM200 a piece where all the profits will be donated to MERC to ensure sustainability and a healthy marine environment for the future.

Besides that, the resort will be hosting some school children and non-governmental organizations to MERC to raise awareness and increase knowledge of the sea and conservation and restoration efforts.

More information can be obtained from Junei or Duncan at +6088 380390.

Captive breeding last hope for rhinos

Sumatran rhino numbers have plunged so low that if captive breeding is not done now, the species might well tip over the brink. SHE has difficulty moving and hobbles pitifully around her enclosure in a special sanctuary in Sabah. Her left forefoot is just a stump – it was caught in a snare when she was a calf. So they named her Puntung, Malay for “stump”.

Her handicap had prevented her from actively foraging for food, which explains her skinny frame – the lines of her rib cage show through her torso.

“With only three good legs, she can’t move far in the forest. She can’t reach for a lot of food, she can only browse. She has lacerations on her neck and hind leg and is badly scarred, indicating how tough a time she must have had in the forest,” says veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin.

Thankfully, Puntung, a female Sumatran rhinoceros, is now safely esconced at Borneo Rhino Sanctuary, a 4,500ha sprawl of forest within Tabin Wildlife Reserve, some 45km from Lahad Datu in eastern Sabah.

Late last year, news of her capture made headlines all over the world. She was trapped on Dec 18 in another part of Tabin and on Christmas Day, airlifted by helicopter to the sanctuary. In her new home, she is showered with attention. She has her own paddock and workers feed her with leaves from different trees and occasionally shower her with water to keep her cool.

All that pampering is with a purpose – Puntung is to be nursed back to health so that she can mate with Tam, short for Kretam, a male rhino at the sanctuary. The pair promises wildlife biologists another shot at breeding the critically-endangered species in captivity; it is a last-ditch attempt to save a species which is staring at extinction.

The Sumatran rhinos (or Asian two-horned rhino, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) are dying out as their habitat has dwindled, they are shot for their horns and increasing isolation hinders their breeding. Surveys of known rhino strongholds Taman Negara, Royal Belum State Park and Endau-Rompin National Park in recent years showed no evidence of rhinos, causing some within the wildlife conservation fraternity here to believe that the animal is all but poached out in Peninsular Malaysia.

In Sabah, the population is down to less than 40, which makes the state our only hope of preventing local extinction of the species. (The only other place which harbours the species is Sumatra, which has an estimated population of 150.)

The loss of the rhino is not a modern-day occurrence. They were already being hunted in the 1900s. Vetting old newspapers on Sabah, wildlife biologist Dr Junaidi Payne finds that rhinos were routinely hunted in the early 1900s, during which 20 rhino horns were exported annually. From the 1960s to the 90s, the hunt continued as people still coveted rhino horns as folk remedies, plus there was an added threat – loss of rhino habitat as forests were cleared for timber and conversion to human settlements, farms and plantations.

Today, major deforestation has slowed down somewhat, so loss of habitat is no longer the main threat to rhinos, according to Payne. Rather, it is their dwindling numbers and isolation which prevent breeding, stifling any possibility of expanding the population. Which is why a group of wildlife conservationists has formed the Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) to spearhead a captive breeding programme at Tabin, as a last recourse for the species.

“The problem now is that most remaining rhinos are infertile and too old to breed, and too scattered to meet and breed,” says Payne, executive director of Bora. “Most are solitary, just living out their lives. When a species declines to such low numbers, the only way to boost numbers and birth rate above death rate may be to bring some individuals together to increase the prospects for breeding. “Some people say the way to protect them is in the wild. We did that in the 80s, but the numbers still went down. Clearly (just) protecting and monitoring rhinos is a recipe for witnessing their extinction. So, there is only one priority, which is to make them breed.”

In the case of Puntung, she is unlikely to breed in the wild as monitoring work since 2007 shows that she never leaves her 15sqkm territory and no males venture there either; hence a decision was made in late 2009 to trap her.

Unsuccessful mating

Catching endangered wild animals to breed them in captive conditions is controversial but Payne points out that that was exactly how and why the African and Indian rhinos did not go extinct in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nonetheless, wariness lingers over the practice as past attempts, thwarted by poor husbandry and uncertainties, saw little success.

Between 1984 and 1994, 40 rhinos were captured in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah under an International Union for Conservation of Nature-led rhino rescue project. The animals ended up in European and American zoos, and in breeding facilities in their home states.

Most, however, fared badly in captivity and died from various diseases and old age. (In hindsight, the experts 30 years ago did not know enough about the rhino’s nutritional needs and reproductive health. In the wild, rhinos eat some 200 species of leaves, some of which contain compounds which bind iron. In captivity, the diet is not as varied, leading to iron accumulation and eventually, diseases.)

