Saturday, 30 July 2011

Sg Ingei expedition will be known worldwide, says UK envoy

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"ONE day, not far from now, the Sungai Ingei expedition will be known throughout the world," said British High Commissioner to Brunei.

Rob Fenn (pictured) was among the "VIPs", which included the Minister of Industry and Primary Resources, taking part in a weekend excursion recently to the remote protected forests of Sg Ingei in the interiors of Belait District, where a team led by Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) scientists were conducting the second phase of a two-year study of wildlife found there.

"I think this a textbook example of how a government and a local community, the Melilas (and Sukang) longhouse(s) can get behind a cutting edge scientific expedition and propel it into the record books," Fenn told The Brunei Times

"They (the scientists) are very well set up. They've had generous sponsorship from a British bank, Standard Chartered Bank, and they are spending that money wisely and creatively."

The wildlife specialists have been employing techniques such as using heat- and motion-sensitive camera traps and mist nets to catch and document the elusive animals living around Sg Ingei, 18,000 hectares of pristine forests protected by the government.

About 60 camera traps, basically a camera and sensors placed within a protective casing, have been placed along trails where wildlife were believed to cross. But floods and other conditions have damaged some of the equipment, forcing the scientists to be more innovative with the technology that has been used by the likes of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).

"I just really enjoyed talking to the scientists here and discovering how they are, not only cataloguing Sg Ingei and finding fabulous species but (also) doing the art of camera-trapping better than it's been done anywhere else," Fenn said.

The UBD team have been careful in releasing the findings, some of which included potentially undocumented species, out of fear that the information could draw poachers to the area.

Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity Survey Project Leader Dr Joseph Charles previously said that they will wait for the area to be fully protected as a wildlife sanctuary before the data is released and published.

The high commissioner has also agreed to keep mum about what he has been shown during his visit.

"They will find their time. They need to do the science, double-check everything, make sure they know what they've got and at that point, share the information with the world," Fenn said.

"I think they are looking ahead in a very sensible way to that moment."

It was that moment, that the high commissioner said, scientists, particularly experts from the UK, will be the amongst the first people "off the airplane", jumping at the opportunity to work in Brunei.

"For the reasons I gave, the Sungai Ingei expedition will be written about, will be thought about, will be visited, will inspire others and that's the great thing about science. It's not a zero-sum game; just because an expedition in Brunei has great success, it's not to the disadvantage of scientists elsewhere, it inspires them," he said.

"I think we will be amongst the first rank of people celebrating the expedition when the wrapping comes off. And yes, I think it will be in the self-interest of British scientists to be associated with a scientific success."

Fenn shared that scientists he was acquainted with were already "excited" about Brunei, while noting that the UK and the Sultanate have already established strong research links as a basis for further partnerships.

While at the basecamp, the high commissioner told the minister, WWF officials, UBD scientists and the local community helping out in the project that the Sg Ingei expedition was a representation "of what the rest of Brunei is becoming", in terms of environmental precedence.

"British scientists will want to be here. (They will) want to be part of the magic you are conjuring here," he said, referring to the slogan the UBD team has come up with for Sg Ingei, the "Magic of Brunei".

He described Brunei as the "heart" of the Heart of Borneo (HoB), the tri-nation initiative which the Sg Ingei project associated itself with.

This will also increase the popularity of the Sultanate, which he said was already renowned in the international energy community for its oil and gas.

"In the future, I'm talking about many, many years ahead, Brunei will need a brand, which is founded on science and research, 'hi-tech, low-carbon' and these sorts of slogans; and the Sg Ingei expedition is right up there as an optimum way to build a knowledge economy (as envisioned in the National Vision 2035)."

The Brunei Times

Final phase of Sg Ingei expedition begins

Members of the Sungai Ingei Protection Forest Expedition team setting off in their boats to make the trip into the forest in the upper catchment of Sungai Belait yesterday morning. Picture: BT/Chua Guan Cheong

Sunday, July 3, 2011

SCIENTISTS from Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) yesterday embarked on the second and final phase of their Sungai Ingei Expedition to collect vital wildlife information that could help the Sultanate preserve and manage its wildlife species in the forest.

