BoB 2008 blog

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Borneo Books welcome party

Published: Sun, 29 Jun 2008 11:59:32

Thanks to Stephen Sutton and Rosalind for hosting a welcome party at Borneo Books 2, probably the best natural history bookshop in Southeast Asia (but also see Nature’s Niche in Singapore). The shop is also a great informal place to meet other biologists, have a cup of tea, use the internet. We’ll be returning frequently. We’re all here now save our Indonesian friends, arriving tonight on AirAsia (we hope!). Tomorrow to Lambir! [Cam]

Intro day (1 July, Alan)

Published: Fri, 04 Jul 2008 10:23:40

After spending our first night in Lambir Hills National Park, we woke up bright and early for our first full day in one of the world’s richest tropical rainforests. After breakfast, we filed into the lecture hall where Cam introduced the course to us, as well as introducing the other members of the teaching staff, Min Sheng, Shirley, and Stuart. Stuart followed with a lecture on the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS), and its role in studying and preserving tropical forests, and more recently temperate forests, worldwide. Afterwards, the park director gave a short speech on safety within the forest, and I was surprised to find out that the greatest danger when traveling in the forest was falling branches, and that during periods of high wind, it is advisable to leave the forest as quickly as possible. Once safety matters were addressed, we were finally ready to head out into the forest. Separating into several groups, we headed into the forest, with my group heading towards Latak Waterfall.

During the introductory lecture, Cam had mentioned that the tropical rainforests of Borneo were one of the top two most bio-diverse places on the planet. That fact really hit me when we began our walk, with an endless array of skyscraping trees all around me. One of the first wonders we encountered was a Macaranga plant, an organism that had developed a symbiotic relationship with ants, which it allowed to live within its hollow stem in return for protection from predation. Min Sheng snapped off part of the plant and we could see the ants streaming out of it. The relationship between organisms in the forest really interested and amazed me, especially when it was at a level such as the Macaranga and the ants. We saw many cases of symbiotic and parasitic relationships on our walk, the most common of which were climbing plants. The examples we saw were all long, thin, vine-like plants that had grown up a larger tree, one of which had even grown into the plant and was very obviously taking nutrients and resources from the host tree. The strain that this causes on a tree was evident when we saw a tree with a large climbing plant encircling it, which had been snapped in half. We also encountered a cordycep, where a parasitoid fungus infects an insect, in this case an ant, and causes it to climb up to a high point in a tree, allowing the fungus to release its spores over a wider distance. After a hike that lasted for over two hours we headed back for dinner and a final lecture on the past, present, and future of biodiversity in Borneo. Borneo lacks a true dry season, with steady amounts of rainfall throughout the year allowing for the high amount of diversity to exist. Unfortunately, high levels of deforestation for agriculture has heavily reduced and fragmented the forests, posing a very large threat to many species in the forest. Thinking about and understanding conservation will be an important part of this course. Personally, it wasn’t until this lecture, and seeing the forests for myself, that I realized the urgency of the matter. I think that for many people, including myself before today, it always feels as if there is more time, but with the current trend, waiting or ignoring the problem will lead to the complete destruction of areas like this worldwide. Conservation matters will definitely weigh very heavily on my mind tonight, tomorrow, and for the rest of this course.

Plants (2 July, Anna)

Published: Fri, 04 Jul 2008 10:31:40

On July 2, 2008, the Biodiversity of Borneo field course awoke to the pitter-patter, or rather slip-slap thumping, of a cooling tropical rain. Despite the weather, we met at the cantina at 7 am for a traditional and delicious Malaysian breakfast consisting of fried rice noodles (bihun in Indonesian, meehun in Bahasa Malaysia) with egg and bok-choy-esque green vegetable, fried veggie rice (goreng sayur nasi in Indonesian) with egg, fried bananas, and tea and coffee. In response to a recommendation from Ayu, I doused my fried bananas with sweetened condensed milk and subsequently added this tasty condiment to my already sugared coffee.

After breakfast, Stuart introduced us to the plant ecology of the Lambir region. Forest gap dynamics comprised the initial segment of the lecture, in which we increased our familiarity with pioneer species’ takeover of high-light microenvironments formed by disturbances to the forest floor’s typical low-light conditions. Stuart next discussed the soil composition and topography of Lambir as associated with the region’s high species diversity compared to that of peninsular Malaysia. Lastly, we examined the specific attributes of clay versus sandy soils. This lecture was very informative, albeit slightly confusing due to the abundance of complex and graphically-presented data, some of which indicated divergent conclusions.

We then bravely leapt, or were perhaps pushed, into the yes/no/sometimes realm of tropical tree identification as presented by Cam. After reviewing various definitions of “species,” Cam described characters useful for tree identification, including opposite/alternate leaf arrangement, simple/compound leaf, stipules present/absent, sap presence and color, and other important characters. In an amazing and entertaining lab, we constructed a table of identification characteristics of 13 tree families to use during this afternoon’s field expedition.

After a tasty lunch of rice, fried vegetables, fish, chicken, and bananas, we rode in borrowed cars along a bumpy road to a primitive and steep trail leading into the CTFS Lambir 52 ha forest plot. The students split into four groups, and under the expert guidance of our course heads, each group marked off four 5 m x 5 m squares of forest within strip 2011 of the plot and measured and identified each tree with circumference greater than one centimeter. After completing the measurements, we practiced tree identification along the main trail for two hours in preparation for this evening’s quiz. Throughout the afternoon, Sylvester stunned us all with his effortless scaling of a branchless tree and immense knowledge of local tree species, and both faculty and students proved invaluable in my learning of tree families, particularly the Anacardiaceae, which is comprised of species often quite irritating to the skin.

Upon our return to the national park, we vigorously attacked a dinner of rice, squid, sausage, bok choy, and tropical fruits. I believe the squid was quite popular among the carnivores, although for the vegetarian, dinner provided slim pickings. The air cracked with the electrical panic of Harvard students studying for a quiz; the Southeast Asian students generally seemed more nonchalant. Once the fizz of dinner’s orange soda died and 7:30 rolled around, we trooped to the main building where our tree family identification quiz had already been assembled. In a circle upon the polished wood floor lay 10 leaf samples, and our task: identify the tree family of every sample in 10 minutes. We quickly identified the families with sap present before moving on to more difficult samples. The Dipterocarpaceae sample proved most challenging; to me, it seemed that its tertiary veins weren’t quite as orderly as I had expected. Despite the quiz, of all of our activities so far, I definitely enjoyed learning these family names best; the design of today’s activities definitely helped me assimilate a large quantity of information quite painlessly and rapidly.

After the quiz frenzy subsided, Rod presented a well-organized presentation on basic genetics and phylogenetic theory. We discussed the ability of the phylogenetic tree to indicate time via branch lengths and discussed the neutral marker evolving at a constant rate as the ideal marker for measuring evolutionary relationships. Specific examples of phylogenetic trees included those of a group of butterflies previously considered a single species, of the British Royal Family, and of Donald Duck. And, of course, the classic George Bush/ primate facial expression slide was priceless, providing an altogether entertaining and well-structured experience with which to end our third evening here at Lambir. Off to do my reading for tomorrow…

Of course, as I sit here with him beside me, I must mention Baby Coffee Stain. My roommates and I have encountered and befriended a small kitten thought to belong to the park warden… or rather, Baby Coffee Stain has adopted us as his own. This adorable and vocal kitten has slept with us for the past two nights, and we hope he keeps coming around!

Insects (3 July, Ayu)

Published: Mon, 07 Jul 2008 04:14:50

I’m just going to start today’s blog with… WOW !!!. Well, the first WOW! was for Laundry Day.. Yippie.. Finally after 3 days, I’m running out of clothes so I really need them to be laundry.. Thank you Heny (she’s our big sister, she takes care of us really good). Oh ya, we also have our first course group photo this morning.

Second WOW! is because I’ve never been this excited before to study insects. Thanks to Stuart Davies (head of Central for Tropical Forest Science), Rod Eastwood (post doc from Organismic and Evolutionary Biology of Harvard University) and Dave Lohman (post doc from National University of Singapore) for giving me such an interesting lecture. Stuart taught us about relationship between Macaranga and ants. Macaranga is one of Euphorbiaceae families, one family with cassava and Jatropa curcas (one of biodiesel resources). And I just knew that almost in all Macaranga‘s stems got ant in it. The queen hollowed the stem, builds colony, and won’t come out again. These ants depends their lives to the lipid that Macaranga provides and Macaranga has advantage from the ants because it gives protection from plant predators. Oh ya, we saw a queen ant fight inside the hollow. I think they quarreled for protecting territory from others. Another lecture was from Dave, he taught us about entomology. Insect basic parts, orders and families, sampling techniques, how to preserve insects and he even taught us the tips and trick for insect study. After that, he and Rod told us to grab our insect net, pooter, sample papers, glass bottles, and other equipment to collect insects. They took us to the National Park’s main trail to put insect traps (Malaise traps, Dung traps, Baited traps) and make light traps near our auditorium to catch night insects. Even it’s quite hard to catch butterflies but actually I can catch several of them..hehehehe.. Me, Dwi (Indon.), Cindy (Harvard), and Rod saw and caught one of the most poisonous butterflies in the world, Euploea.

This species is from Family Nymphalidae and Subfamily Danainae. Rod said the female Euploea chooses the male to mate by their poison. The more poison the male, the more female want to be with him (wow, that’s interesting..). So, the male have to look for poisonous plants (usually Asclepiadaceae and Apocynaceae) to make them more poison than before. The male spreads their poison to the female from ‘hair pencil’ (butterfly reproduction tools for male) when mating. Female adult accept the poison, have their eggs, coated the eggs with poison and laying them. That’s why most birds avoid themselves to eat it. We arrived at auditorium on 4 pm and start to collect the insects that we have. I like the part that we have to pinning the butterflies. We have to be very gentle to avoid wing damages. As a butterfly researcher, Wan (Malaysia) gave me tutorial how to pin the butterflies. Thank you Wan.. Oh, I almost forgot to mention,, Insect Day is also Noor’s (Harvard) Day, because he is so interested and fanatic about all kinds of insects especially wasps.

And the last WOW! is for the hot and open-minding night discussion after we watched movie about carbon trading and conservation. The movie was about a person named Dorjee who struggled to conserved forest by making the carbon trading concept. It shows from the beginning he develop the concept, lobbying the Aceh and Papua (Indonesia) Governors to protect their forest, convince Meryll Lynch Bank (London) to buy carbon, Orang utan’s conservation, and it also shows the life of local people near Jambi (Indonesia) forest. The concept of carbon trading is allowing people to buy a carbon certificate which was to give money to local people to conserve forest through Carbon Company. The main aim is to protect forest as one of solutions to face climate change and global warming. In my opinion, he (Dorjee) has a great idea to protect forest. But actually I’m worried this concept won’t work that great in reality. I hope from the discussion, all of us will understand what’s the real forest problem, what’s the local people concern about, and solution to conserve forest for us and our next generation.

Stats and software (4 July, Ben)

Published: Mon, 07 Jul 2008 04:30:25

Math is everywhere, even in Borneo. Today we took a break from plants and insects; instead we delved into the world of statistics and computer programming. As Cam explained at the start of lecture, biologists may be adept at observing specimens in the field, but computer software allows them to perceive large-scale patterns in nature. All of the software that we will use for this course will be open source software (free software that is open to the public). Apparently, illegal pirating of computer software is widespread in Southeast Asia, and the vast majority of people rely on pirated copies of basic software like Windows and Microsoft Word. Eventually, companies like Microsoft are probably going to find a way to effectively stop pirating of their products, so it makes sense to learn to use open source software instead.

In the morning, everyone downloaded the software package for the course, and Cam proceeded to show us the ins and outs of the various computer programs. We spent all morning learning some basics of Open Office (the equivalent of Microsoft Office) and JabRef, a program that can organize large numbers of articles and citations. After lunch, we spent a good portion of the afternoon learning to use a statistical analysis program called “R,” which will be the most important program we will use during the course. R is a bit harder to use than more commercialized products, because rather than pointing and clicking on buttons or options, you have to write your own script that tells R what tasks to perform. The statistics that R can do for you are pretty amazing. In my opinion, the most interesting statistical analysis method that we learned about is a method called ordination. When you tell R to do an ordination of a data set, R will graph the data in as many dimensions as you want, and then it will calculate the distance between the data points. Then, it will graph the data in two dimensions so that you can see how “far apart” the data points are. What’s so cool about it is that you could collect 20 different measurements for each of your specimens, and then graph your specimens in twenty-dimensional space, and then R would show the specimens to you in simple two-dimensional space so that you can easily tell how alike or unalike the specimens are.

Dinner consisted of rice, chicken, glazed fish, a kind of tree fern called “paku midin,” and a green bean mix. In the middle of dinner we were visited by a bat. We got to watch it hunt insects that were attracted by the lights on the ceiling of the dining area. After dinner, we got to hear a short talk by Megan, a girl who did the course last year, and has returned to Borneo this summer to do work for her senior honors thesis. Megan is measuring the water pressure in tree species to see if different species respond differently to low-water conditions. It may seem strange that moisture would be a limiting factor for tree growth in a tropical rainforest, but actually there are periodic droughts every six or seven years, and its possible that these droughts weed out the faster growing, but more water-intensive trees. I was impressed by how well thought out her experiment is. Just one year after the course, she has reached the level of scientific professionality where she could publish the results of this experiment if her results show patterns that are interesting enough. Who knows, maybe next year someone in our group will be back here in Borneo doing their own experiment too.

Bark-bugging and Lycaenids (5 July, Cindy)

Published: Wed, 09 Jul 2008 03:40:21

We have many activities to do while we are here on Borneo, one of which is a focal taxon project in which we choose a reasonably-sized taxon to examine in depth throughout our 5 weeks here. This morning after breakfast (7am every day!) we declared our individual taxa, which ranged from aquatic organisms like fish and shrimp to various plant families like gingers and Anacardiaceae to many invertebrates, mostly insects like ants and dragonflies, but also snails and spiders (that’s me – I’m doing the family Salticidae, the jumping spiders). Today was also the second day focusing on insects. The first day, which was actually 2 days ago, we had set out some traps for butterflies and dung beetles (Dave had scoured Sarawak for cow dung before arrival at Lambir Hills and had been keeping the stuff in a plastic container in his freezer) and other general insectage, so I had had some vague notion that today we were going to go out and collect whatever we had caught in those traps. Instead, as soon as breakfast was over, and after we all declared our focal taxa, Rod began to explain to us today’s activity, which was considerably more exciting and rather more elaborate than collecting mosquitoes and flies from the jar at the top of a malaise trap.