Of the 40 rhinos, only one pair, in Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio, the United States, bred and produced three babies. The animal keepers there got the care and the diet right and so, were successful. One of the captive-bred males, Andalas, was returned to Indonesia in 2007 to join three other females at the rhino sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra. The female, Ratu, is now pregnant and due to deliver in July, having miscarried twice before.

In Peninsular Malaysia, captive breeding efforts at the Sungai Dusun Rhino Conservation Centre in Selangor saw no success and ended abruptly in late 2003 when all five remaining rhinos died over a span of 18 days from bacterial infection caused by unkempt conditions. In August 2006, the sole captive male rhino in Sabah then was killed by a falling tree branch at the breeding centre located within the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, Sandakan. This left the female rhino, Gelogob, without a mate. The breeding programme was doomed until 2008, when Tam was found in an oil palm plantation and trapped.

Past failures in captive breeding were partly because the biology of wild rhinos had conspired against them. Many of the captive rhinos had reproductive pathology associated with long non-productive periods. Many were too old and not fertile, and the females had cysts in their ovary tracts while the males had low sperm count. Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian Dr Senthilvel Nathan explains: “When animals are sexually inactive and have not mated, their hormonal system is affected, they get reproductively unsound.”

Such is the tragic story of Gelogob, the sole survivor of the 1984-1994 capture programme. She was fertile in 1994 and showed signs of having given birth but by the time Tam was trapped and paired with her, Gelogob was no longer in her prime and her pregnancy did not come to term. Today, she is too old to breed and treatment to promote ovulation has not worked.

Breeding science

At the new rhino sanctuary in Tabin, however, wildlife biologists are optimistic about current breeding efforts as advances in reproductive science mean more options are available. Fussed over by attentive staff, Puntung has piled on over 7kg since her arrival and now weighs close to 500kg. Her enclosure is separated from, but is next to Tam’s, so that they can get familiar with each other’s scent. Puntung now has her own 1,000sqm paddock and this will slowly be enlarged to include the forested area where she can roam. She will be given time to get used to her new environment, before any breeding attempts can start.

Dr Zainal keeps a close watch over Puntung. Her blood is being tested for progesterone levels to determine her reproductive health. “I’m quite certain that her reproductive system is healthy as she’s young, around 10 to 12 years old,” says the Bora field manager. Enclosures are also sanitised – even the pellets fed to the rhinos are tested for fungus – to prevent a repeat of past mishaps of captive rhinos dying from infections triggered by unhygienic conditions.

Three to four months of blood sampling will be needed before the Bora team can decide on the most suitable breeding method to employ, either natural means or advanced reproductive methods such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation. Ultrasound scans will enable Zainal to know when the animals are in heat and can be brought together to mate.

But there is a potential snag: Tam’s virility appears to be on the decline. “Tam is producing semen but in small amounts and not of good quality,” says Zainal. “This could be due to many factors. We’re doing electro-ejaculation, and this will give various results as you’re forcing the animal to ejaculate. The best is ejaculation through natural means. He used to give good semen in 2009 and then it fluctuated; it could be due to stress or age (Tam is about 20 years old).”

To beef up chances of success, foreign experts experienced in breeding rhinos are lending their expertise. Dr Jorg Junhold, director of Germany’s Leipzig Zoo, says artificial insemination was first successfully used for elephants eight years ago and can be tried out on rhinos. The zoo has a long history of keeping African rhinos and has bred the black rhino. “In principle, there are a lot of parallels in the keeping of different species of rhinos, which is why Leipzig Zoo is partnering and funding the project here, so we can add our experience to keeping rhinos.”

Will it make a difference?

There is also a plan to cryopreserve sperm from Tam for possible impregnation of captive female rhinos from either the peninsula or Sumatra. (In the past, all three rhino range states worked independently of each other, due to a belief that the Sabahan population is a sub-species. This has since been disputed based on DNA work and scientists now agree that rhinos from all three sites should be managed as one conservation unit.)

But even if Tam and Puntung were to produce an offspring, would it make any difference to the survival of the species in the wild? Will it be enough to rejuvenate the dwindling population? With their already small numbers, the slow-breeding rhinos – they have a gestation period of 15 months and a birth-interval of three years – are unlikely to reproduce fast enough to repopulate their own kind.

Payne disagrees: “There are a few fertile rhinos left, so they can be saved if brought together. People say they’re so inbred, is it worthwhile? Several species including the American bison, African and Indian rhinos and Arabian onyx got very, very low in numbers because of people slaughtering them in the late 19th century. Those went down to tens, less than a hundred. But people got together and put them in paddocks and the animals bred and those species are still alive. They may be inbred but they’re still there.”

Recent months have seen dismal news about the world’s rhinos: in October, the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam, its last range in mainland Asia (the last Javan rhino in Peninsular Malaysia was shot in 1932). Shortly after, in November, the International Union for Conservation of Nature announced the extinction of the western black rhino in Africa.

