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Sentinels Of Sabah's Lost World - Maliau Basin

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IT'S A JUNGLE OUT HERE... Daimil Pedico traipsing gingerly on a fallen tree which marks the start of a trail to the Camel Trophy Camp from Agathis camp at the conservation area.

KALABAKAN: Comfortably ensconced on a log along the Maliau river, Forest Supervisor Alin Cheen Pang was about to sip a cup of warm drink when the lights went out at the campsite.

"Why didn't you people make sure there was enough petrol for the generator?" demanded the irate veteran ranger, making sure his voice was heard by his charges at the pitch-dark jungle campsite located at Sabah's last frontier.

It was past 10pm. The rangers, Alin along with some 20 others, had just returned from work. Senior ranger Madisan Baindang arranged to get more fuel.

On normal days Alin, who is employed by Yayasan Sabah under the Management of Maliau Basin Conservation Area Project (MBCA), would not have minded. But tonight, he had guests, his colleagues from Kota Kinabalu and this writer.

Belian Camp is closest to the site of a ground-breaking ceremony for the building of a studies centre. The ceremony was to be performed by Danish Consort Prince Henri-Jean-Marie Andre and Yayasan Sabah Director Tan Sri Khalil Jamalul.

There are few visitors to the pristine conservation area, a 588.4 sq km forest with three permanent lodgings reachable by road namely the Belian Camp, Agathis Camp and the Security Gate.

Four camp sites serve as stopover points. The focal point is the crater-like basin, with a diameter of 25km. This is known as "Sabah's Lost World."

It is now being maintained under a joint conservation effort with Denmark began in 1999.

Representing the Malaysian government is Yayasan Sabah, while Denmark is represented by the Danish Cooperation for Environment and Development (Danced).

Over the past three years, the project has been monitored by a steering committee and

management group headed by Project director Dr Waidi Sinun of the Yayasan Sabah Forestry Division and Chief Adviser Hans Skotte Moeller of Danced.

At the conservation area Jadda Suhaimi heads a 40-member team of administrators and researchers in flora, fauna and hydrology. They are mainly based at the Yayasan Sabah Luasong Forestry Centre, taking turns to enter the conservation area. To date, less than 50 per cent of the area has been surveyed.

Forest Officer Jupailin Naiman, who left a comfortable job at Universiti Malaysia Sabah in Kota Kinabalu for Maliau two years ago, said the number of visitors is limited to 15 at any one time.

"What we are doing here now is preparing a management plan for the whole area so that it can be preserved and developed as a premier attraction both for scientists and tourists in the future," said the bespectacled Kadazandusun from Keningau.

"A lot is being planned, ideas poured out but it needs to be studied first and there's a lot of work that needs to be done. This is a big place," he said.

The studies centre shall be the hub of Maliau Basin, a former timber concession that belonged to Yayasan Sabah until it was set aside as a conservation area in 1984.

In 1997, it was gazetted as a Class I Protection Forest Reserve to outlaw logging. Later, it was gazetted as a Cultural Heritage Site under the State Cultural Heritage Enactment.

To prevent attempts to mine or log in the area, it could be turned into a World Heritage Site in the future.

Ranger Kho Ju Ming, 32, who is in the flora division said despite working in the area for some three years, he is still in awe of plants, trees, wildlife and waterfalls at Maliau.

"I think it's hard to find any other place like this anymore in Sabah," said the Sino-Kadazandusun from Telupid.

He normally spends about two to three weeks in the area before returning to his permanent quarters at Luasang.

"We have many people coming here, students, scientists and occasionally individuals who just wants to see Maliau, especially the basin and the waterfalls," he said. Visitors have to be accompanied by rangers.

It takes an arduous two-day hike to reach the rim of the escarpment. This includes lodging overnight at temporary camp sites.

The famous seven-tier Maliau Waterfalls could be reached within a day.

Equally mesmerising are waterfalls such as Giluk Falls, Rafflesia Falls and Alin Falls (named after Alin the Forest Supervisor who discovered it).

Observed Kho, "I doubt that there are people who lived inside the basin in the past but probably hunters or gatherers have reached outside the basin because we have seen some traces of old camp sites."

"There could have also been people who intrude to steal 'gaharu'," he said of the tree scientifically known as aquilaria malaccensis which is much sought after for its resin and core for producing perfume or joss sticks.

"Nowadays however with tight security and constant patrols, I think there have been less intrusions. People are also becoming more aware of the importance of protecting such jungles," said Kho, a keen freehand artist with a large collection of drawings and sketches of plants.

Maliau's high concentration of rare animal species too is a major attraction. It's alive with wildlife such as elephants, the wild ox also known as seladang or tembadau, silver leaf monkey, orang utan, sumatran rhinos, sun bear, clouded leopard, Bulwer's pheasant, oriental darter, and peregrine falcon.

Daimil Pedico, 41, who looks after the fauna division can attest to this. Said he, "At any one day if you walk through the jungles especially around the basin there will be sightings.