Rod and Dave ran out to the CTFS plot yesterday to do a pilot study for today’s activity, which was called the “Bark Spray Exercise”. Basically, we all went out to the CTFS plot to a) learn to identify specific trees by tag number and b) conduct an experiment in which we sprayed an insecticide on predetermined sections of the trunks of 12 predetermined trees on the two major soil types here at Lambir (clay vs. sandy) to collect the arthropods living on them. We then all came back to the Lambir Hills station to sort and identify (to the level of order) each of the (often microscopic) arthropods in the samples we had collected. This was a time-consuming and eye-straining endeavor, but we eventually compiled a table of data consisting of numbers of organisms of each arthropod order per tree sampled. This was followed by Rod’s lecture on Lycaenid butterflies and dinner, after which we ran statistical analyses on our compiled data using the statistical software program R, including some complicated cluster analyses, which is pretty cool considering none of us had ever used R before yesterday. Rod’s research at Naomi Pierce’s lab at Harvard focuses mainly on butterflies of the family Lycaenidae, and he gave us a fascinating talk on the many specialized behaviors and adaptations these butterflies have developed. The prevading theme of his talk was the mostly mutualistic but in some species exploitative relationship between many (~75%) Lycaenid butterflies and various species of ants. The larvae of Lycaenids secrete a substance containing sugars and amino acids that the ants feed on, and the ants in return protect the larvae from various predators. However, these secretions are energetically costly for the caterpillars, so some species have developed ways of “cheating” to get the same amount of protection for less secretory “pay”. The extreme example is Liphyra brassica, which lives inside the ant nest for the duration of the larval and pupal stages, feeding on the ants and their larvae while producing no beneficial secretions whatsoever. L. brassica caterpillars have tough, armor-like skin that prevents the ants from defending their nest; they pupate inside the nest, and only leave it when they have completed metamorphosis. These butterflies have also developed numerous other adaptations for living in ants’ nests, a remarkable and fascinating strategy in larval defense.

So far we have been at Lambir for 5 days, and it’s been very hot. We’re only about 4 degrees north of the Equator, and the humidity is insane. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of Cambridge (MA!) at about February. It’s also very, very beautiful, and spending time in the forest is by far the best way to a) learn about ecology and ecosystems at all levels (aka life, the universe, and everything); b) cool off (big plus!); and c) gain a really healthy appreciation for nature, the Earth, and all the wonderful diversity of life that goes unnoticed when you’re sitting in a chilly lecture hall with no windows. All I can say is, OEB (organismic and evolutionary biology) is definitely the best concentration at Harvard. (PS–Check out the herpetology class!)

Niah caves (6 July, Dwi)

Published: Wed, 09 Jul 2008 03:49:06

This is a free day for the course, after 5 days I am doing biodiversity of Borneo course in Lambir, national park. At 08.00am I wake up, and go to breakfast. After that I have discussion with “frog team” for doing our project. Today is my big experience climbing the highest trees in the forest. I climbing canopy trail near the our base camp. This is an optional activity, so not all participants joined us. Rod Eastwood joint with us, and he explain many thing about rain forest structure and relationship with insect. It’s very great experience for me, whose living in tropic country. We takes picture of group in highest place in the forest.

Today, we also went to Niah cave in Niah National Park. There is the cave were the ancient people of Borneo lived. We studied about the limestone ecosystem in rain forest and learn about first hominid in Borneo. We going to Niah cave by bus and saw palm oil trees as long as the road. I think it’s big problem for sustainable rain forest in Sarawak, because the palm oil has economic values. After that, we entering the national park and guiding by bapak Sony, the national park staff. He is good person, explaining all the part of national. We walking around 3.4 km to reach Niah cave. This place is very different from Lambir, because limestone is the main ecosystem in here. Dr. Cam show us the characteristic of limestone ecosystem. He told me to many species of plant was specialize to this ecosystem. The main problem is we must cross the muddy trail and it’s very difficult. But its fine for me, because I found 2 frog on the trail. That is my taxon project in this course. After 3 hours walking, we arrive in the big cave. It’s the biggest cave I ever seen before. We can see archeology sites on ancient borneo people. I see many bats hanging in the wall of cave and guano is every where. Sony tell to us how the ancient people lived: they were hunting and gathering for food. This is an interesting place to learn about anthropology and culture of Borneo people. After waiting for bats comes out from cave, we went back to national park headquarter. I am very tired today but all its fun. We have great experience today, and I hope can used that when I go back to Indonesia.

In the night, we go to a truck stop for dinner. I want to taste originally food from Malaysia. I think it’s not different with Indonesian food, “spicy taste”. I really enjoy with this course and “adventure”. Finally, we arrive in Lambir NP at 23.00, for beautiful sleep. Tomorrow we will makes presentation for our project and doing the best for that.

Project preparation (7 July, Edna)

Published: Sat, 12 Jul 2008 04:24:10

We went to Niah yesterday, and we saw a lot of bats. Its a long walk, plus I got stung by a wasp for the first time. I didn’t know I have an allergic reaction to them, so I was walking with a swollen face all the way. Niah was extremely beautiful and I only took pictures of the scenery, because my swollen face kinda spoils my picture mood =(. Ohhh, but I did took some pictures and do some little observation on my focal taxon, the very large diverse group of ferns. They are everywhere. But Niah was fun, the trip itself is very challenging. We took the less traveled trail, were its was muddy all the way until we reach the main trail. But, the long walk is worthed, because Niah was really amazing, and the bats are amazing too. Thankfully I brought my binos with me. And after the trip, we had dinner at the truck store. I ate dinner with Heny, Shirley, Eni, Katherine, Wulan and Dwi. And Katherine unfortunately mixes the spicy sambal with her rice, and she was sweating all over because the sambal was sooo HOT. Even I couldn’t stand it.

So enough about yesterday, and lets focus on what we did today. Today we did our first group project proposals. Proposals is an important part in a study because it gives you some kind of overview of the whole study, what is expected from it and a guideline on how the work should be conducted. We tried to make our proposals for our first group project today, and as usual, lots of questions, and measures need to be addressed. Thankfully, everybody is very helpful by throwing suggestions and lots of information. Our group decided to do a study on ants composition on different species of tree in the Anacardiaceae family. Other groups did their study on frogs, arthropods, shrimps, Macaranga and mosquitoes.

Then, after the proposal discussion session, every group went to do their pilot study, and our group went to the Inoue trail to do ours. After only about half an hour, we gave up because identifying the trees seems to be very difficult for us, so off to the plot for tomorrow. And the best part of the day was our first Malay class for the course (^o^)/. Its the funniest Malay class I ever had (^_^). We learned basic greetings, numbers, food related words, and basically just having fun. Well then, thats all for today. After the Malay lesson today, I guess I’ll just end today with terima kasih, and sampai jumpa lagi =).

Project work (8 July, Eni)

Published: Sat, 12 Jul 2008 06:21:33

The BoB community has at least two magic words today and maybe for the rest of the course. “PROJECT” and “R statistic”. Since two days ago, the big room, that is usually clean, tidy with all those pinned or trapped insects, and smells nothing, have changed because of one of the magic word “PROJECT”. Project has triggered “behavior evolution” in all BoB communities, I think. Some studies is needed to prove my hypothesis though. But I have enough facts about the evolution. Some of them have changed into nocturnal species (frog team is the most extreme), some that are usually hunted by mosquitoes take revenge on mosquitoes, some become extremely allergic with arthropoda that they want to catch them in many sophisticated ways, and some suddenly need excessive sun light for their survival (the gaps group even go out of the plot coordinate!). Very interesting findings that hopefully can be explained by the other magic word “R statistic”.

There has been a lot of lesson learned so far. Today I learned that in doing project, do spend some times to prepare everything. My group ( 3 brave girls) have just experienced that today. We went to CTFS plot to take our sample of ants living in tree barks. We must take our sample in trees with dbh of around 50 — 80 cm, but the data we printed the night before was 50 — 80 mm. We spent more than one hour to find our “wrong sample” tree. I enjoyed most of the adventurous process except my time in coordinate 3711 because the forest is thicker than other parts of the plot and looks untouchable for quite a long time. There are a lot of wood debris which I think could be a cozy home for snakes and other ‘something’. huhuhu. Even Min Sheng (the tree’s sibling, who has a herbarium in his head) have never been there. So we decided to go home with 5 lucky trees left. We went home with the exaggerated hope that there will be some ants in our sapling sampling and I promise to myself that I will never ever come back to the 37xx. I am gonna miss the plot anyway. Yet, tomorrow, with very stiff feet (I don’t know how to walk properly in flat landscape now), my group have to go to the plot to take our “real sample”. And other groups, not surprisingly, look addicted to their project and become more “workaholic” than ever!

Just in the middle of my brain exercise to find way how to analyze my data, we had a lecture about ‘Geometrid Moth in Biodiversity of Borneo’ which also mentioned about some statistical analysis he used in his study. Statistic has never been my favorite things to do in leisure time, but now I think it is probably worth trying to spend time on it.

One more thing, before joining this course, I never realized that giving name for all living creatures on this earth and classifying them from human perspective is very important for whatever reason. Some people will never care about the name and all those taxonomic system because they are not interested or maybe because there are more ‘fundamental survival’ problems to think about. My grandparents is a good example of this type of people. I hope by the end of this course, I have my mind opened and full with useful skill and knowledge that I can share to other people in my hometown appropriately.

Projects, again (9 July, Greg)

Published: Sun, 13 Jul 2008 09:01:25

The camp is alive with activity, all the students are running around trying to collect the last bits of data they need before settling in tomorrow to analyze and write up their projects. Some teams are a bit ahead of others, for instance my team (Ben, Wan and myself) is looking into how time of day affects mosquito bite rates. We are only able to collect data from 5:30-8:30am and then again from 5:30-8:30pm, we still have a couple of more sets of data to collect so we won’t be able to start analysis until tomorrow afternoon.

However, some teams like Noor, Shreekant and Karl’s team seem to be a bit ahead of the curve on data collection. Their team is looking at how soil type affects insect composition, in the CTFS plot. They used bug traps to collect insects and now Noor is listening to “concentration music” and diligently sorting thousands of insects.

My roommate Dwi is on the frog team, I don’t envy him, as I was leaving the chalet this morning at 5am he wasn’t back from the field yet! The frog team is looking at how limb lengths correlate with a frogs jumping ability. They don’t seem to be complaining about the late hours, I think they are having fun chasing down frogs. Night in the rain forest is surreal, it is my favorite time to go exploring, and there are fireflies and glowing fungi all over the place.

Other teams are exploring how stream flow rates and tannin levels affect invertebrate composition, how the toxic properties of Anacardiaceae trees affect ants and how gaps in the forest canopy affect diversity of Macaranga species.

Cam gave a lecture tonight on “Humans in Borneo,” a very interesting topic and nice diversion from all of the biology. It is amazing how many different ethnic groups there are here in Borneo, this is truly a melting pot. The native groups are the most interesting to me, they include the Punan “the real people of the forest;” the Iban who are the most dominant in Sarawak and were known as fierce warriors; and the Kenyah who were an aristocratic society who produced beautiful artwork and crafts. Many of these groups’ cultural heritages are in danger, especially the Punan, who are nomadic and have very little contact with the outside world. They depend on vast areas of forest to live in, and as the forest shrinks due to palm oil plantations and logging operations, they are being deprived of a place to continue living in their traditional way.

Shirley also gave a lecture tonight, unfortunately my group had to go out and collect mosquito data so we had to miss it. I have heard from other students that it was excellent, and she has promised us that she will show us her presentation when we have more time.

Dinner as always was excellent; the ladies in the canteen are great cooks. We had fried fish chunks and beef curry, and some delicious native vegetables, I am never quite sure what they are called but they are always different and good. For the last few days my team has been eating in the field between sampling mosquitoes, which is actually kind of nice. Tonight we had a special treat, because of the Humans in Borneo lecture Cam got us some dragon fruit! Dragon fruit is the most exotic looking fruit I have ever seen, it is bright purple and has scale like skin, and it is delicious! Some intrepid students even had their first chew of betel nut and got their mouth tingled and red!

Our time here in Lambir is coming to a close, no one really has time to think about it because we are so busy with our projects but I am sure we are all going to miss this magical place, even if the showers are freezing cold.

Last day at Lambir (10 July, Justine)

Published: Sun, 13 Jul 2008 09:03:56

I awoke today to find a giant snail (and its slime trail) in the folds of my field pants. I had hung the pants to dry in the kitchen and Ayu had been keeping a large snail alive in a pail on the kitchen table to observe, as part of her taxon project. The pail was empty when I checked it in the morning, and it was only my worried “The snail ran away!” that woke her up. We finally found the snail, tired from its long night trek, perhaps seeking some dirt that my unwashed pants clearly provided. I doubt that if it were not for the snail incident we would have taken a much longer time waking up, after the last couple tiring days collecting data, and a certainly longer day full of statistical analysis ahead. As it turned out, after less than an hour or so of attempting R, the power completely went out at Lambir Hills National Park. My group (Anna, Alan, and Will) didn’t have much laptop battery life among us. Anna’s computer went out first, then Alan’s. Will’s computer was to be used last. I decided to use up the last hour of my laptop to create some presentation slides and write up the rough introduction, methodology, and as much of the conclusion as I could.

Since no one could do any R analysis, most of the groups were completely paralyzed in the progress of their projects. Some decided to pass the time by working on their taxon projects, reading novels, or exchanging dirty jokes in various languages. The power outage turned out to be a mixed blessing, however, as Alan, Anna, Cindy, Shreekant, Will, and I headed toward Latak Waterfall for a refreshing afternoon swim while waiting for the power to return.

We had come across the waterfall yesterday in a sample-taking trip, and though it was cleaner then, the whole trip was much more enjoyable with everyone joining in and without worrying about our water and specimen samples. We swam in the designated swimming area, found a rather frighteningly large crab, and enjoyed ourselves even more at a smaller and less crowded waterfall downstream that improvised as a water-slide, shower, and masseuse (according to Will and Alan). It was a wonderful way to spend part of my last full day at Lambir.