It also warned that a sub-species of the white rhino in central Africa, the northern white rhino, is teetering on the brink of extinction and has been listed as “possibly extinct in the wild”. The Sumatran rhino appears to be heading down the same path, if we do not act fast enough.

“This species is on the edge of extinction,” says Payne. “There is a chance to save an animal that started off millions of years ago, but that chance will be lost within this decade if sustained action is not taken now.”

Source: The Star (By TAN CHENG LI)

Atkinson Clock Tower Exhibition a hit

The Atkinson Clock Tower exhibition at Hotel Sixty3, Gaya Street here, in conjunction with the recent ‘Bonding With Gaya Street’ event has proven to be such a hit among locals and tourists that the exhibition has been extended until February 14.

The exhibition venue is located at the hotel’s first floor atrium, situated just opposite the Sabah Tourism Board building.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is a 48-foot long graphic mural of the Atkinson Clock Tower, sponsored by Hotel Sixty3 as well as numerous images and information of Kota Kinabalu’s oldest and most popular city landmark.

According to Richard Nelson Sokial, a local heritage advocator involved with the exhibition, the public response to the Atkinson Clock Tower exhibition had been very good, and by popular demand, the hotel’s management had kindly extended its goodwill and hospitality to host the exhibition for another two more days.

Curious members of the public have come steadily since Saturday to view the exhibition, which is one of the activities organised by the North Borneo History Enthusiasts (NBHE) for the recent ‘Bonding With Gaya Street’ event. The exhibition was put together by members of the Heritage Sabah group with the help of NBHE volunteers and the cooperation of Sabah Museum, Sabah State Archives, Sabah Information Department, town planning studies by AIA Consortium as well as photo contributions from private individuals.

Besides displaying rare photos showcasing the importance of the Atkinson Clock Tower as a city marker for more than 100 years, the exhibit features a 100-year old original railway sleeper used by the North Borneo Railways (now known as Sabah Railways), courtesy of Cap Kuda Coffee Company. A visual multi-media display by various supporters of Heritage Sabah group’s Save Our Heritage Atkinson Clock Tower campaign is also on display which shows the younger generation’s appreciation of the clock tower as a legacy for their own generation in Sabah.

“Many members of the public are not even aware that the clock tower, built in 1905, still works in 2012 – and still emits chimes from its bell tower – despite its melodious sound being drowned by the busy traffic on Jalan Balai Polis,” Sokial said.

He added that “members of the public should definitely come to see this exhibit as a way of learning more about the heritage value of the Atkinson Clock Tower and why it is so important to preserve it in a pristine site. It is a chance to learn about KK city’s history and how this clock tower continues to contribute to the enrichment of Kota Kinabalu’s local community in these modern times”.

Source: Borneo Post

Stories and pix that make Gaya Street special

Gaya Street is undergoing a transformation as preparations for an exciting Community Heritage Exhibition themed “Bonding with Gaya Street” begins in conjunction with Kota Kinabalu City Day. It involves many nostalgic photographs going on display at different parts of Gaya Street on Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 and is organised by the North Borneo History Enthusiasts (NBHE) in collaboration with City Hall and supported by Sabah Tourism, Information Department, Sabah Museum, Sabah Archives and Daily Express. Part of Gaya Street used to be known as Bond Street.

“We wish the public will contribute their old photos or stories and their old photos maybe reproduced for them in A4, for free,” said Natasha Sim of NBHE, Saturday.

She said those wanting to share their photos and stories, can drop by at their booth at Kedai Kopi Sen Chong Wah (Opposite Tung Nam BookStore) along Gaya Street where an on-location photocopier machine specifically for public contribution purposes is open from Monday to Sunday 11am to 5.30pm.

On how to identify the participating outlets, she said coffeeshops on Gaya Street will have “Food in History” place mats.

“The place mats are printed copies of stories that relate to food that NBHE wishes to put at coffee shops and restaurants,” she said.

According to her, one such story is the setting up of a canteen by the Anglican Church called “Jiayi Shi Tang” (Simple Eating Hall) on Bond Street, on Sept. 1 1942, which only sold two items – coconut water and soya bean drink.

“It was a place for recruitment and dissemination of information for the Kinabalu Guerillas,” she said, adding that however the Japanese too frequented the canteen because of their love for coconut drink.

The canteen became a spot for clandestine activities,” she said.

Other key locations of participating outlets are:

– Mandarin Hotel for timeline of old Jesselton. – Tung Nan Bookstore – Chop Teo Seng – Gaya Pharmacy – In front of Pizza Hut and BB CafŽ where there will be a life-size replica of @ North Borneo War Memorial – JSM Pharmacy – Hotel Sixty3 – HSBC – Kedai Gunting Jalan Gaya, a “Bergaya di Jalan Gaya” exhibit of retro fashion and pop culture depicting styles throughout the ages.

The public is advised to look out for buntings with different old photos depicting a different facet of Jesselton, printed along Gaya Street to identify other participating outlets.

Source: Daily Express