Sarawak Tourism

Piasau Nature Reserve: Green Lung for Miri

Tree planting at this nature reserve alone may not fulfil Miri’s need for urban reprieve, reports Mallika Naguran at Borneo Jazz Festival 2016.

Miri, 12 May 2016. Musicians, journalists, students, politicians and Shell staff came together this morning to plant trees at the start of the two-day Borneo Jazz Festival in Miri, Sarawak. 

The act of tree planting at this musical event can be seen as a symbolic gesture. It is also a reminder for all - from the producers of fossil energy to consumers - to conserve the forests and natural areas of Sarawak, which have taken a hit with increasing deforestation due to urban and agricultural development. 

The Sarawak Forestry Corporation sponsored 67 tree seedlings that are indigenous to Sarawak, which were planted at the Piasau Boat Club compound. The three species planted were: ranggu/sentang, Azadirachta excelsa; bungkang, Eugenia grandis; and kasai, Pometia pinnata. 

Klazz Brothers love tree planting at Borneo Jazz 2016

“It feels good to be part of tree planting here in Malaysia. In Cuba, tree planting takes place all the time, from schools to concerts and festivals, and we love it!” said Roland Grzegorz Abreu Krysztofiak, a musician from Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion. "But back home we get our hands dirtier as we really dig in and for many hours!" he added.

Piasau Historical Development and Now

Shell’s interest and involvement in Piasau Nature Reserve (PNR) stemmed from its ownership of what was formerly known as Shell Piasau Camp, a residential area of the expatriate community in Miri, mostly from the oil and gas industry.

Shell first began operations in Sarawak by drilling for oil in Miri 125 years ago, according to Jonathan Jolly, Government Relations Manager, Sarawak Shell Berhad Miri. Apart from greasing the economic growth of Malaysia, Shell sees itself as an important stakeholder of local communities. “We continue to invest in the areas of health, environment, capacity building, arts, culture and more,” said Jonathan at the event.

Shell and the Sarawakian government, at the request of many residents, decided to create a “green legacy” in this area. This initiated the transfer of land rights from Sarawak Shell Berhard to Sarawak Forestry Commission in 2015. Before the handover, efforts were already made to preserve the tree population in the area. As such, Piasau Camp area was gazetted as a nature reserve in 2014. This means that Piasau Camp has been accorded legislative protection against development, encroachment and poaching.

According to the forestry department, PNR has 17 species of fauna protected under  the Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 45 bird species (including the hornbill), three mammal species, five amphibian species, 12 reptile species, 10 butterfly species and 107 plant species. 

“There are 21 Oriental-pied hornbills, to date,” said Mr. Kamal Abdullah of Sarawak Forestry, who told Gaia Discovery that more can be done to conserve the forest and promote species’ habitats, starting with educational walks and activities. 

Piasau - Beyond Conservation

Among those who called for the Piasau Camp to be conserved as a natural reserve rather than a commercial development was YB Datuk Lee Kim Shin, citing the need to preserve both built and natural heritage areas with more conservation activities within the reserve.

Awareness of the PNR among Miri residents is still not as high as desired, apparently. “With more environmental and eco-tourism events and conferences taking place within the reserve itself instead of the city centre, we hope that the Piasau Nature Reserve will become an icon among the urban parks in Miri and in Malaysia,” said YB Datuk Lee Kim Shin, Assistant Minister of Social Development & Assistant Minister of Communication, Sarawak. 

While this nature reserve in Miri has been accorded national recognition, and efforts to plant more trees are done on a regular basis, this is still not enough. Musa Musbah, Chairman of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Miri Chapter, is calling for more land to be converted for wildlife to flourish.

“Conserving the forest for iconic birds like the hornbill is one thing, but the other more pressing matter is to enlarge the boundary of the PNR to include the land surrounding the Miri River and in front of the beach,” revealed Musa to Gaia Discovery. This, he says, would increase the present acreage at 88.5 hectares (ha) by another 40 ha, which will boost wildlife survival and growth.

To compare its size to another prominent wildlife area - the Semenggoh Nature Reserve in Kuching at 653 ha - the PNR s rather small.

“I have been pushing for more land conversion for nature every year, and I keep getting nowhere. I am so frustrated,” he added. It is understood that the surrounding land areas referred to may in future be developed for commercial purposes. 