The power came back on just in time, right after we had come back from our trip, washed, and changed. To prepare for the intense data-crunching session that awaited us that night, we cleaned the work area and put away all the equipment. After dinner we had a brief digital camera class during which my camera ran out of batteries; nonetheless it seemed very useful and I will have to try out the ISO settings once I get the batteries recharged. Paul Moorcraft also gave a very thought-provoking (and quite frightening) lecture on climate change. He enlightened us on how biogeography is used in climate change models, and explained the kinds of things that biogeographic models leave out. I thought the most interesting point in the lecture was when he mentioned how new biomes would be created by climate change as some biome-defining species shift locations and others do not. I hadn’t thought of biomes as transient phases instead of set categories before. We went straight to R analysis, which took a while to sort out since we had categorical instead of all quantitative factors to compare our data with and had to figure out what kind of statistics we could do with categories. We worked up until around 1AM or so, finishing up R, the write up, and presentation slides, leaving only an annoying phantom table in our Open Office document left to fix in the morning. It was a long last day at Lambir, and while I was glad to escape Lambir’s terrible mosquitoes (no one could be more glad of that than me and my diseased-looking legs), it was saddening how surprisingly quickly the first portion of the Borneo Course had passed.

Returning to KK (11 July, Karl)

Published: Sun, 13 Jul 2008 09:04:11

Today was our last day in Lambir. The day started with smiles at breakfast behind sleepy eyes revealing the late night pulled by us all to finish our reports and presentations of our first projects. Insects dominated the early morning as the first three groups presented the results of their research. Noor, Shreekant, and I went first with our exploration of whether the arthropod communities differed between the clay and sandy soils in the rain forest. Our project was too small to create statistical significance with our results but we had some interesting data to share from the 1048 specimens of over 140 species that we had collected. Next, Ayu, Eni, and Edna shared their project on comparing the ant composition on Anarcadiaceae trees. Anarcadiaceae is a family of trees that typically exude a black sap and can be poisonous (poison ivy belongs to this family). They had sampled both sapling and full grown trees of Gluta woodsiana and Mangifera foetida (two Anarcardiaceae trees) with Shore laxa as a control. The third presentation was from Ben, Greg and Wan who had bravely dared the local mosquito population to uncover the effects of time, weather, and chemicals on our favorite disease carrying friends. After enduring many bites, and analyzing their data, one of their results stood out as a clear reward to their work: DEET works! I guess that mosquito repellant that we all wear everyday despite mixd results actually has a positive effect.

Miraculously everyone made it to the first break without falling asleep. After fifteen minutes of coffee and snacks we shuffled back in for the second half of the presentations. Wulan, Ling, and Katherine educated us on their research about Macaranga abundance in forest canopy gaps. They had found that canopy openness is a larger factor than soil type or altitude in Macaranga abundance. Next Cindy, Dwe, Nayana, and Kwek gave us the clever “Frog Legs. They’re not Just for Eating” presentation. They had asked if any particular leg segment of the frog was most strongly correlated with jumping ability. The last presentation was from Justine, Anna, Will, and Alan who found that flow rate causes a significant difference in abundance and diversity of stream invertebrates while salinity more correlated with abundance than with diversity.

After another wonderful lunch at the canteen, most of the class went to work on their focal taxons, while a few others and I took a much needed nap zzzzzZZZZZZ.

The late afternoon and evening was dominated by traveling. We had finished our last day in Lambir and flew back to Kota Kinabalu for two days of rest before we head to Gaya island for the marine section of the course. We split into three groups for dinner to eat Chinese, Italian, and Malay food. Warm showers, internet, and the prospect of hanging out welcomed us back to civilization, at least until our next foray into nature.

Rest Day in KK (12 July, Katherine)

Published: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 06:20:34

July 12th was spent as a rest day in Kota Kinabalu after our eleven-day long trip to Lambir Hills National Park. After spending the days walking out in the rain forest, cut off (some among the group would say “freed”) from modern distractions like the internet or cell phones, everyone seemed eager to contact home and let their folks and friends know that they’re alive and well. Dozens on e-mails and phone calls went flying out across the world to everyone’s respective and unique home; to parts Indonesia, to islands in Malaysia, to states in the U.S. No one has the same background among the group, even among the students from the same area of the world. The students from the U.S. all come from a wide range of home states (from California to Texas to Massachusetts). I’m pretty sure no one from Indonesia is from the same city, and even the two students from Malaysian Borneo (Ling and Edna) consider themselves as having different ethnic backgrounds based on the exact locality of their home towns and their very different cultural histories (Ling’s family migrated to Borneo from China). Besides simply the various nationalities included within our group, a range of religious beliefs are also mixed; Muslims, Catholics, Atheists, Buddhists, and more. Among this twenty-person and twenty-background collective cultural tensions wouldn’t be terribly surprising. Yet somehow everyone is getting along really well, and this trip is just a nice group of people wanting to learn some biology. Saturday really showed that, when most everyone went out to lunch guided by Shreekant, who was determined to find us “real” Indian food like he eats back home. Even at lunch we traded stories of middle school, and how growing up in each person’s respective hometown was the same as and yet worlds away from the experiences of the others at the table. This trip seems to be half about the biology; the other half is learning about the other students, talking on the bus, on the plane, and at meals. A group of students went over to ‘Borneo Books 2’, which is set to become the major haunt of the students each time we come into Kota Kinabalu. Later that night everyone was able to share in the joys of a terrible film as we ate mangos and smelly durian. It was a good day and a nice break to have the definitely underrated joy of hot water, but walking out by the pier on Saturday and seeing Gaya Island across the water, all seem ready for marine week to get started on Monday when we’ll be camping out in tents and snorkeling among the most biologically diverse coral reefs in the world.

Peppermints and Bak Kut Teh (13 July, Kwek)

Published: Sat, 19 Jul 2008 20:56:22

One thing about the rooms in Hotel Kinabalu Daya was the lack of windows (real physical windows, not the electronic one). You could wake up at 12 noon in the pitch dark rooms and groggily think that the sun hasn’t risen. Perfect for a second rest day after 11 days of sweat and slopes. But this was not to be. I dragged myself out at 10am before the free hotel breakfast wraps up at 10.30am. The typical kiasu1‘ Singaporean!

Wan and Shreekant kindly invited me to join them for a trip to the weekend market, but I politely declined. But an hour later, I ran into Ben, who also wanted to visit the weekend market, and I found myself unable to be polite any longer. But first we had to help Heny get the clothes back from the laundry shop, which was just down a corner from the hotel. Ben’s job was to hail a taxi from the main street to come to the laundry shop so that we could load on the piles of clothes, but we got sort of worried that he would try to practise his Bahasa Melayu on the taxi driver and get into another “chicken and duck talk2” situation. I say ‘another’ because he already got into one with a passerby last night while we were asking for directions to the ‘Peppermint Restaurant’. We ended up at the ‘Rainforest Cafe’ instead, but today after settling the laundry, Heny showed us the REAL ‘Peppermint Restaurant’. Its specialty is supposed to be Vietnamese cuisine, but the roasted chicken rice that I ordered tasted pretty much like Hainanese Chicken Rice back home.

Later in the afternoon, I wanted to pop down to the mall to get a pair of shoes because my sneakers got sogged up in the streams of Lambir (and I kept slipping on them on leaf litter-covered slopes, and more than once have I landed on my behind in an extremely unglamourous manner). A few of us ended up in a small eatery in the mall drinking bubble tea and discussing comparitive politics. One of the highlights of this course, at least for me, I feel, is the cross-cultural exchange. Although American culture and politics feature aplenty on local media, this is the first time I am engaging in extended interaction with Americans. Our Harvard friends were also very interested in finding out more about our way of life (especially about our food!) It was through attempting to communicate to them the quirks of Asian culture that I truly appreciated how diverse our region was, although I had been here all my life.

Dinner was another opportunity for mixing the pot. A whole bunch of us, including our beloved TFs Shirley and Min Sheng and one of our Profs, Paul Moorcroft, tried out Bak Kut Teh at the stall round the corner. Aside from having trouble explaining exactly what the name of the dish means, we had to debate whether it was a Hokkien dish, explain why the stall helpers spoke Cantonese while serving Fuchow fishballs and describe how Hainanese Chicken Rice cannot be found in the island of Hainan. Alan and I wrapped up the night in the hotel lobby exchanging Chinese and Cantonese songs with Noor, our ardent Chinese student.

1 – Kiasu is a (regional?) Chinese Hokkien phrase that is literally tranlsated as “afraid of losing out”. It is a (mildly derogratory) adjective used to describe the typical mentally of Singaporeans: stingy, miserly, sucker for freebies, always wanting to be first in everything. (Despite my amusement at my fellow countrymen, do not be mistaken that I have an identity crisis. It’s fun being a Singaporean!!)

2 – This is a literal translation of a Chinese idiom that describes two people trying to converse in totally different languages.

Marine World (14 July, Ling)

Published: Sat, 19 Jul 2008 21:06:16

After two days of rest at Kota Kinabalu, everyone felt so relaxed and refreshed. We spent over the weekend to do some shoppings, hunting for foods and some went for clubbing too. It’s definitely a wonderful weekend for everyone. At least I did hanged out with my youngest sister and do some shoppings. We went to UMS (University Malaysia Sabah) via chartered bus. That’s our first activity for today. On the bus, Cam briefed us about our activity for the marine week. Although we are 10 minutes late this morning, but we managed to arrive BMRI (Borneo Marine Research Institute), UMS earlier than the expected time.

Upon our arrival, BMRI staff welcomed us and we went to the seminar room for our first lecture. Again, Cam briefed us on BMRI and also about the peer review for our project 1 at LHNP. Well, my group will going to review project from stream invertebrate group. Prof. Dr. Saleem Mustafa introduced us to UMS Marine program and researches carrying out there. After that, Normawaty gave us lecture on the HAB (Harmful Algal Bloom). Seems like, we are very concerned about this HAB and asked lot of questions. Then, we had a short coffee break and we had some banana muffins, puffs, doughnuts and some mineral water but no coffee. We then continued to our next lecture which is about conservation of marine mammals in Malaysia by Saifullah. Wow, I never knew that we’d so many marine mammals species in Malaysia. After the lectures, we went to the aquarium. Everyone were so excited to see all the underwater creatures inside the aquarium. They are so cute, so large and so etc. Well too many of them, if you want to know more, just come to the aquarium. After we left UMS, we had our lunch at Mawie Restaurant. The food there were delicious.

After our lunch, we went to the jetty to transfer our stuff to Malohom Bay, Gaya Island. Before we went to the island, we rent our mask and snorkels, for those who don’t have one. Then, we are on our way to Gaya Island via 3 large speed boats (1 for our luggages, 2 for all the staff and students). We had so much fun and on the boat, when Noor, Kwek, Shreekant and Alan met together. They create lot of jokes and make all of us laughing all the way. On the island, Cam briefed us on the safety of marine segment, and we are then divided into groups of 2 person and pitched our own tents. I’m same group with Justine. Poor Justine, her eye had an infection, fortunately she’s healing from the infection. After our hard work and creative mind, we managed to pitch our tent, but I realized that our tent look slightly different from the rest. Fortunately, Justine and I asked Greg and Wan, and they helped us to fix our tent. If not, our tent probably blow by the wind (maybe). Thank you guys!

When everyone have settled down, we started to change to swimming suit for snorkeling activity. Cam gave instruction on how to use the mask and snorkel properly for newbies. Then out we go to see the coral reefs and underwater world. At first, I was reluctant to swim out because the water is too shallow and I don’t want to step on the corals. Well, after a while, I found a tunnel which less corals grow there, and I finally managed to swim out and enjoy snorkeling. The coral reefs are so pretty and the fishes are so beautiful. They are not afraid of human beings and some even swim near to us. I saw a lion fish, lot of corals from different species, few razor fishes near the sea urchins and the sea urchins have longer spines then I thought before this. I’m impressed by the nature of underwater sea and the coral reefs here. They are amazing!

After an introduction to snorkel, everyone was hungry and tired. After cleaned ourselves, we were served by a wonderful dinner, with fried rice, barbeque chicken wings, fishes and shrimps, satay, sweet potatoes, salads, burgers and last but not least, fruits as dessert. It was an awesome dinner. After the dinner, we had a talk on Health and Harmony by Kinari Webb. It opened our eyes on how important health is and how to do conservation work by offering health to local communities. We end our lecture today by havinga durian feast. I think half of the students (mostly Asian students) really enjoy the durian very much, especially Shreekant who had never tasted durian before this, fall in love with it, and he actually planned to bring their seeds back to India, and plant them there. Well, good luck Shreekant! Hopefully they can grow there. I think that’s it for now. What a busy day we had today. Good rest everyone.

Camping on Gaya Island (15 July, Nayana)

Published: Sat, 19 Jul 2008 21:19:22

Today in brief… As usual, the alarm woke us up. We (Noor “Macaranga” Beckwith and myself) were inside a tent and from inside we could see the sunrise! Oh!! Where the covering sheet (the roof) was supposed to be, the wind had taken it away. (Grunting noises from Noor and myself).. My “tentie” was obsessed with boats and ran out the tent with the camera.

4 smart guys (including me) had a dive while the girls were sleeping. The expedition began…… Coral reefs, one of the most productive ecosystems (akin to forests below the sea level)… Yes, today is coral reef day! “What is a coral” was the topic for our morning lecture, and a power failure delayed our lecture by 6 minutes. Zarinah Waheed, a coral expert from UMS (University of Malaysia Sabah) taught us some basics of corals and their ecology, then we had a practical session from 9.30 am to 12 noon. It was an amazing experience for most of us. We were lucky to see a sea snake (for me, that was the coolest event of the day!)

I don’t know what I have been eating, but I feel that I am getting heavy. After lunch we had a one hour rest and spent the afternoon learning to identify different coral families in the field. Evening lecture was on “Park management- challenges in managing marine parks in Sabah” by the Sabah Parks staff. We had a video documentary on Sabah marine parks that was really impressive. We really enjoyed the camping life with the sand and its sand flies… Today’s captures…

Marine III (16 July, Noor)

Published: Sat, 19 Jul 2008 21:20:55

Today was a(nother) fantastic day at Pulau Gaya, and in my humble opinion, it was much more exciting than yesterday. Even though I certainly learned a lot more about corals yesterday than I ever knew about them before, and even though I’ve really been enjoying Professor Moorcroft’s lectures so far, I must say that I’m rather heavily biased towards the chordates and the arthropods when it comes to biology. Thus, fish-and-mammal day was a big step-up.

