Evolution, Darwin, Wallace and Malaysia

 

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoLooking at some of the TV programmes I have recorded while travelling recently I see one looks at a British explorer and biologist, Alfred Wallace who discovered evolution in Malaysia. I look forward to watching it as I wrote really briefly about him in my book (pub April 2015) see below.

Extract from A love Letter to Malaysian Borneo: or, can this travel writer be green?

Somewhere, in a museum, newspaper, or conversation, I also learnt about something called the ‘Sarawak Law’ which I’d not previously heard of. Alfred Russel Wallace was a British naturalist and biologist known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection. He believed this natural selection was very clear in Sarawak Borneo and his paper on the subject was published with some of Darwin’s writings in 1858 – leading Darwin to later publish his own ideas a year later in the Origin of Species.

In his book, The Malay Archipelago, 1869, Wallace also wrote: ‘The Rajah held Sarawak solely by the goodwill of the inhabitants. Rajah Brooke was a great, a wise, and a good ruler – a true and faithful friend – admired for his talents, respected for his honesty and courage, and loved for his generosity, his kindness of disposition and his tenderness of heart.’ Quite a recommendation and as I said earlier, a film about the White Rajah will be most interesting and I’ll be watching out for it.”

Note: this book has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism Awards 2015 which will be announced on 21st November.

Kuching Wetlands National Park

Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort (where I have stayed three times while at the magical, annual Rainforest World Music Festival) is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) in the estuarine reaches of two rivers.

It’s also where I have twice planted mangrove trees as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts, helping  offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.

getting down and dirty while planting young mangrove
getting down and dirty while planting young mangrove

The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.

An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shore birds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork. In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.

Lessor Adjutant Stork (Parit Jawa)
Lessor Adjutant Stork (Parit Jawa)

To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.

To read more about eco-tourism in Malaysian Borneo see my small book (A love letter to Malaysian Borneo or, can this travel writer be green) which has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism 2015 Awards.

 

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Proboscis monkey: more endangered than orangutans!  I hope one day people will see  one in the trees I've planted
Proboscis monkey: more endangered than orangutans! I hope one day people will see one in the trees I’ve planted

KiwiTravelWriter plants more mangrove trees in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

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Arriving at the Sarawak Wetlands National Park
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Heather shelters from the sun and heat --- with Swiss Christophe Erade who is accompanying the Congo group Ndima
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Tree number 8 being planted

These three photos are copyright to the Sarawak Tourism Board and were taken by the official Rainforest World Music Fesival photographers

Malaysian Borneo: how eco aware can the kiwi travel writer be?

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoIt seems there’s no universally accepted definition of ecotourism, and there are considerable overlaps in the meanings. It’s perhaps the most over-used and misused word in the tourism industry – often deliberately misused for marketing purposes.

Hapeta says in it, “I’m a self-taught writer, not a journalist, or an ecologist. This is not a scientific paper with lots of facts and figures, merely the musings about green issues by a traveller who wants to walk as lightly as possible on Earth”

She uses her trips to Malaysian Borneo as a way of exploring the issues. She also says she is “Time-rich, I’m a slow traveller, so stay longer in more places than most, trying to absorb the culture and flavours, to sit and watch people. It also means that although I don’t always sign up for an expensive eco-tour, I do try to practise the principles of ecotourism.”

This small book starts with her surrounded by noisy, diesel-fumed boats, nudging each other, racing their engines, drivers manoeuvring so their passengers get the best view. It made her wonder “can a travel writer, or any traveller, really be green – or is this just an oxymoronic dream, given the air miles needed to get to destinations?”
In this essay-cum-travel memoir she considers how green she was, or wasn’t, while exploring this ‘seething hotspot of biodiversity’ of an island. (Quote: Planet Earth. BBC TV).
She obviously agrees with Malaysia’s tourism tagline. ‘Malaysia – truly Asia’ and this booklet is a good introduction to the island of Borneo and green travel issues around the world.

Note: “A Love Letter to Malaysian Borneo” is available in all e-book formats at Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and Amazon, plus any other such places that you prefer to buy your eBooks from.