If this were to happen, it would make the PNR a very small green lung for Miri, and miles away from achieving the iconic status that Datuk Lee desires.

The tree planting event at Borneo Jazz Festival 2016 was organised by Shell, Sarawak Forestry and Sarawak Tourism Board.

Kayaking in Kuching

River kayaking offers a refreshing alternative perspective of Kuching city for travellers. By Shona LallParekh.

22nd October 2015 - Only a half-hour scenic drive to the south of Kuching city awaits a breath-taking river kayak adventure.  The 11-kilometre escapade down Semadang River begins from its shallow, pebbly tributary Sungei Abang.  After a safety briefing by our friendly, safety-certified guides and decked in life jackets, we paddled in pairs towards the main river - about 100 metres away. 

Lush greenery alongside river banks offers a rejuvenating experience for kayakers. Photo credit: Semadang Kayak

Lush greenery alongside river banks offers a rejuvenating experience for kayakers. Photo credit: Semadang Kayak

The gently meandering, easy-to-manoeuvre river cuts through magnificent green rainforest – offering spectacular scenery of flora and fauna along the way – giant bamboo clusters, protected Ketapang trees (terminalia catappa), distant bee-hives, monitor lizards, fresh-water fish and more. 

Luke Kenny, a guide from Semadang Kayak explains, "The river is accessible throughout the year, however during the rainy season from the month of October to April the river's depth increases, especially after a heavy downpour - which makes navigation easier."  

The skilful guides led the enthralled kayakers along the scenic route, often pausing to savour the sights and even to take dips in the river’s clear, cool waters. 

At the halfway mark, the group of twenty ravenous kayakers stopped at a riverside kampong (village) for a sumptuous homemade lunch including delicious stir-fried leafy forest vine, and nutritious brown rice from the cook’s son-in-law’s paddy field.  Other dishes in the spread included Sarawakian fish curry, barbequed chicken, fried lady’s finger (okra), dragon fruit and a sweet coconut glutinous dessert wrapped in leaf.

Spectacular geological formations observed along the river course. Photo credit: Semadang Kayak

Spectacular geological formations observed along the river course. Photo credit: Semadang Kayak

Our sensational journey continued despite a sudden light, tropical rainstorm.  The rain showers stopped after just twenty minutes but enough to lower the surrounding temperatures a little, and ignite a chorus of birdsong high in the canopy.  Further down the Bornean river, the views became increasingly breathtaking.  Stunning giant rock formations lined the riverbanks. Towering limestone peaks rose from the surrounding rainforest, dominating the river vistas.  Paddlers passed a small waterfall and even spotted a tiny cave.  The showers also resulted in stronger currents and the kayakers skilfully navigated through occasional rapids and dodging boulders.  It was indeed reminiscent of an expedition in an epic Indiana Jones movie.

Kayaking – An Eco-Friendly Tourist Activity

Kayak explorations are an eco-friendly way to discover a destination in its natural glory.  It is environmentally friendly as there is no pollution.  Such eco tourism choices have a light-touch effect on the surroundings - as the activity requires no additional major infrastructure.  This preserves natural surroundings in its original state and has the added benefit of bringing income directly to the local inhabitants, encouraging the appreciation and promotion of local culture and practices.

Some Points to Note:

Kayak boats moored by the riverside. Photo Credit: Semadang Kayak

Kayak boats moored by the riverside. Photo Credit: Semadang Kayak

Several tour operators offer kayak expeditions including Semadang Kayak. Safety is taken seriously and all kayakers are thoroughly briefed on the dos and don’ts and rehearsed in safety drills. Life jackets are mandatory. Typically children are paired with an accompanying adult and we recommend confirming with your tour operator on safety provisions for children.

Usually the entire journey lasts between 4-6 hours and guests are provided two-way transport to the start point, and picked up from the end point.

A moderate level of fitness is recommended.

Waterproof long sleeve tops and long bottoms offer good protection against the sun and sand flies.  Water shoes or sandals are appropriate footwear; bring drinking water (if not provided), camera (and waterproof bag if not provided) or waterproof cameras.  Do not forget sunscreen, caps, insect repellent.  