After breakfast, the day started with Cam’s fish taxonomy lecture. Both the overall phylogenetic relationships therein and the enumeration of important reef groups were somewhat of a review to me (and Katherine) due to Karel Liem and George Lauder’s Harvard class, “OEB130: Patterns and Processes in Fish Diversity”. At the same time, that class focused primarily on fish biomechanics and the anatomy of various synapomorphies, with much less emphasis on ecological relationships, so Cam’s lecture added a lot for me. Furthermore, my most intimate ichthyo-experiences before now have involved either ethanol-pickled fish or schematic drawings, so being able to go out after Cam’s lecture and actually find the things that we talked about was fantastic. I’ve noticed this with the plants, coral, and now fish: nothing reinforces morphotype memory or identification skill like hearing about different organisms and then finding in vivo and IDing them yourself.

And speaking of going into the field, diving today was extra special because we took short trips to dive at the Sapi reef in addition to diving at the main reef in front of the campsite. As soon as I got off of the boat there, I could see that this place was different; the reef was more sculptured into valleys and crests, the general fauna seemed to be somewhat different, and (thank God) there were no sea urchins. Kwek (my diving buddy) and I saw a lot of great stuff then: pufferfish, a few kinds of starfish, etc. And while I’m still yet to see anything really big and exciting, people apparently even saw a sea-turtle and a shark at Sapi.

After diving and looking for the fish during the day, we had three lectures in the afternoon/evening. First was Min Sheng’s short talk on marine surveying techniques. He reviewed Line Intersect Transect again and, in general, gave me some things to think about as the time for creating and executing projects draws near. I ought to mention that in the 1.5 days we have left here at Gaya, we have to plan and carry out another research project, and many people have been a little nervous about the feasibility of such an endeavor. After this evening, however, I’m a little more confident about my own project; I’ll be working with Ling and Justine on some mangrove ecology questions.

Henry Tiandun’s lecture on small mammals was next. He talked about the impacts of different kinds of deforestation patterns and land use shifts on small mammal composition. He showed in his study that species richness and abundance are negatively impacted in, if I recall, the ways that one might expect. The thing I liked most about his study, though, was the fact that it reminded me of my own at Lambir. He used cage traps and I used pitfall traps; he compared mammal composition across a land-use gradient, I compared terrestrial arthropods across a soil gradient. I suppose, as the saying goes,

(heros think roughly alike).

The last lecture this evening was given by Dr. Rahimatsah Amat from the WWF. He gave a great talk about the WWF’s conservation efforts in Borneo, and he talked about their vision for a ‘heart of Borneo’ corridor system that links and thus strengthens the most vital and biodiverse areas. The project sounds huge to me, but both Dr. Amat himself and the WWF as a whole seem to be very powerful and determined. While it’s actually a little difficult for me to even be optimistic about his goals, Min Sheng and I noted that he seems to have an incredible amount of passion, passion that will be necessary to see his plans through. In addition to his general ‘heart of Borneo’ plan, Dr. Amat also spoke specifically about the Sumatran rhinos, whose numbers are apparently as low as TWENTY SIX now (if I recall correctly). I had no idea there were so few, and it’s things just like this that make me pessimistic about the future. Not only, however, are their numbers low, but the last few individuals are also scattered about in different forest fragments. Given a cost of $100,000 USD to find and move a single rhino, this looks to me to be the end.

It’s difficult for me to hear and accept that we’ve let such charismatic megafauna disappear so easily. While we had planned to go on an organized night swim after the last lecture, the thunderstorm that started earlier in the evening never relented so we had to stay in. There was such an incredible amount of rain that some of Dr. Amat’s lecture was drowned out, and people huddled around the little communal hall for a long time waiting for a lull in the storm.

I suppose that’s all for now. Until August 6th (my next blog day), farewell!

Reef projects (17 July, Shreekant)

Published: Sat, 26 Jul 2008 22:45:49

Its the end of the day, and its the time when we guys start blogging! Today happens to be my day. To be honest, I was really tired and planning on postponing this task until tomorrow. But, just 6 mosquitos in your tent is all it takes to rid you of your sleep and get you blogging; yeah killing mosquitos can get the adrenalin pumping in your system sometimes! 🙂

The day started off with different teams (that we had chosen yesterday) gearing up and setting out for their pilot studies on the reef. Ben and I had decided on studying the foraging behavior of mud-skippers along a nearby stream, but we had to drop that idea as we could not complete any pilot study, or come up with a question that could be solved in the stipulated time. Instead, we are now working on checking for differences in fish-diversity across corals with varying structural complexities. There are 5 other groups who are looking at various aspects which involve sea-urchins, anemones, mangroves,etc. So guys, here is take-home-lesson for all: Pilot studies are DEFINITELY helpful, no doubt about that. Try not to skip those!

Most of the afternoon was spent on the projects. Later in the evening, we all filed in for Cam’s lecture on ‘Origin and maintenance of Tropical Biodiversity’ where we learned how the mechanisms governing the high species diversity in two seemingly different ecosystems — rainforests and coral reefs — are indeed quite similar. We concluded that there exist different bodies of theor in different ecosystems; and that it could very interesting to compare rainforest- and coral reef-ecosystems from the point of view of mechanisms responsible for such a high magnitude of biodiversity.

I must grab this opportunity to share one of the most amazing sunsets we’ve had so far… was truly magical, with Mount Kinabalu basking in full glory under the setting sun… Voila!

Like they say, ‘There is always a first time for everything’; which was true for my experience of a night-dive at the reef. This was certainly the most exciting part of the day. Each of us grabbed a flashlight and jumped into the eerie, black and deep water off the dock (was kind of scary!). The few interesting things that we saw included the cuttlefish, the flowercrab and the planton! Yes, we had a net — much like a funnel — which we used to filter the water and trap the plankton in it. We’ll be studying it tomorrow and compare the day-plankton with the night-plankton.

And now for the candid picture of the day:

This is what too many lectures do to you 🙂 Kwek, please don’t kill me… You know we all do at SOME point during the last of the lectures. Don’t we guys?

I hope I will get a few more candid pics by my next blog-day. I can’t wait!!

Farewell Gaya (18 July, Wan)

Published: Sat, 26 Jul 2008 23:11:16

We start our morning quite early. During breakfast, Aless (Universiti Malaysia Sabah Observer Student) explained to us about the local song which we don’t even know the title. It is about the song of a person’s love feelings, with a comparison to the majestic Mount Kinabalu. Nice song! I wondered why Nayana wanted to learn that song so much from Aless. Ahah! (I shall left the question there, unanswered…) Then we had a “Singing Idol” time which some of us sang a song from their local country. Shreekant with his `Kuch Kuch Hota Hai` hindustani song, duet with Ayu (she seems great in singing hindustani song, even though she kept on asking for a translation from Shreekant), Heny with her song from Maluku, Indonesia, which none of us can understand what does the lyric supposed to mean and Katherine with Ben with their ‘Monkey’ camping song. Sounds funny though. We tried to get Nayana and Cindy to sing but we couldn’t. Maybe next time, we will.

Some of us still need to do the sampling (snorkeling seems the only way to do the observation and collecting data for this marine section) as well as the analyses of data obtained from yesterday. “R” Strikes Back!!! Thanks to Shirley, Paul, Min Sheng and Cam who always ready to help any of the group with the analyses. This time, it was not as busy as our last time in Lambir Hills National Park. It’s more relaxed and less tense since this is a-day-project. When we all gathered with laptops and doing the analyses, we were like the“Laptop Contingent”, that’s what Megan always said when we did the analyses back at Lambir. Much of us had done with the analyses before we all had our lunch. After the lunch hour, we all presented our group project presentation.

“Coral Complexity and Fish Diversity” was the title for Ben and Shreekant’s group. Corals of different structural complexities were studied with respect to their fish diversity. There was no difference in number of fish species observed between branching-massive and digitate-massive coral type. Justine, Ling and Noor formed a group, and they had done a project titled “Effect of Trash on Mangrove Communities” with a finding that a high number of trash correlated with the higher number of species diversity. Alan, teamed up with Ayu, Anna and Cindy came out with a project to check on the association between the species of anemone fish and anemones and they found that there was a strong correlation of spine-cheek anemone fish with gigantic and bulb-tentacle anemone, Clark’s with corkscrew and false-clown with haddon’s. Eni, Edna, Nayana, Jovi and Aless were comparing the sea urchin colony size in two different reef habitat which are the crest reef and fore reef. They found out that there were larger aggregation of fore reef compared to the crest and also the high relative abundance of sea urchin colony in fore reef while it is low relative abundance at the crest reef habitat. The trio of Karl, Greg and Will came out with a project which concluded that the larger anemone fish, the more aggressive of the fish in defending its home. Kwek’s group with Wulan, Dwi, Katherine and me as the group members tried to determine the spatial distribution of goby’s house. Our result suggested that the goby’s holes were in a random-type of distribution pattern. All groups were amazing with their presentation. It is incredible to see what we all can achieve in one single day of project. Much time is needed for all of us in order to produce a really good piece of work to conclude any of our findings.

Rest day in KK (19 July, Will)

Published: Sun, 27 Jul 2008 14:30:28

After the excellent and fun (but very educational) week we all just had on Gaya Island, I hardly feel like I need a rest day! There are few places in which I feel as free and blissful as I do when I am in the ocean. Snorkeling on these reefs felt like flying unassisted over a beautiful cityscape, just like in a dream! The night dive, on the last night at the island, was the closest I will ever come to being an astronaut – floating through a mysterious blackness filled with tiny phosphorescent plankton stars. It doesn’t get any better than that for me!

As sad as I was to leave the island, Kota Kinabalu, which just recently seemed so foreign and strange, is now starting to feel like home! When I arrived in KK for the first time, it was almost midnight, and I was by myself, trying to catch up with the group, which was already far ahead in Lambir N.P. By 4 AM I was back in a taxi to catch my next flight. This time, as we rounded the point of the island on the boat ride back to KK, I recognized landmarks all down the length of the waterfront – the brightly colored tarpaulins of the Philippino market, the shining dome of the State Mosque, even individual spots like Kohinoor, our favorite Indian restaurant, and the Cocoon dance club! KK has turned out to be much more fun than I expected. It’s good to be home!

After a wonderfully long sleep (it’s hard to wake up when your hotel room has no windows), a group of us headed over to 1 Borneo – Malaysia’s “Largest Lifestyle Hypermall” – to see the new Batman movie. I really can’t stand malls for a myriad of reasons, and this one was no exception. Everything in there seemed far too shiny and perfect to be real. This is not to be a place where people come to buy things they need, but rather it seems to be a place for Malaysia’s burgeoning middle class to be seen conspicuously consuming. But I digress. The Batman movie was truly excellent. It’s the only superhero movie I’ve ever seen that actually tries to grapple with the grey areas and difficult choices of real-world morality. Heath Ledger gave a convincing and chilling performance as the psychotic ‘Joker’ We left the mall (thank God) to get dinner back at Kohinoor. This was a special occasion, and almost everyone was there. Since this weekend is the approximate halfway point of the course, it is also a changing of the guard for some of our beloved teachers. Unfortunately, Shirley and Paul have to get back to their various projects elsewhere. They will be missed sorely by all of us. I know I learned a great deal from both of them, and really enjoyed getting to know them on a personal level. Thanks for everything, guys!!! Paul had to leave immediately upon getting back to KK, so he couldn’t join us at the dinner, but we tried to throw Shirley a little going away party, complete with a little stuffed monkey that kind of looked like a Yunnan Golden monkey if you squinted hard enough.

The party also served as a welcome for our new TF, Santiago Ramirez! I’ve gotten to know him a bit over the past day, and I know he’ll be an excellent addition to the team – plus, now I have a chance to practice my abysmal Spanish!

Tomorrow morning, we leave a 5 AM for what promises to be an excellent week, complete with Orangutans, an active sustainably logged forest, and the thing I’m looking forward to the most, the hike of Mt. Kinabalu! Next weekend, we will really have earned each and every one of our rest hours…

Life is Good!


Facet of Conservation in Sabah: Ecotourism, Public Awareness, Corporate, and Sustainability (20 July, Wulan)

Published: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 06:27:13

The Sepilok Rehabilitation Center is our next destination on this course. 5.45 am, all of us gather at lobby of Kinabalu Daya Hotel to catch the morning flight to Sandakan. The rehabilitation center is located on the edge of 4000 hectare Sepilok Forest Reserve, 23 km from Sandakan. Just the day before, Nayana, Alan, Heny and I met Dr. John Payne at his WWF office in KK. Aside from informal chat about large mammal conservation in Sabah, he told us a bit about the history of the place. The Sepilok Rehabilitation Center was started in 1964 when Barbara Harrison from WWF set up the place to return the orphaned orang utan back to wild. Since then, the Sabah Wildlife Department holds the responsibility to manage it and has developed it into facility providing animal care and opportunity for public education.

Most of the passenger of the morning flight to Sandakan is foreigner and almost all of them have the same destination with us, visit the orang utan at their feeding time at The Sepilok Rehabilitation Center. The power of ecotourism, Dr. Junaedi Payne said which is right indeed. Today, we can see firsthand how the `power’ of breakfast time of our phylogenetically related cousin able to attract a lot of tourist from all over the world by over 70,000 peoples a year.

After 40 minutes of flight, the bus transfers us to the Rehabilitation center. Boardwalks have been build to the feeding platform and the tourists allowed in for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon. This is the main attraction of the site even though interactions with the animal are prohibited. The boardwalks lead us to a platform where a number of orang utan been feed. Tourists crowded in front of the platform and gasp on the sight of orang utan. Don’t expect to see wild orang utan swinging from tree to tree, what we see are a number of orang utan in their last stage of rehabilitation that comes to the platform for an easy snack. Several tourists with camera, pocket and high end SLR camera, focus the lenses to the orang utan. The feeding time only takes for about 45minutes, after that the orang utan back to the forest. Their distance relative, homo sapien, back to their car and buses, some of them are in the souvenir shops and some is trying to gathering their friends to have a group picture, yup that’s us, the BOB summer course.

The Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC), created by Robert Ong, is next. Located near the rehabilitation center, RDC offer the visitor an environmental education about the importance of conserving rainforest’s. The education takes form in kind of poster and picture about the rain forest and also a set of education toys design for children. Outside the educational building, RDC also offer visitor with a botanical garden in which various species of plant are growth and arrange base on their classification. Some of us are jump in joy to find their focal taxon amongst the plant that RDC have there. We also have a chance to visit the canopy trail inside RDC in which we can see the tree canopy and surrounding view. On each of the canopy trail tower, RDC provide the visitor with panoramic photograph of the view of canopy that we see and identification of the species name for each tree.