This book has been entered in the annual Malaysian Tourism Awards (2014/15)

Malaysia truly Asia: Sarawak ticks all the boxes

Malaysian Borneo – land of hornbills, head-hunters, orang-utans and ‘where adventure lives’ according to travel brochures:  Sarawak could also be called the land of paradoxes and it ticks all the boxes.

For instance, Kuching, capital of Sarawak, East Malaysia, means cat, but the city was not named after a cat; it has a Sunday market that’s open on Saturday (and other days) and an India Street that has very few Indian shops.

Easy to love, this walkable city has a racial mix of 23% Malay, 25% Chinese and about 49% Dayaks, the collective name for the indigenous ethnic groups, Sarawak epitomises the tourism tagline: Malaysia, truly Asia.

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Walking down Bishopgate Street to Carpenter Street I talk to a Chinese man whose family have been ‘special makers of fancy coffins’ for three generations; across the road a man’s making cake tins on the footpath; around the corner Malay women are making their famous Kek Lapis, an intricate, colourful layer cake, and beside my waterfront accommodation, a heavily, traditionally tattooed Iban woman, creates delicious vegetarian meals to order.

Like all travellers in this national geographic showpiece, I want to see the endangered orang-utan. Just out of the city, at the Semenggoh Centre about 70 people attend the twice daily feeding. Free to range in this 740 acre green belt there is no guarantee they will come to the feeding stations. We’re also warned to obey the staff as they have no control over their charges and photos show injured workers as proof!

At the feeding station a mother and week-old baby appear: despite being told to keep quiet, it’s hard to ooh and aah quietly! They’re delightful, the mother uses all four limbs interchangeably and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s her feet or hands she’s hanging from. She eats many ‘hotel-bananas’ as the little lady-finger bananas are called by locals as ‘all hotels serve them’, and a ripple of muted laughter spreads through the camera-clicking tourists when the baby tries to take one. A radio message comes for the ranger – Richie, the huge dominate male has made one of his rare appearances at the other feeding station and one by one we return down the track to where he is being fed.

He is huge! This ‘man-of-the-jungle’ has large cheek-flaps showing he is the king of this jungle and apparently he has already dispatched one pretender to the throne. A young male also arrives for a hand-out but keeps well away from Richie. As he crosses the rope that allows them to travel high above us, he stops to stare down at us, hanging mid-air like a kid on a school jungle gym. I have to laugh; he looks as though he is showing off to us, his DNA relatives, who are not so agile. Continuing on he shimmies down a vine and rope beside the small bridge we have just crossed and is given fruit. Richie just continues eating, a solid lump of muscle sitting on his man-made wooden picnic table.

Two young women are warned to come back from the end of the viewing platform ‘until Richie leaves’ – I wouldn’t want to be in his way. He walks upright; with each step his long hair sways just like a shampoo commercial. He stops and stares, or maybe glares, and I send a message of hope that the heart of Borneo will always be secure for him, and with one more stop and stare he strides off without a backward glance

He knows he’s safe from us physically but most travellers here are well aware of his need of our protection and, despite international concerns, it seems Sarawak is working to secure the orang-utans future, not an easy task.

Like adverts say ‘but wait there’s more’ in this fabulous area of East Malaysia: add a kayak trip from one Bidayuh village to the next; spend time at an Iban longhouse and of course, eat the delicious local food and explore the many excellent, free, museums. Travelling in July? The three-day Rainforest World Music Festival – set in the Cultural Village at Damai – is a must-attend for great local and international performers

Also unique to this 3rd-largest island in the world, Borneo is the Proboscis monkeys. With a long straight pale tail they leap clumsily from tree to tree and eating young shoots of indigestible foliage which breaks down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up to eat! Other males, lower in rank, have almost human or Pinocchio shaped noses and hang out in male groups until it grows bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and become the head of the harem. They are easy to see at the wonderful Bako National Park.

Borneo conjures up images of exotic adventures, an eccentric history, a White Rajah, wild animals, mystery and romance: my first travels there delivered, and as you know, if you follow my blog, I soon returned to the land of head-hunters for more exploring!