The kayak river expedition in the midst of lush Sarawak rainforest is an outdoor activity that is hard to top.  It provides four hours of water fun but will leave a lifetime of memories. 

Gaia Discovery thanks Sarawak Tourism Board for making this trip possible.

Rescuing Bornean Orang Utans

The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak help rehabilitate orang utans in distress. By Shona Lall Parekh. 

Sarawak, 4th October 2015- Everyone stood in silence as the conservation officer repeatedly called into the forest.   After about 10 minutes, our patience was rewarded when he nodded, indicating the presence of an orang utan in the vicinity.  A delicious offering of local fruit awaited the magnificent creature. 

Rehabilitated orang utans at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre Shortly, a sharp-eyed boy pointed to the high trees of the rainforest.  Murmured excitement spread and soon everyone eagerly strained to catch a glimpse of the deep orange coat amongst the green foliage.  Broad smiles erupted as the giant primate gracefully swung its way towards the keeper, taking its time, as if knowing it was the centre of attraction. 

Sadammiah, a 13-year old orang utan appeared with her adorable baby, Ruby.  The mother and her two-year old fed on fruit, mostly banana and a coconut.  Sadammiah broke open the hard coconut effortlessly by hitting it against a tree trunk with several powerful strikes, while Ruby frolicked about her mother.

This precious glimpse into the world of semi-wild orang utans took place at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, a 30-year old centre that opened in 1975 for rehabilitating wild animals that are orphaned, hurt, or even incapacitated by long-term captivity “with the objective of subsequently releasing them back to the wild”. 

The successful rehabilitation of orphaned orang utans propelled the centre to fame.  Due to its overwhelming successes in orang utan rehabilitation – the forests have reached their maximum holding capacity - the centre now engages in the study of orang utans.  In its place, the Matang Wildlife Centre focuses on rehabilitating injured or orphaned orang utans. 

According to Kevin Nangai, Assistant Manager of Communications at Sarawak Tourism Board, "Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is sprawled over 700 acres where 27 thriving orang utans live in the wild under the watchful eyes of their keepers.  Rehabilitation is also carried out at the newer Matang Wildlife Centre where orphaned orang utans are taught to survive in the wild."

Orang utans are specific to South East Asia. The word orang utan comes from the Malay/Indonesian word for ‘person’ – orang, and ‘forest’ – hutan, literally translating to “forest person”.  Two known species, the Bornean orang utan and Sumatran orang utan, are both endangered; in fact, the Sumatran orang utan is listed as critically endangered.  As of 2015, wild orang utan populations are estimated at 20,000 to 27,000 between Borneo (20,000) and Sumatra (7,000).  Reasons for decline include habitat encroachment and destruction mostly through the raging annual fires caused by man, the cheapest method of clearing rainforest for agriculture primarily for palm cultivation. Other factors for decline – poaching and capture of these primates as illegal pets.

About Orang Utans

Highly solitary, orang utans rank amongst the most intelligent primates, and are arboreal by nature – making them the largest primates that live and nest in trees.  Males and females vary in size and features: males are larger, weighing up to 100 kgs (220 lbs) and stand at 150 cm (5 feet) in height, while females are about half the size, weighing in the 50 kg range. 

Mature adult males have cheek pads called flanges. Orang utans have a lifespan of approximately 45 years in the wild, fruit being the main source of diet.  Durian, jackfruit, mango, lychee and other forest fare such as tree bark, shoots, egg, insects and sometimes even small lizards.  Orang utans have single or twin babies, and stay with their mothers for the first seven to eight years of their lives, to the point where they have learnt to survive on their own.  The slow replacement rate makes it even more difficult to reverse the decreasing wild orang utan populations.

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4.45 p.m. However, the recommended time to see the orang utans is at feeding time.  There are two daily feeding times:

Mornings          -           9.00 a.m. to 10.00 a.m.

Afternoons       -           3.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m.

Do note that when the forests are abundant with fruit, orang utan encounters may decrease, and a visit to Matang Wildlife Centre may be more fruitful instead. 

For enquiries and information on the frequency of orang utan sightings, contact National Parks Booking Office Tel: (+6) 082 248088, and visit for more information on various programmes conducted by the centres. 

Gaia Discovery thanks Sawarak Tourism Board for making this trip possible.

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