After lunch, we were prepared for the 4 hours road trip to Deramakot. Convoy of cars consists of five 4×4 four wheel car and one van. Endless view of oil palm plantation welcoming us along the road, the sight starts to change into secondary forest growth after 2 hours drive. We have entered Deramakot Forest Reserve which manages according to the Sustainable Forestry Principle, Deramakot ending our long journey for today. For me today is as if complete issue regarding conservation, in Sabah particularly, unfold in front of my eyes. Starting from Sandakan, the east side of Sabah, we have seen the power of ecotourism at Sepilok, continued by RDC, human effort to gain awareness form his/her fellow human of the importance of rainforest. The journey continued to the west of Sabah, which we see endless of oil palm plantations directly challenge our idealistic mind with the real issue nowadays. Ironic but felt very real. Journey end quite in the middle of Sabah at the concept of sustainable forest use offer human a compromise way to gain advantage from nature. We take down our bags from the cars and start to move to Deramakot’s challet for the next 3 days. Alas, I and Justine could not found our names among the girls challet… Ups it turns out that the party who manage it thought that Wulan and Justine is a boy’s name… Looks like we’re going to share chalet with the boys….

Sustainable forestry at Deramakot (21 July, Katherine)

Published: Fri, 05 Sep 2008 06:02:58

Today is our only full day at Deramakot Forest Reserve, which is a center for sustainable forestry here in the state of Sabah. Sustainable forestry is one way of making money off of the rain forest without completely destroying it (as with conventional logging or palm oil). A system called Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) is practiced here to “minimize damage to potential future crop trees, regeneration and soil to maintain its production capacity and to protect the environment” via some strict rules, e.g. only trees of certain size and species are cut, reuse old skid trails, directional felling, etc. Then, enrichment planting is carried out to aid forest regeneration. Nowadays, most of the post-harvest operation is just tending or silviculture, where competing vegetation (mostly climbers) are cut to liberate and enhance growth of future crop trees. It’s not the greatest system in that the forest isn’t kept “pure” – certain tree species are more often planted/kept than others because they are bigger money-makers. But, considering the devastating effects of palm oil, it does succeed in protecting the environment and the animals that live within it – here in Deramakot, I’ve really been impressed by the wildlife that lives off of the Deramakot site.

There are even elephants, something we haven’t even had hope of seeing at any other site. And the people here honestly care – inside their main office there is a proud display of pictures of the rare wildlife you might find within (there’s even a picture of the rare clouded leopard!).

In the morning we went for a small hike near the base camp – I walked along with Ling and Justine looking at the plant life, and Kwek found an insect that was infected with a disease that makes a fungus grow out of its head (cordyceps?). I’d only seen something like that on ‘Planet Earth’ before. Gah, we’re so lucky to see these sites, especially since they might not be around to be seen in the future….

In the afternoon the group was taken out to see loggers at work. It’s funny, because usually you think of the loggers as almost the enemy; the guys cutting down the precious rain forest. And yet these men were responsible from keeping the area from going to palm oil. Though watching an old and ancient tree struck to the ground, it was hard not to wish that the pure forest could be left alone, left untouched.

In the evening we all gathered at the canteen to have a debate, with half the students debating one side or the other. Cam set up the debate as between the interests of palm oil versus those of sustainable forestry. I personally took the palm oil side. My reasoning was that I thought it would be easier to fight for sustainable forestry because it’s the side I most agree with, and that to argue for the palm oil side might help make a clearer view of all of the issues in my mind. And it was a bit funny to see the arguments that could arise for palm oil. With all of the jobs it produces for the local people, who am I (as an outsider who comes from a wealthy country) to tell the local people to stop? It’s hard to argue either side without realizing that as an outsider, I haven’t taken the interest/time to really understand the issues at a local level. Hopefully this trip will help change that.

Neither side ended up winning – but it was a great talk that got everyone involved thinking from angles they hadn’t recognized before. I look forward to more discussions like these, discussions with people who come from far away and locals who live with these issues day to day.

From Deramakot to Kinabalu (22 July, Ben)

Published: Mon, 25 Aug 2008 06:51:14

Today we left Deramakot (the sustainable logging operation) and drove to Mt. Kinabalu. On the way out from Deramakot we stopped by the scrap wood lumber yard (for branches, broken pieces of tree trunks, etc.), where the workers turn this wood “waste” into plywood, which apparently fetches a pretty good price. It was good to see that the staff at Deramakot try to use every part of the trees that they cut down. Overall, I have been very impressed by the environmental stewardship that I have seen at Deramakot during the past couple of days. The forest at Deramakot harbors abundant wildlife (including pygmy elephants, bearded pigs, and big cats like clouded leopards), and they let each stand grow for 40 years after cutting it. They also showed us a skid trail (the trail that a tractor leaves in the forest after it drags a fallen tree back to the road) that was done using Reduced Impact Logging (which is what they practice at Deramakot) and then another one that was done using conventional logging. Even though the conventional logging trail was made 40 years ago, nothing grew along it except shrubs, and the terrain was completely caved in from the erosion. The Reduced Impact Logging trail, on the other hand, was just 2 years old, but there was no soil erosion and they had planted Macaranga trees, which were already fairly tall and which were facilitating other tree species to move in. Obviously sustainable logging is environmentally a much better choice than conventional logging, and a far better choice than oil palm plantations. It is hard to condemn oil palm when you drive through Malaysian shanty towns and you see the poverty there. People need sustainable sources of income, and even according to the director of Deramakot, oil palm generates 33 times more revenue per land area than sustainable logging! The horrible thing is that barely any of this revenue is going to the workers in the fields or to the locals that live nearby, because over 90% of the oil palm plantations are owned by multinational corporations, which seem to swallow up the revenue so that barely anything is left for those who need it most.

After leaving Deramakot, we spent a good five or six hours on the road. For the most of the ride, all that you could see on both sides of the road were endless rows of oil palm trees. It was disheartening to see such an endless, monotonous and artificial landscape, especially since the natural landscape of Borneo consists of the most biodiverse rainforest types in the world. Around mid-afternoon we arrived at Mt. Kinabalu Headquarters (1,500m elevation), which consisted of a few hotel/cabin styles lodges and a couple of restaurants. Tony Lamb, a botanist, took us on a short hike in the forest around Headquarters. The forest was even more amazing than I expected; since the temperature on Kinabalu is cooler than the rest of Borneo, the forest there contains many oak and chestnut trees which are found nowhere else in Borneo, but some of them can also be found in Europe! Also, since there are not many tall mountains in Southeast Asia, Mt. Kinabalu is basically an “island” for the plant and animal species that live there. As a result, there are many species on Mt. Kinabalu that cannot be found anywhere else in the world! The composition of the forest changes as you go up the mountain (because the elevation increases), so the flora and fauna of Mt. Kinabalu are also extremely biodiverse. Tony told us, for instance, that there are more species of Orchids on Mt. Kinabalu than in all of Africa! The plants on Kinabalu also often look very different than the plants in the lowland rainforests, because they have special adaptations for living at high elevation. Many plants on Kinabalu, for example, have small leaves to limit water loss (as the leaves absorb carbon dioxide, they also release water, so smaller leaves means less surface area to release water), because there are often severe droughts on the mountain. Other plants have red-colored leaves, because insect pollinators cannot live in such cold temperatures on the mountain, so these plants have to rely on birds (which choose plants by color) for pollination. Overall, the forest at Headquarters on Kinabalu was both diverse and very different from the lowland rainforests that we saw earlier at Lambir National Forest, and I’m really excited to see how the forest changes as we hike up the mountain.

Road to Laban Rata, Mt. Kinabalu (23 July, Dwi)

Published: Sun, 27 Jul 2008 14:56:27

This morning we start the journey to Mount Kinabalu from Taman Negara Kinabalu Head Quarter. Mount Kinabalu is located in the East Malaysian state of Sabah which lies on the north eastern part of the island of Borneo. The mountain range stretches through the entire west coast of Sabah and the park itself covers an area of 754 km2. Mount Kinabalu at 4095 m is the highest mountain between the majestic peaks of the Himalayas and the mountains in the 2500km long Penunungan Maoke or Central Range in West Papua (Irian Jaya). The great heights of Kinabalu act like a powerful magnet and challenge, which attracts eager climbers from all corners of the world. We depart by bus at 8.00 pm to first entry point (gate). All visitor must uses ID card to enter this area and follow instruction from the guide as long as the trails. Today, we are not climb to peak, just climb until Laban Rata Rest Host (±6 km). I choose to walk slowly on the trail and keep looking for the frogs, and hoping to founded endemic species of Kinabalu.

Dr. Tony Lamb, senior scientist from Kinabalu Park, explaining about biodiversity of Mount Kinabalu. He said the attitudinal and climatic gradient from tropical forest to alpine conditions combined with precipitous topography, diverse geology and frequent climate oscillations to provide conditions ideal for unique biodiversity of flora and fauna. Mount Kinabalu is blessed with astonishing variety of flora and fauna that ranges over four climate zones; from rich lowland dipterocarp forest through the montane oak, rhododendron, to the coniferous forests, to the alpine meadow plants, and to the stunted bushes of summit zone. The diversity of flora and fauna will decrease if the elevation is increasing.

When we walking to about 1200m, the tropical rain forests dominated by species in the Dipterocarpaceae family. Stratification is visible in this zone to some extent where the dipterocarps grow to heights of over 50m forming the canopy and other smaller species form subsequent layers. They yield seeds which have two or more wing-like structures which help them disperse by wind action. There is also a variety of wild fruit trees ranging from the commonly found which is figs. Common in the lowland forests are plants from the families of palms, gingers and bamboos. I also see many kind species of fern. Ferns are ubiquitous in all four climatic zones of the Park and take various forms: tree ferns, shade ferns, and tiny scrub ferns. Some very notable fern species in this zone are the bird’s nest fern and tree ferns. The lower elevations of Kinabalu are also home to numerous species of orchids. The orchids are divided by two form: epiphytic and terrestrial orchids, and both of them found at all altitudes.

When we walking about 1200m to 2000m (lower Montane zone) the trees are shorter in stature, oak and chestnut species are dominate. Deciduous trees typical of temperate lands such as those from the family of oaks and chestnuts. Another plants in this zone is the celery pine, an ancient plant that has stems flattened like leaves and the true leaves reduced to tiny scales. Kinabalu also is the richest place in the world for the tropical pitcher plant, Nepenthes. The most striking part of the pitcher plant is the colorful cup which although it appears as a part of the flower is actually a part of the leaf modified to trap insects to obtain nutrients. And suddenly, Cindy found the eggs mass of frog in the pitcher plan. Woow..this is new for me.

After lower zone, we enter the upper Montane zone. This zone lies between 2200m above sea level to 3300 m. The trees are stunted (less than 6m tall) and their trunks and branches as well as leaves are draped with lichens and mosses. In this zone many species of Rhododendron predominate. Dr. Tony said, Rhododendrons species thrive in places which are cool and moist. Most of their flowers are bell-shaped and each of the plants bears many flowers. Their colors are bright and often red. I also see the black birds and black eyes birds foraging for food. In this elevation and temperature, this is great event.

By the way, me, Justin, and Edna are the last groups. We are walking very slowly, because tired and cold. Finally we arrive to Laban Rata House, and hot chocolate and delicious food waiting for us. Cheers!

Acclimatization (24 July, Kwek)

Published: Sat, 06 Sep 2008 03:24:28

In comparison to yesterday’s horrible climb against the howling wind and biting rain, today’s gentle weather was a stark contrast. Many of us asked Cam (as if he would know!) why wasn’t yesterday’s weather like today’s?

In the morning after breakfast at the Laban Rata Resthouse, we went outdoors for a closer look at the alpine vegetation which characterized the landscape at our current elevation (ca. 3000m a.s.l.). Vegetation generally took on more stunted and shrubby forms as altitude increases. Someone commented that through yesterday’s climb, it was noticed that there was a sudden height decrease in tree height somewhere between the 4km and 5km part of the trail, after which the height of trees sprang back up. Cam explained that this might have been due to a stretch of ultramafic rock in that region that was pushed up together with the granite substrate that makes up most of Gunung Kinabalu. We were given a short lesson on the rock cycle:

  1. Intrusions of upper mantle into cracks in the earth’s crust cools to form igneous rock.
  2. All rocks get weathered down by the elements and gets washed down by rivers into the sea and the oceans. Layer upon layer of such weathered material settles on the ocean and sea beds and gets compressed by the huge weight of the water body and successive layers of sediment above it. The compression changes the nature of the material to form what we call sedimentary rock. Various particle sizes results in different kinds of rock formations, which may alternate depending on the activity cylce of the estuaries that are responsible for the sediment deposition:
  3. Both igneous and sedimentary rock can undergo additional transformation if it undergoes high heat and pressure underneath the earth’s crust near the mantle. Plate tectonics are responsible for moving rocks into such positions. Different rocks would then be transformed into different metamorphic rocks. For example, limestone, formed from calcareous remains of coral reefs and planktonic organisms, when metamorphosized becomes marble.

And so we get the rock cycle: from the mantle we get igneous rocks, which with heat and compression gives rise to sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. Subduction and melting of such rocks then returns the material to the mantle. Although this rock cycle was taught in basic geography in secondary school, it was a good revision.

Why learn geology when this course is about the biodiversity of Borneo? Well it does make sense when explaining vegetation types on different kinds of soil. For example, Gunung Kinabalu is a granitic batholith that was pushed up high above ground with the collision of tectonic plates, but up with the great granite slabs came stretches of other types of soil such as the ultrabasic soil on which stunted vegetation was observed during the climb. Ultrabasic soils contain high concentrations of heavy metals which are toxic to plants. Hence only a few species could adapt to this kind of substrate. While weathered down granitic soil is still pretty infertile, plants are nevertheless not subject to toxic stress, hence the vegetation are taller than on ultrabasic/ultramafic soils.

We also learnt that vegetation still gets shorter and increasingly stunted with increasing altitude even on non-ultrabasic soil due to higher wind speeds. Eventually, beyond the alpine zone, vegetation becomes no more than just some grasses and scattered shrubs rooted in cracks and crannies.

We then tried to hunt around our area for insects or other arthropods. The search was arduous and limb-risking. Here’s a video of Alan’s heroic and relentless struggle to spider-crawl up a steep surface, with Ling foiling his plans to grab a handhold.

Lunch was prepared in plastic boxes for us to spend the afternoon outside hunting for our taxon and cooking up some researchable ecological questions to ask about high elevation biology. We wrapped up the day sharing the questions we had come up with.