"There are plenty of mousedeer, sambar deer, hornbills, monkeys that can been seen almost everyday and for those shy animals like the tembadau or elephants it might take up to a few days...normally we can track it down."

The ranger from Taginambur, Kota Belud said visitors love night safaris. They get to gape at nocturnal wildlife. But it's better to travel on mountain bikes.

Warned he, "Nowadays I doubt that people would dare to come here and hunt because of the tight security. But if they do, I can tell them there is a RM50,000 fine waiting for them."

In both camps, basic facilities are provided for but Agathis has additional luxuries such as tiled toilets complete with a proper sewage system and even satellite television as well as a permanent wooden structure.

At Belian, you rough it out in canvas-sheet shelters with hole-in-the-ground latrines. It is situated near the tea-coloured Maliau river which traces its source to the seven-tier Maliau falls. A real back-to-the-woods experience.

Crawling up the Maliau escarpment

KOTA KINABALU: Twenty-two years ago, intrepid explorers crawled up a steep escarpment and stared in awe at the teeming wildlife enclosed in a world of its own below. In some ways, it was a Livingstone Moment.

At one massive shrivelled tree, they gaped at hundreds of helmeted hornbills, a sight never again seen in Sabah. Welcome to Sabah's Lost World at Maliau Basin.

Maliau Basin exudes mysticism, a magical world lost in time, a world of unmolested wildlife tucked in the remotest corner of the State.

Yearning for some first-hand experiences? Listen in to retired Sabah Museum officer Raymond Goh. He reached the top of Gunung Lutong in 1980, one of the earliest expeditions to the rim of the escarpment.

Goh recalled getting a breathtaking view of the circular escarpment. It was awe-inspiring because of the sheer drop.

For days the expedition team clambered, trudged on and at times crawled through virgin rainforests which changed to mossy montane forest on the way up. It was the first recorded expedition to the basin.

Goh, 60, a taxidermist and natural historian, has trekked to many remote locations in Sabah. He was quick to clarify that his five-member team may not have been the first to have reached the much-fabled basin.

Figured Goh, "People in the olden days must have reached the place to hunt for food or gather plants," pointing out that Muruts at Pensiangan and Sapulut near the basin regarded Gunung Lutong as sacred.

According to Yayasan Sabah records the Maliau Basin escarpment which is about 25km in diameter was first discovered by a pilot who almost crashed into its cliff in 1947. In the 1960s a geological survey team reach the Maliau rivermouth.

In 1970 the Maliau Basin was made part of the Yayasan Sabah Timber Concession Area. Six years later, a Forest Department Botanical Survey team attempted to ascend the north escarpment but failed to reached the rim.

In 1980, Goh and his team took two weeks to ascend Gunong Lutong. However, there was only limited exploration because they ran low on provisions.

"It was our second attempt. The first was in 1978 but we had to turn back due to illness and lack of supplies," he said.

His biggest regret? There were few photographic records of the second expedition because rain had ruined their films.

"If only we had video cameras with us then," he lamented. Notes on the expedition are in a government journal.

The expedition started at a village in Sapulut. Recalled Goh, "We used these dugout boats rented from the Murut people there and also hired two locals." It was a team of about ten.

"We travelled right upriver until a point where the boats could move no further. From there we set out on foot. One of the Murut guides claimed he has been to the foot of Gunung Lutong.

"From there we made new trails using a simple compass I carried along," he said. He marked their bearings using the sight of the top of the mountain.

Each day, they pressed on for eight to nine hours. "The two scouts, including myself, would clear a path for a day and the others behind would follow it the following day."

After about a week, they had a clearer sight of the top of the ridge and set up a temporary base camp. "One morning five of us set off and forced our way up. It was really difficult because of the mossy surface. At times we had to crawl," he said.

Goh said on the final ascent he was in awe at the fantastic view of the rim of the basin. There was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, and also trepidation at the sheer drop in front of them.

"It was like this big basin and inside it was miles of lush green forest. On top where we stood its like this montane forest with cool weather ... something like near Mount Kinabalu summit

"The wildlife was fantastic. You could see and hear animals like mousedeer almost every other hour while trekking in the jungle and once on top I still remember seeing an argus pheasant.

"We were surprised at first when we saw a small trail which we thought were made by humans until we saw the big bird. I have seen it elsewhere before but its normally shy. There we saw it coming in and out of the bushes several times," he said.

At Maliau, he observed the largest concentration of the helmeted hornbill. "It was a sight that I have never seen again. I remembered it was late in the evening when we heard this loud croaking sound.

"We checked and found a bare tree with hundreds of the birds. As far as I know these birds normally travel on its own or sometimes in small groups but what we saw was really different," he said.

"Places like Sapulut, Pensiangan, Tawai Falls and many others that I have been to were like that before but many of these places have been logged," he said.

Today he enjoys fishing and carving. One last wish? To really get into the "bowels" of Maliau Basin.

"I would like to see what's inside the basin even from before but I was never given the chance. It is probably the last place not explored totally yet."

With World Heritage Site status looming up, Maliau shall finally be free to reveal its secrets to legitimate reseachers.

Source: Borneo Post




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