Ben came across a granite slab somewhere near the resthouse overlooking a breathtaking view. Interestingly, on this slab was erected a green marble slate with some Chinese and Korean-like characters carved onto it. Piqued with curiosity, Shreekant, Noor and I followed Ben to the spot. Reading the Chinese words, I told them on one side was a declaration of some stanza from the Saddharma-pundarika Sutra and the Avatamsaka Sutra (commonly known as the Lotus Sutra and the Flower Ornament Sutra) from Mahayana Buddhist scripture. The other characters were probably not Korean. I though they were Sanskrit, the language in which Mahayana scripture was recorded but Shreekant disagreed, and I think he would definitely have been able to recognise Sanskrit, so I must have guessed wrongly. The Chinese characters transliterated:

If one wishes to understand and know
All Awakened from Past, Present and Future
[One] should contemplate the nature of the world of phenomena
[As] all constructed from the mind

The four of us sat down to a semi-philosophical discussion. It was interesting with Shreekant raised as a Hindu but currently an Atheist, Noor raised from a Sufi-Muslim background but currently suffering from pangs of Nihilism, and Ben raised as a Catholic but currently also exploring Hindu and Buddhist ideas. My own family was the typical Chinese, half-secular, pray-to-all-gods-when-you-are-in-trouble kind, but I explored Buddhism, Taoism and Christian philosophies on my own, eventually committing to Buddhism. We came to the same conclusion: that metaphysics was, is and may always be an inconclusive discourse, but the priority in life should be to seek the path towards quiet contentment and non-destructive happiness.

As I retired for the night, I could feel the anticipation and dread for tomorrow’s climb to the peak gnawing at the edges of my gall bladder. Would I make it there and back in one piece? Or would my anaemic blood get the better of me? Would I have the strength of mind-over-matter to see the sunrise over Southeast Asia’s highest peak? Or would my weak mind break and run, leaving my body stranded on some steep cliff somewhere in the early morning wind?

In nine hours, time will tell.

On top of the world (25 July, Edna)

Published: Mon, 25 Aug 2008 07:01:40

First of all, lets review my last blog. We went to Niah Cave , got stung by a wasp (plus Min Sheng placed a horrible photo of me online), saw a lot of bats, examine biodiversity of a limestone cave, and did our first project proposals.

Before we go to the best part, let me tell you what happened in the last few days. The last few days were very hectic. On Sunday, we flew to Sandakan, watched some Orang Utans, went to the Rainforest Discovery Center and had an endless drive to Deramakot. The next day, we witness a tree fall, which was quite sad. But whats exxciting for that day was the night drive. Our group, Ayu, Karl, Kwek, Alan, Eni and me was very fortunate to witness a mammal (fox-cat-wild cat?? O_o) pass infront of our car. Other groups saw slow loris, owls, tembadau and some other wild animals. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of elephants or orang utans, but we were unlucky that day.

Then, our next adventure begins, we’re off to Ranau in a mission to conquer the highest mountain in between the Himalayas and PNG, Mount Kinabalu. We stayed for a night at the headquarter, then we head to Laban Rata. The next day was spent exploring the area around the Laban Rata Resthouse. Then, at 2.30 a.m begins the journey of a lifetime, the brave journey to the summit. Some of us, including me decided to go earlier because we figured, we were so slow.. if we started at the same time as everyone else, we will reach the peak by midnight, heheee 😛 (at least that was what I think). The hike was so challenging. There were some parts that were soo steep that we need to use ropes for support.

I was walking so slow that the other pass by me. First it was Santiago, Nayana and Noor (who managed to be the first to reach Low’s Peak), then there was Cam, Karl and Anna, then it was every one else. After I passed the Sayat-Sayat hut, I met Ayu who was also like me, struggling with ourselves to complete the challenge. But thankfully there was also Will and Justine who was very supportive. Will keep motivating us, saying all these very encouraging words, and so was Justine who has been cheering for me ever since the climb up from Timpohon Gate (million of thanks guys, thank you so soo much). We were hoping to reach Low’s peak before sunrise, but we couldn’t reach it before time. But none the less, we managed to reach the summit, we all did (yay for us V(^_^)V, we did it). The scenery up there was magnificent, spectacular, so serene and beautiful, so…. (insert every word to describe beauty). We stayed up the for about 10 minutes, took some great photos and the head back down to Laban Rata. It was soo cold up there, I felt like I’m freezing to death. On our way down, Cam passed us by and pointed out a very small patch of a red rhododendron tree, which reminded us we were not only climbing for fun, but also to study the biology here. The way down was was scarier than the way up. Because we went up before daylight, we didn’t notice the very steep trail that we have to go through.

Me, Kwek, Eni and Dwi was chatting all the way down, plus singing a few Chinese songs and songs about hot Milos. As soon as we reach the rest house, we have our breakfast and Kwek finally got his hot Milo. Now, we must complete another challenge, to walk back down to Timpohon Gate (another 6 km). The fast group went up before us, and Ayu, Kwek and me decided to go very, very slow. First it was just the three of us, then we met Wan. Then then we met Shreekant. By the third Km, Ayu, Wan and Shreekant decided to go first and then it was left to just me and Kwek. Kwek went up ahead of me because my knees hurt so much I couldn’t walk any faster. We were both looking forward to the end and have a toast of 100 plus. But, before the Carson waterfall, Justine, Cindy, Ling and Santiago managed to catch up, and all of us reached Timpohon Gate before 4.00 pm. Wilson arranged a late lunch for us at th Balsam cafe and then all of us went back to KK, couldn’t wait for the hot shower and comfy bed. Hopefully my legs will be okay within the next few days.

Awkward Walk (26 July, Ayu)

Published: Mon, 08 Sep 2008 06:31:32

I still can’t believe I had, in fact, we all, had successfully climbed the second highest mountain in South East Asia (4,095.2m a.s.l.), Mount Kinabalu. On the way back to KK, I saw this advertisement billboard with Low’s Peak picture and I still couldn’t believe that I was at that place yesterday morning..

I brought up this blog title with “Awkward Walk” to describe where this awkward walk came from and how BoBers spend their first rest day in KK with that kind of “walk”.

Edna wrote and described in BoB previous on how we’ve climbed up and down Mount Kinabalu. On the same day we climbed up to the peak from Laban Rata (from 3,290m a.s.l. to 4,095m a.s.l., its about 2.5 km walk and 4 hours climbed for me and 2.5-3 hours climbed for Santiago, Karl, Anna and several fast people), we also had to climbed down from peak to the gate (from 4,095m a.s.l. to 1,800m a.s.l., its about 9 hours walk/climbing down for 8.5-9 km distance). I really amazed with what I’ve done that day, and I’m sure all BoBers also amazed by themselves.

After we walked through the “never ending stairs” in Mount Kinabalu, this was the results for our legs – we all had awkward walk in the next couple of days. Let me describe: we could hardly stand up and sits down, couldn’t manage to walk properly and, of course, we couldn’t even run or walk up/down stairs. Well actually we can, but it hurts a lot.

So today, our feet and leg are really hurt. But what interesting is, almost all of us just couldn’t stay in the hotel. So we decided to have some fun in Center Point by watching movies.. We walked to the mall and I really surprised that we didn’t take a cab. The craziest thing was when Karl gave this idea that we have to exercise our leg by taking the crossing bridge.. And we (me, Ling, Heny, Justine, Cindy, Wan and several other BoBers) actually followed his suggestion.. unbelievable! Finally we arrived safely at the mall. Most of Bob took their lunches first, so me and Justine volunteered to buy ticket because the movie starts almost 15 minutes later. We decided to watch Red Cliff, a Chinese epic war movie starring Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro (famous Asian actors). Since it was a Chinese movie and we were all in a Malay-speaking country, we wondered if the movie has English subtitles, not just Malay. There was a little bit chaos at the box-office. We wanted to know whether the movie has English subtitles or not but the ticket seller wasn’t sure. Nevertheless we still bought ticket and took the risk to watched the movie without any idea if there were subtitles that we can understand. Almost all 16 of us were amazed by the movie, except for MSG, Ben and Kwek who thought the movie was corny. And the movie actually had English subtitles, thank you.. After finished the movie, we spread out. Some went back to hotel, some just went around the mall to wait for dinner and some did more exercise with their legs. Wan and I had a duel of DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) in a game arcade, and this time he successfully defeated me (see video for our last duel). After playing several songs, Karl and Shreekant decided to join. As for Ling and Justine, they convinced themselves not to hurt their leg and just be cheerleaders.

I really enjoy this day very much. Even thought we have a leg ache and awkward walk, we could still spent a wonderful time together. And one thing that I learned from today is, never play DDR nor do any dance after climbing 4000meter-mountain!

Rest day in KK (27 July, Eni)

Published: Tue, 26 Aug 2008 05:27:21

Biru-Biru Gunung Kinabalu, Tengok dari Jauh, Hati Saya Rindu…. The Blue Mount Kinabalu, See You from Far Away, My Heart Misses You… (Edna, Ling, or Wan, please correct me if I am wrong) The line above is the last part of the ‘Gunung Kinabalu’ song learned from Jovi and Aless (we miss you! And Clement!) on Gaya Island when we were sitting facing the highest place in Borneo across the sea. I proudly restated that we all (BoB) were on TOP of it two days ago and we got colorful certificates! See the certificate above and guess how many different species appear on it. Nepenthes! (ask Wan for detailed information) Orchid! Rhododendron!

Buttercup! What else? O.o.o. I see a bird. Can you identify them into species level? I am sure Nayana, Ayu, Shreekant, or Min Sheng (who knows almost everything as far as I am concerned 🙂 must be able to identify it.

Today is the second perfect rest day with luxurious hot shower. Ignoring all the pain over our bodies, we don’t want to miss what only civilization can offer us ( shopping, eating cereals, chatting, browsing, calling, dancing, sleeping?, etc.) before going to Maliau Basin, Sabah’s “Lost World”, tomorrow for ten days! So sorry to interrupt the perfect rest, BoB. This is Harvard Field Course, so somehow we had two lectures this evening 😉 Both lectures are very inspiring. The first was about integrated approach to wildlife conservation in Sabah, Malaysia, by Marc Ancrenaz from HUTAN — a French NGO. One of the projects is the Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project (KOCP). Common threats for wildlife are habitat loss and degradation, habitat fragmentation, poaching, and killing. The project started from the creation of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary where local community are involved. Then they predicted Orang Utan population extinction and various possibility of management. Since local community involvement play an important role in the success of conservation effort, they also have established community-based nursery for habitat restoration and community-based wildlife conflict unit. Raising awareness, nature education, and building local capabilities have also been their concerns.

Sabah has unique wildlife abundance and diversity. There are other wildlife that endemic to Borneo; for example, proboscis monkey and Borneo pygmy elephant. We haven’t been very lucky to see them 🙁 Borneo elephant are genetically distinct, with molecular divergence indicative of a Pleistocene colonization of Borneo and subsequent isolation. Their genetic distinctiveness makes them a high priority population for Asia Elephant conservation.

The second lecture was by Cynthia Ong from Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP). The objective of LEAP is to bridge the two worlds; global north and global south. What GREEN is for global north may differ for global south. She gave us an example of palm oil. For some people in north area, using palm oil as biofuel may sound very green, whereas for south area, where the oil palms are planted in a vast area and have converted the tropical rain forest, palm oil is not GREEN. Seeing the potential gap, LEAP are facilitating and moderating relationship of the two worlds along with building a common knowledge on local level. They are also seriously explored the carbon funding issues, what is possible for Sabah. LEAP has worked hard to create a meeting attended by decision makers of global north and global south. It still takes a long journey and huge effort towards forest carbon credit.

So nice to know that there are various efforts done by many people with different background and motivation to save the tropical rain forest and its biodiversity! I hope to, want to, and must be part of the effort!

Travel to Maliau Basin (28 July, Greg)

Published: Tue, 26 Aug 2008 08:34:58

Another early morning on the road for the BOB ’08 crew, we left the Kinabalu Daya Hotel, our home away from home here in Borneo, at 5:30 in the morning. Everyone was suspiciously tired after a two day rest period in Kota Kinabalu, and the topic of conversation was still how sore everyone’s legs were from the hike down Mt. Kinabalu. Although, we were all grumbling about how early it was, you could feel the excitement and anticipation of our impending journey to Maliau Basin and the adventure that was sure to come!

The trip was not easy; the first leg was a short flight to Tawau where we then boarded 4×4’s for the 5 hour drive the rest of the way. At first I was unsure why we needed the 4×4 as the roads from the airport to Tawau were quite new. Once we left Tawau the need for the 4×4’s became apparent as the roads got progressively muddier and more difficult. As we got closer to Maliau the roads went from passable logging roads to a series of connected mud pits. The drivers did an excellent job of keeping us from getting stuck. It was a very bumpy but fun ride; let’s just say no one in my truck was sleeping. Much of the ride was dominated by the constant view of palm oil, but once we got closer to Maliau, there were some magnificent views of secondary forest.

An especially exciting treat was a glimpse we got of a helicopter logging operation in action. We came around a corner to see a helicopter towing a giant log through the air. We then were able to follow the helicopter to where it had landed and were able to get a few good pictures of it. This was a truly massive helicopter. Cam informed us that although it may seem like an ideal form of RIL (Reduced Impact Logging) to use a helicopter to pull logs out of the forest, instead of creating a bunch of skid trail with bulldozers, it is in fact very destructive. The helicopters require a 20 meter radius be cleared around the trees that they are lifting in order to keep from being entangled. So this technique leaves large clearings throughout the areas being logged. Taking a 60 meter tall dipterocarp tree out of the forest is simply not something that can be done without causing a great deal of destruction.

The long drive was broken up by a stop at the Maliau Welcome center where we got information about Maliau Basin, our hiking route and where we would be staying. This is also where Alan, Qwek and Min Sheng planned out their invasion of Maliau.

As we arrived to the place that we would call home for the next nine days we were greeted by afternoon tea and snacks, and a magnificent deck where we were able to sit and look out to the ridge of Maliau Basin. One of the first things that you notice from this deck is a beautiful, massive strangling fig tree that long ago killed it’s host tree. There are two of the biggest epiphytes I have ever seen in it, this tree is strangely captivating and I have found myself staring at it in amazement. It was also on this deck that I and many of us saw our first hornbill! As we were mingling and enjoying the view two Pied Hornbills fly over and landed on a tree less the 40 meters away and we were all able to get an excellent view. I can tell that this deck is going to be one of my favorite places to relax in the evenings.

To hike or not to hike? (29 July, Justine)

Published: Thu, 28 Aug 2008 03:54:41

We started the first part of our trip at the Maliau Basin Studies Center, packed our gear, and enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast. Some of us were debating over whether we could have used more time to recover from Mt. Kinabaluâ… more specifically, the hike down, which left a lasting ache in some of our legs every time we had to lift them. My legs were doing surprisingly better than some others’ (Shreekant had been envious of the fact that I could actually skip without flinching), and when Cam gathered everyone for a vote as to whether the Maliau 3-day hike should be delayed to after the projects or done before the projects, I voted for keeping the hike according to plan. However, we had a tie and needed to run back and get some students from the dorms; during this delay I changed my mind, and in the second vote decided that it might be better to push the hike to after the projects and not have to stress about thinking of a good project idea while on the hike. Ling and I were the only ones that voted this way in the final vote, with more than half voting to keep the hike the way it was scheduled, and everyone else abstaining.

With the original schedule winning over the votes, we rushed to get our gear, trying to keep to the original plan of leaving at around 9AM. We took a group photo (the “before” picture!) and said goodbye to Karl, who was pretty sick and needed to stay and rest. Dwi was also sick, but said he was feeling better that day and made a last-minute decision to go on the hike. I hope both of them will get better soon!

We started off on a road that logging vehicles used, so it was a nice easy walk from the road and through a flat forest. I managed to catch three dragonflies for Karl, including a mating pair, and Santiago helped me get them out of the net and take their pictures. We found out the males were pretty aggressive here and the male from the mating pair actually bit Santiago! Poor Santiago has been bitten by quite a lot… Soon we got to some daunting slopes with lots of slippery mud that seemed to go on for forever. It was very hard for me to find good footholds, and I slid down the slopes more times than I could keep track of. I felt like Alan when he was trying to climb up the slope at Mt. Kinabalu. The guides were able to climb up the slopes very quickly and I think they were probably laughing at us as they held our hands and told us where to step and what to grab onto. I managed to get a glimpse of a barking deer running somewhere below the slopes before I slid and lost all the progress I had made from the previous twenty minutes or so. By the time we reached the end of the long series of slopes, my pants were caked with mud from sliding down so many times. Quite exhausted, we had lunch all together, and we all agreed that the orange in the pack lunch was the most delicious orange we had ever eaten.

The rest of the trip included some more steep areas, but no more unending stretches of mud-slopes. It was still extremely exhausting for me, and I got really worried when it started raining. I usually really enjoy rain, coming from Los Angeles where it doesn’t rain much, but in the rainforest it was pouring so heavily it seemed as if thick gauze was in front of my eyes, and it didn’t help that my glasses were fogging up very badly as well. I don’t remember much from the last part of the hike, except that at one point Alan and I were stumbling along the forest, both with blurred vision because of our glasses and the rain, when Cam suddenly appears out of nowhere with a big smile on his face and offers us butterscotch candy. We also got to hug a beautiful, towering Agathis tree, which we discovered takes three people to comfortably hug. At this point I think we concluded that we were going a little crazy, and tried to get back to camp and quickly as possible. The camp was a beautiful sight, and walking on the cool, smooth, solid, wooden planks in my bare feet instead of feeling the squishing of mud and leeches in my shoes was a wonderful feeling. Some of us went to take a bath along a stream nearby, where I felt small biting/pinching things in the water. (I was disappointed the next day, when I discovered that they were fish and not shrimp.) While waiting for dinner, we listened to Kwek’s ghost stories and played Mafia in the dark. Once the food came out, we all devoured it ravenously, and none of us felt like there was enough. Still, it tasted like the best dinner ever, and as we headed toward our cots, we noticed that the stars were amazingly bright without any light pollution around. It was beautiful, and it was something that was especially amazing to me, since the Los Angeles and Boston night skies are incomparably dim. Most of us went straight to sleep, and I have to thank Ayu for not letting me sleep in the wrong direction even though I was too tired to care; with my head facing the leech-covered wall, my forehead would have been covered in leeches by morning.

An eventful rest day (30 July, Karl)

Published: Mon, 01 Sep 2008 16:01:59

Today marked our second full day at Maliau. The class is halfway into a three day hike through the basin and is today hiking to the Maliau Falls before continuing to Seraya Camp where they will spend the night. I’m currently back at the Maliau Basin Studies Center (MBSC) recovering from an illness that has stuck with me through most of the trip. At breakfast I said goodbye to a friendly group of Malaysians on vacation from Kuala Lumpur. They had been around the study center for the last two days after a four day hike around the basin, and were leaving for home.

Breakfast was promptly followed by a journey back to the hostel accommodations to nap for a few more hours.

After lunch I had an eventful afternoon on the trails near the study center. I was accompanied by Bobby, one of the park rangers. The nature trail, which runs through unlogged forest was well marked with signs teaching about the plants in the area. Of special note was a large Belian tree (Eusideroxylon zwageri), a slow growing ironwood highly valued as timber. The Maliau Conservation Area is trying to preserve the tree species. Several young small Belian trees can be seen planted along the road leading to the trail in an effort to ensure that the species does not disappear. The event of the day occurred along a side trail on the way back to the study center. Thanks to the great eyes of Bobby, we were able to see a GIBBON! Unfortunately, a frontal view and pictures were elusive as the gibbon was swinging away on the branches overhead.

Both trails were full of leaches, and despite wearing leach socks, they still managed to find their ways to your arms or attach themselves to your boots. At least 8 if not more leaches managed to bite me throughout the day. After coming back from the afternoon trails I managed to snap some great shots of about 5 different species of dragonflies, my focal taxon, found around the study center, In the evening around 5pm we journeyed to the sky bridge in the hope of seeing some birds. Unfortunately, very few were spotted. I hear that the morning hours 5:30-7 are the best time for spotting birds and will definitely try to go out early one of the next few mornings. On the evening stroll we did hear a Rhinoceros hornbill, and a wild boar, just off the path. The wild life is certainly out there, perhaps will have to luck to see some fantastic sights before we leave!

At dinner I met Shawn Lum, one of our last lecturers who had just arrived today. He was preparing to join a friendly Dutch family on a night drive in the hopes of spotting mammals.

Maliau Falls, conquered! (31 July)

Published: Wed, 03 Sep 2008 02:15:59

The hikers left Ginseng Camp early in hopes of getting to Maliau Falls around noon, and Seraya Camp by nightfall.

Not far from Ginseng Camp, some spotted an excavated Gaharu tree (Aquilaria sp.), which resinous heartwood (agarwood) is highly sought after and fetch up to USD 30,000 per kg! According to one of the guides the agarwood poachers might be from Thailand. Not hard to imagine the demand for these trees caused people to travel thousand of miles but it’s also worrying that a conservation area as remote as Maliau is vulnerable to such intrusion. It is, indeed, difficult to patrol even the main trails, let alone the whole 58,840-ha basin.

The group also stopped for a photo break at the viewpoint near Lobah Camp. When we looked into the basin, it was mind-boggling to learn that we were only skimming along the edge of the core conservation area, despite hiking for some distance and through some treacherous terrains!

Not too long later, Maliau Falls!

While some took a chance to rest/recharge or engaged in some spiritual training..

some were goofing around in the river 😀

After some rest/sleep/meditation/soul-searching/photo-taking/fun/food, it was time to hike again! Of course, not without some interesting terrains.

A skull of Sambar Deer (?) was found on the trail. The spirit was still strong that it transformed anyone who touched it into some deer-like creatures!

Finally, all reached Seraya Camp safely. What would be a better way to wash away dirt and exhaustion than this? Water wars!

Not forgetting that we had probably the BEST dinner of the whole trip that night, while having some unwelcome visitors – the forest fire ants 😮

Nevertheless, I believe most had a good sleep that night, from all the walking and falling. There was hardly any snore heard!

The BoBers return to Human Civilization (31 July, Shreekant)

Published: Mon, 08 Sep 2008 10:02:10

It’s the third and the final day of our incredible hike through the Lost World. I had “mixed feelings” (Alan, sorry for using your phrase without taking your permission) about leaving this amazing place. On one hand I was glad that I was leaving behind all those leeches and mosquitoes; but on the other hand — it would also mean I would no more have the luxuries of living in the WILD! The previous couple of days had been absolutely exhausting, but equally thrilling (can one forget the cliffs and those slippery slopes and dips in the tannin-rich waterfalls?) … Sadly enough, it was time to say adieu.

We managed to wake up fairly early (?) and wind up our hammocks and tents. I was really amazed upon finding out that our guides had carried our hammocks and tents all the way from the Studies Centre! I’m sure everyone was more than relieved to discover, that the fire-ants which had invaded our camp the earlier night had vanished; just as mysteriously as they had appeared. Rebbecca (a.k.a. Katherine) woke up to find a very pretty leech-bite on her forehead, of which she was reminded time and again, by everyone on the camp! After having a quick snack we were on our way back to human-civilization!

I believe this was one of the toughest days on the course — at least physically. We encountered 3 incredibly long uphill-climbs with a steady slope of about 40 degrees. Before starting our descent we had our lunch/mid-day snack. Min Sheng pointed out an interesting Annonaceae plant with fruits (refer photo) — that seemed to almost instantaneously oxidize and turn brown upon cutting open.

On the way back, most people were surprisingly quiet. I believe it was all the fatigue and maybe also the concentration that everyone was putting into their hiking… Especially on the last couple of kilometers, I felt that each hiker was just as eager as me to jump into the shower and was hence quickening their paces as we approached the camp. A sense of great achievement surrounded me as I climbed the steps to our dorm :). Much of the rest of the day was spent relaxing and napping on the comfy couches. The joy and satisfaction of having completed the hike can only be summed up in Min Sheng’s picture… Words certainly won’t do enough justice.

The day ended with Cam briefing us on upcoming programs, and chocolates brought to us by Shawn!

For the creature of the day, here is a Tiger-mantis for you guys! (that’s my hand 🙂

I thank MSG for letting me use his pictures in the blog 🙂

Rest day and Proposal… (1 Aug, Wan)

Published: Tue, 09 Sep 2008 02:15:40

Today is our “rest day”, after a three-day-hike to Maliau Falls and back to the Maliau Basin Study Centre. Most of us woke up quite late than usual for breakfast. Some of us were still tired from the so-called “easy hike”. We rested physically, but our brain keep on thinking about what we are going to do for the project. Some were thinking about doing an extension study from the previous project that we had in Lambir Hills National Park. Some even thinking about doing a reassessment of last year course project. It was a tense, hard moment as we needed to think of a project title and form a group which consist of either two or three members (or simply work individually).

After lunch, we all went to the forest trails and the Maliau Skybridge to observe the surroundings as we could not really do that on our hike. We were way too tired that time. Most of us got the idea on what we were going to do for the project after we went to the forest and started to form groups based on collective interest on particular organism.

After dinner, we had a lecture on “Seed Dispersal” by Min Sheng. We learned that seed dispersal is one way of population expansion, a movement away from the existing population. This can be done in many way like the gravity force, mechanical (ballistichory), wind (anemochory), water (hydrochory) and animal (zoochory). Zoochory can be divided into two which are epizoochory (using the external part of the animal body) and endozoochory (using the internal body part of the animal). Frugivorous animals which acted as seed dispersing agents can be diverse in body size and diet, locomotive and sensory capabilities, fruit and seed handling techniques, digestive physiology, gut passage times and ranging behavior, all of which interacted and resulted in different dispersal scenarios. However, not all animals that feed on fruits are dispersers. Many are merely seed predators (see photo below for example :D). Seed dispersal is not as easy as it seems. It took some time for the plant to evolve to find a good way to disperse the seeds.

Tomorrow will be the time for us to prepare and present the proposal. We all rested before we start a busy, hectic day on the project, again…

Project and discussion day at Maliau (3 Aug, Cindy)

Published: Thu, 11 Sep 2008 16:34:13

Today was the first project day, and we all split up into our project teams to begin our work; as such, I here note only the doings of my project group (consisting of Justine, Alan, and me). The other groups must have had exciting first days as well, but, sadly, I can’t tell you about them.

It was an early day for the group affectionately (or not so) dubbed “Team Stinky” following the unveiling of our project proposals yesterday. As part of our experimental design, we’ve determined rather grudgingly that we need to be up at 6am on each of the project days to set traps filled with stinking rotten food (recycled, you might say, from the kitchens here at Maliau) at previously arranged sites along the canopy walkway. Our project compares scavenger composition, abundance, and diversity between the forest understory and canopy, and we have four traps in total, two for the canopy and two for the understory (we would have had more, but it took us an entire day just to make four of them, since our materials were limited to plastic Glad® bags, plastic cups, duct tape, and some wire).

And so, at 6am, Justine — who seems uncannily unaffected by early mornings — awoke and roused me and Alan. Yawning and resigned to the fact that we would be doing this for three days, we headed to the kitchen to see if we could communicate our somewhat unusual request for rotting food to the staff there.

We had realized that procuring the rotten bait for our traps might be difficult, as none of Team Stinky speaks Malay, and it is hard to convey with hand gestures that you actually need rotting meat and fruit (unlike any normal person who might show up at the kitchen before breakfast has been served). In anticipation of this, we asked Min Sheng last night to translate a few key words into Malay for us, which he did in an amused but mildly disgusted way. Armed with this vocabulary, we none too confidently approached one of the kitchen staff, greeting him with a hesitant “Selamat pagi!” (“Good morning!”), and attempted to convey our request. He looked at us a bit confusedly (understandably) and asked us something in Malay, the meaning of which was of course lost to us, and so we gave up and just handed him the notebook with the Malay words written there. After staring at it for a few moments, he made a sort of “aha” noise and walked into the back of the kitchen where we couldn’t see him, reemerging a few minutes later with several plastic baggies containing some very smelly lumps of what had once been honeydew, cantaloupe, spinach, and a squid-fish paste. There was no chicken, he said (we understood that much), which was why he had brought out the squid-fish mixture instead. We thanked him several times (“Terima kasih, terima kasih!”) and he nodded and waved as we left the eating area, trying to ignore the horrible smell coming from the bags.

I don’t think the walk down the road leading to the entrances to the forest trails and to the bridge connecting to the canopy walkway ever seemed so long as it did this morning, as we made our way through enormous mud puddles formed by rainwater collected in deep tire gouges on the dirt road, carrying a large black garbage bag with all our equipment in it, not to mention another bag containing the second most disgusting thing we could think of (we had unanimously decided against using dung), and early enough in the morning that the light still seemed dewy and newborn and the heat of the day hadn’t yet settled into the air. Still, the mood was light — it couldn’t be anything else, we had Alan — and we were able to enjoy the view of the sun coming in still low over the Maliau River as we passed over the bridge.

Upon reaching the other side, we braced ourselves and walked into leech territory.

The first trap took the longest, of course; we had a bit of difficulty tying it to its post, as it tended to collapse in on itself quite a bit, being made mostly of plastic and duct tape. Eventually we got it set up to our satisfaction, finished the nasty business of inserting the plastic cup containing the actual rotten food, checked ourselves for leeches, and went about setting the other three traps. They, thankfully, which went much faster. The whole process took about an hour, which we considered to be very good time, considering the hours some of the other groups are putting in (I believe the birdwatching group is going out for two or three hours in the morning and the evening, and I don’t even know how much time the group studying dragonfly territories has to spend in their observations).

Relieved to be done with the first round of trap-setting, we headed back to our dormitory building to shower, as the smell of the squid was getting to be overpowering, and the increasing heat didn’t help at all. After our showers we made the dismaying discovery that the squid smell was still sticking to us. Team Stinky was banished to the back of the conference room to protect the noses of the innocent.

During much of the hottest part of the day, while the other project groups were out in the field, the three of us stayed in the conference room and, since we had only just set up our first round of traps and had no specimens to sort or data to analyze, attempted to make sense of our focal taxon data. The goal is to condense it all into a character matrix and, ultimately, display it in the form of a morphological phylogeny using the software Mesquite. Justine and I, being somewhat nerds, distracted ourselves from the actual task by creating character matrices for “types of cake” and “types of dessert pastries”, leading to phylogenies of the said “taxa”, while Alan did real work and shook his head at us. As the day progressed, the groups signed out on the whiteboard increased in number, their location statuses becoming more and more complex and bizarre, and students wandered in and out of the conference room as their project schedules dictated. Whenever we entered or exited the conference room, we had to watch our step, as Leech Group (Ling, Katherine, and Karl) were working in the open area in front of it. Chinese pop music permeated the air inside the conference room, emanating from certain culprits’ computers. Team Stinky was generally avoided, though when approached, would be greeted with, “Hey, what’s that smell?”

About an hour before sunset we returned to the canopy walkway to collect the day’s catch and reset the traps.

This, we soon discovered, was in fact even more disgusting than setting them had been, as we now had to walk all the way back carrying plastic Glad® bags enclosing various small insects as well as the stinking bait cups. A small drizzle descended upon us as we approached the building complex and soon turned into one of those heavy downpours in which the raindrops resemble thick needles coming down and look like they might inflict severe injuries, in addition to completely saturating you within a minute; but this was not of great consequence to Team Stinky, as we were required to shower again before heading to dinner anyway — though, once again, mere soap and water were no match against the odor of rotting squid.

Following dinner, Cam led us in a very important discussion of something he called “Nature’s Rights vs. Human Rights”. “Nature’s rights”, he explained, means the set of intrinsic rights that individuals in nature — i.e., all living organisms — need in order to exist, in the same way that human rights means those that humans need to exist. Or perhaps more simply put, it means that nature itself has a right to exist, just as humans do. The topic of discussion asked both whether we believed that nature had rights, and if we did, whether we considered nature’s rights or human rights our top priority. The question was posed: “Why should we conserve? We do it, we know it’s a good thing, but why is it a good thing?” A few people responded immediately; others thought about it a while before giving their opinions; some would not have said anything at all, except that Cam called on them to speak because he wanted to hear everyone’s thoughts. The responses covered a range of topics, as the discussion often strayed into the question of how best to go about conservation, rather than why. One of the major issues identified there was the problem, when considering carbon credits and other kinds of credits, of distributing money paid for credits to the local communities who were doing the actual work, as the tendency is for little to none of it to be left after it has trickled through various levels of government. One student looked at the question from an economics perspective, saying that until conservation and environmentally safe practices become profitable for major companies and the like, current trends will not change. As for whether nature’s rights exist, one of us described their conception of nature as being a “toolbox” containing knowledge that we could use to do many things, though we have only discovered a very small part of what it holds. Another spoke of their lack of belief in any institutionalized religion, instead believing in nature itself as their take on religion. The great majority of people on Earth would probably consider Nature not to have rights, at least not in the same way as humans do; although, of course, the answer to the question is different for every person. Tonight’s discussion, though officially limited to 1.5 hours, left many of us thinking and sharing ideas well after it ended — as, I’m sure, it was intended to.

[Added by MS – out of interest (and confusion!), Shreekant also did a small summary of the discussion:

At the end of the day, we had a very interesting discussion-cum-debate on “Nature’s rights Vs. Human rights in conservation”. The whole panel was sort of divided into two groups — depending on whether they favored Nature’s rights or Human-rights. The discussion did drift off to other areas too, but it was nice to have those questions out in the open. We touched upon various issues. (Please leave a comment if you guys remember any issue that I may have missed.) Few of them are:

  1. Does Nature really have rights? And if you believe it does, would you use it as the main reason to argue for conservation? Or even sacrifice your own rights to uphold Nature’s rights?
  2. Does man have a moral responsibility to be a steward on this planet? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  3. What is the effect of the enormous human population today’s scenario of conservation?
  4. Is considering Nature- and Human-rights as two different things the right way to approach this issue?
  5. What are the factors leading to human-animal conflicts? And how can this problem be solved?
  6. How does the attitude towards solving this problem change, if one is from a developing country as opposed to a developed country? Think of the definition of “development” when considering these questions, e.g. economic development, social development, etc.

We concluded the discussion by a final question from a BoBers: When you get back home, what is the one thing that you would do to mitigate human-mediated impact on this planet? … To which we received some interesting answers:

and a more interesting answer ……..

2nd Project Day!! (4 Aug, Ling)

Published: Sat, 13 Sep 2008 01:52:36

After the discussion on human rights vs. nature rights yesterday, early in the morning, I could still hear students and TF discussed about this “hot topic”. For me, I do agree with Cam that, human does have some sort of responsibilities to protect nature from being exploited, as we are the one who caused it. I really do hope that we can conserve what we have now, not only for our future generation but also for all the living creatures out there.

For our last project, my group (Karl, Katherine and I), chose to do research on leeches. The most annoying animal when we did our hike two days ago. Poor Katherine, she being bitten by a leech while she asleep at Seraya Camp. So, I am really impressed by her courage to take up this project.

We did two trials for heat experiment yesterday. Today, after breakfast, we continued our third trial for heat experiment. It seem that all the leeches, either had no response to the heat or they were too stressed up, as we kept them inside a “leech aquarium” overnight. Today the leeches show totally random behaviour as opposed to yesterday. So after discussion, we decided to catch new leeches, hope that they are still fresh and can respond to the heated cup. Katherine and I went to hunt for leeches again, and Karl stayed back to design new experiment in testing leeches’ response to movement. We managed to catch more than 20 leeches today. I think almost all the leeches on the trail near the Study Centre were caught by us (we had actually caught 45 leeches yesterday!). On our way back to the centre, we met the “lichens group”. They were on their way to collect their field data. Then we met the “dragonflies group”. They were counting the number of perching of their subjects (dragonflies). After we were back, we tested the fresh leeches for the same experiment, but the result was the same as this morning. Many questions came out from our mind. We then seek advices from Shawn, Santiago and finally Cam. All the advises will be taken into consideration for our analysis tomorrow. Next we moved on to the movement experiment. Amazingly we finished all three trials earlier than expected. It really made us feel much more relieved. The “epiphyte group” (Anna, Greg and Wan) have done their data collection yesterday and continued on their analysis today. The “stinky group” (Alan, Cindy and Justine) were collecting all the insects from their traps today. The rotten meats and fruits (used as bait) were really stink. It attracted lot of flies and ants. There were even maggots growing in the traps. For the “Munias group” (Ayu and Shreekant), they had collected more than 700 readings today for the behavior of the Munias. The Munias really very active here.

After dinner, we had our last lecture by Shawn Lum. Before the lecture, Cam distributed the feedback forms to each of us for our comments on this course. This course has been really awesome! I really enjoyed myself here and learned a lot. Especially it refreshed my memories of what I had learned two years ago during my University time. The last lecture by Shawn was on phylogeography, the relationship between history and distributions of species. It was a very informative and intensive lecture. We all ended the lecture with a loud applause for Shawn. This course is almost ending and I am gonna miss you guys. All the best!!

From Maliau back to KK (6 Aug, Noor)

Published: Wed, 17 Sep 2008 12:24:33

Today we bid farewell to the majestic Maliau Basin, which rivaled or exceeded the great Mt. Kinabalu in the challenges it posed for us. Our research complete, and the end now sadly in sight, we started the day at a reasonable time — even late, compared to our other travel days — eating, loading the 4x4s, and departing AFTER sunrise.

The original plan after departing was to visit an IKEA restoration project in the area, then visit Tawau for the day before our evening flight back to KK. The first departure from this plan was the cancellation of our IKEA project visit, which, on the upside, meant that we would have more time to explore Tawau. The second departure was rather less inoffensive…

The road from Maliau epitomized the difficulties that go hand in hand with 4x4s and the wilderness. The rides before this had been less than luxurious, but this time, I made the mistake of deferring to Ayu when it came to choosing a vehicle. Squeezing into the back of a pickup truck, the most cramped of the vehicles, I realized soon that any discomforts would be amplified. On the up side, the roughness of the dusty, rocky roads was something we had already learned to take for granted, and we know now that the thick heat that AC can never manage to suppress is just part and parcel of this place. So, in my iron cradle, I found myself slipping in and out of consciousness, unaware as the car was slipping to the back of the caravan.

I next woke to find us on the side of the road with both the doors and the hood open. I don’t really have a sense of how long we’d been there, but from the sweat dripping of the others (and myself), I guessed that it might have been some time. Apparently, something went wrong with the power steering, perhaps among other things, and we were incapacitated. I’m not really clear as to whether we ever contacted the others (and if so, how) or they just realized we were missing and sent a car back, but after an endless wait, help came. The two drivers, ours and the other, worked together to get us moving again.

We arrived at our planned lunch stop just as everybody else was finishing, so we got a quick bit to eat and drink (I just had a huge bottle of 100 Plus — which I don’t recommend, because they seem to lose their fizz faster than the cans), and left.

Finally arriving safely for Tawau, the first thing on my to-do list was acquiring a large number of sarongs to give as gifts to my family and friends. During the last Sunday Market in Kota Kinabalu, I was so shocked by the novelty of everything that I didn’t buy nearly enough sarongs to give to everyone, so I was after 7ish more today. After walking around for a while, stopping for some beauty products, and idling as various groups planned their afternoons, we set out on my mission.

We soon came to a great marketplace, a place of great sarong abundance. I easily found many that I liked (though it was soon discovered by the others that I am very indecisive when it comes to shopping), and Ayu bartered expertly on my behalf. With my mission accomplished, we stopped for a drink in a small food court where the cook was more than willing to be photographed.

After that, it was just a matter of meeting up again for dinner (see Wan inspecting dinner prospects below…), and then flying back to KK. This all went off without a hitch, so after an eventful yet non-academic day, the evening has been fairly relaxed — relaxed if one doesn’t consider the big presentations tomorrow at UMS…

Final Day (7 Aug, Will)

Published: Wed, 17 Sep 2008 23:05:43

I can’t believe the course is over already! It seems like just yesterday that I was arriving at Lambir National Park to join the group, eager and nervous about what laid ahead of me. I suppose that in reality it was only four weeks ago, but those weeks have been chock full of some of the most incredible and meaningful experiences of my life. I know from talking with my classmates, who have by now become my extremely close friends, that they all feel the same way. Since I have the lucky honor of recording the last day of this great course, I will start by recording the events of the day, and then try to give a short synopsis of the highlights of the last month.

This morning, we all were able to sleep in and get some much needed rest after the long trip back from Maliau yesterday. I spent the morning shopping for an external computer hard drive, which I will try to fill with everyone’s pictures from the trip. I expect to get thousands of beautiful shots. I’ve seen many of them already. At noon, we all met in the lobby of the now-familiar Kinabalu Daya hotel to head to UMS for the final project presentations. Everyone was cleaned up and dressed in nice clothes, which was fun to see after four weeks of more or less basic living.

The campus of University of Malaysia Sabah, where the final presentations were held, never ceases to amaze me. The area where we held our talks was perched on a steep hill with a beautiful view overlooking all of Kota Kinabalu, the harbour, and Gaya Island. Every single project group gave excellent and interesting presentations, and we were honored by the presence of quite a few guests, including the director of the Marine Research Institute at UMS, several of the overseers of the Maliau Basin Conservation Area, and the owner of our favorite bookstore, Borneo Books!

After the presentations, we all adjourned a few miles away to the Atmosphere (or more accurately, @mosphere) restaurant for the final banquet. @mosphere is quite an experience. It is a rotating restaurant located halfway up the tallest building in KK. It reminded me quite a bit of an underwater landscape like the reef at Malohom Bay – dimly lit and filled with flowing curtains like red seaweed and strangely shaped chairs that were reminiscent of shelf coral. We watched an incredible sunset over the bay, then had a wonderful dinner, as the floor gently spun in a rather disorienting manner. The evening was capped off by the awarding of certificates by Cam, and a wonderful slideshow put together by Allen and Ayu. We all said some emotional goodbyes, and then many of us headed out to an afterparty of sorts at the Coccoon restaurant.

Over the last we have all experienced a thousand amazing things. Lambir was my first taste of the rainforest, and I was amazed and overwhelmed by the complete saturation of life. Every sight and sound washed over me and left me in awe. The time we spent of the reef at Gaya Island gave me the same enthrallment. Deramakot made us all think about the unavoidable conflict between the needs of nature and of Man, and the ways in which it may be possible for the two to coexist. The hike of Mount Kinabalu was difficult but extremely rewarding, and it exposed us to amazing organisms and ecosystems, many of which are found nowhere else in the world! In Maliau Basin, we returned to the Lowland Dipterocarp forest, and with the context gained from our experiences in all the previous locations, we were better able to understand and examine in detail the ecosystems found there. All along the way, the lectures given by the faculty, TF’s, and local experts helped us better appreciate the forest and the issues facing it, and our interactions with the other students formed important bonds and helped us to examine both sides of the cultural challenges that are involved when addressing the rainforest. Of course, we each had an uncountable number of meaningful moments, and we were all affected by what we saw in different ways.

By tomorrow, we will have scattered back to our respective homes, but we will all take with us a new love for the rainforest and an understanding of the critical dangers it faces. Some of us, like myself, have been inspired to dedicate our lives to the conservation of the world’s few remaining wild places. All of us will from now on have a special place in our hearts for the rainforest, and an acute awareness of the issues facing it. I’m already looking forward to hear about BoB 2009!

Thanks to everyone for an incredible summer.