The expedition in the Sungai Ingei Protection Forest will see almost 30 scientists spending three weeks in the upper catchment of Sungai Belait adjoining the Gunung Mulu National Park, which includes three types of forest; pristine mixed dipterocarp, upland Kerangas, and freshwater swamp.

According to Dr Joseph K Charles, the expedition leader from UBD's Biology Department, other than some limited information as to the biodiversity of the area, literally nothing is known of this undisturbed forest.

During the flagging-off ceremony for the crew yesterday, Dr Charles disclosed that the first phase of the expedition carried out last year was very successful with good preliminary results.

In a private session with The Brunei Times, Dr Charles said the results of the first expedition last July was still unpublished, and one of the main reasons was to prevent the information from being used by potential poachers to set up traps in the forest.

"The information will be released once the Sungai Ingei Sanctuary is ready to be set up," said the UBD professor.

On hand to send off the team of researchers was Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar, who stressed that adequate capacity, which includes institutional set-up, skilled manpower, relevant knowledge, and an active research community are important for protecting and conserving Brunei's forests.

In this context, he was happy that UBD and other organisations were involved in the fauna survey of Sungei Ingei.

According to the minister, he will be joining the expedition crew from July 8-10 in the Sungai Ingei forests to see for himself the progress of their research.

Also present yesterday were MIPR Permanent Secretary Dato Paduka Dr Hj Amin Liew Abdullah, Deputy Permanent Secretary Hjh Normah Suria Hayati PJDSM DSU Dr Hj Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri, UBD Acting Vice-Chancellor Dr Hjh Anita Binurul Zahrina, and UBD Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr Zohrah Sulaiman.

The Brunei Times

More protection for Sg Ingei needed

UBD postgraduate student Jeffery Ang (L) shows MIPR Minister Pehin Dato Hj Yahya (C) the inside of a camera trap during a visit of the UBD-led faunal biodiversity survey to Sg Ingei.Picture:BT/Ubaidillah Masli

Tree leaves forming a pattern during a visit of the UBD-led faunal biodiversity survey to Sg Ingei last week.Picture:BT/Ubaidillah Masli

Friday, April 1, 2011

A DIFFERENT approach will be needed to elevate the status of the protected forests of Sungai Ingei into a wildlife sanctuary, as demanded by scientists carrying out a wildlife survey there, the Minister of Industry and Primary Resources said.

However, Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar said the decision for further government "action" on the 18,000-hectare Sg Ingei forests will hinge on the outcome of the two-year faunal diversity study led by Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD).

To give the scientists what they want, the minister said that the ministry will look at "various ways" to further protect the Sg Ingei forests.

He noted that the government has already designated an area of forest in Kuala Belalong in Temburong District for conservation purposes, but said that this method could not be replicated for Sg Ingei.

"Here, it is a very sensitive area, so we have to look at different ways (of further protecting) Sg Ingei," he told reporters during his second trip to Sg Ingei, as one of the VIP guests to the scientific expedition last weekend.

Pehin Dato Hj Yahya explained that Sg Ingei was far more pristine and largely untouched by man that any excessive human interaction with the virgin forests could spoil the environment and wildlife habitat.

He pointed out that too much human presence could also threaten or cause the extinction of the forest organisms.

"We have to look at how to develop Sg Ingei, so it will not spoil the habitat and the environment," he said.

"If we were to do things such as eco-tourism, we may have to step back a bit. Otherwise, if we bring in tourists beyond the carrying capacity and ability of the habitat to adjust (to human interaction), it may spoil the environment."

The minister had noticed that there were already traces of plastic bottles making their way into the Sg Ingei forests.

Although the country has yet to declare any wildlife sanctuaries, Brunei already has the provisions within the law in place to set one up, Pehin Dato Hj Yahya shared.

He further noted that a wildlife sanctuary would require manpower to monitor and ensure its enforcement.

However, the government also has to consider the effects to the local community, who depend directly on the forests for survival, and the country if Sg Ingei were to be "locked up".

Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said that results of the UBD study could help the authorities make their decision on the future of Sg Ingei.

"The intention (of the faunal survey) is to confirm and get more data. Probably from there, we can suggest actions."

One of the main leaders of the study, wildlife ecologist Dr Joseph Charles of UBD said they are proposing for not only Sg Ingei forests, but also the nearby salt lakes of Penipir, where the Sg Ingei wildlife has been known to travel to get their required nutrients, should all become part of the wildlife sanctuary.

"We're trying to save this whole place for prosperity, so that your kids and grand-kids will come and see this place," the UBD senior lecturer said.

The scientists have already made some significant discoveries to support their proposal to turn Sg Ingei into a wildlife sanctuary, but are withholding the data until it can be verified and announced formally at the end of the survey in 2012.

They are expected to reveal some of the findings so far in a seminar slated to be held in the coming months.

The extent of the finds have already prompted the biologists to coin Sg Ingei as "the magic of Brunei".

"When we release our results, you'll know why it's magic."

The Brunei Times

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The River Ingei ("Sungei Ingei") Expedition: Camera traps in the Heart of Borneo

The River Ingei ("Sungei Ingei") Expedition: Camera traps in the Heart of Borneo

The Ingei Expedition team was visited by a group of VIP this July during our Phase 2 Expedition. Take a look at what Mr Rob Fenn (British High Commissioner to Brunei) has to say about the Expedition.
Study hoped to bring new life to Sg Ingei

Ubaidillah Masli
Tuesday, July 12, 2011

THE head of Mukim Melilas has voiced the support of locals for the study of animals in the Sungai Ingei Protection Forest, hoping that the community would benefit from sustainable and increased activity to the remote villages when the project ends in 2012.

"We support what they are doing. I also would like to see this place (Sg Ingei forest) full of animals," Acting Penghulu Pehin Datu Pekerma Dewa Hj Muhd Ali Abdullah Itam said.

Speaking to The Brunei Times while helping out in the second phase of the Universiti Brunei Darussalam-led Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity Survey, Pehin Hj Ali explained the importance of Sg Ingei forests as an aspect of the villagers' lives, many of whom have migrated to urban areas.

Located at least 14 kilometres upriver of Melilas longhouse, the virgin forests of Belait district was traditionally a place for Iban villagers to hunt and fish, and more recently, bring tourists.

They had been expecting to host a group of students and teachers from an international school in the capital wanting to experience the outskirts of Ingei earlier this month, but the arrangement was cancelled due to low water level, making the trip by temuai (longboat) "difficult and dangerous".

Villagers were concerned with the loss in visitors, particularly as each trip upriver can provide boatmen with $500 income, bringing about four to five passengers per boat, in high water level; more if conditions were worse.

Pehin Hj Ali shared that tourism activity in the area has become almost negligible, compared to 20 years ago, when the villagers received visitors from Japan, Germany and China.

The latest was a small group of Japanese tourists who stayed at an encampment belonging to two of the Melilas locals along Sungai Topi, some 20 minutes (high water) downriver from the Ingei basecamp. The group came to experience living close to nature and visit some of the waterfalls.

But such brief sources of income for the villages were few and far in between. In this regard, Pehin Ali was grateful for the UBD expedition, which employed at least 15 of the villagers from Kg Melilas and Kg Sukang, transporting the scientists and their gear, helping them track and study the animals in the area, and building and maintaining the camp facilities.

The UBD scientists hoped the findings of the biodiversity study will provide the backing needed to turn Sg Ingei into a wildlife sanctuary, with the villagers playing a key role in protection efforts.

"Just like us, they want to make sure that this place is cared for," Pehin Ali said. "What Belait district has, no other district has."

Project Leader Dr Joseph Charles of UBD's Biology department said with the findings, they anticipated greater public interest in the area, and thus locals would be able to benefit from "controlled" ecotourism activities just outside of the fully-protected Ingei area, like the Sg Topi camp.

Pehin Ali hoped the increased economic activity will also draw back many of those who left their native land.

The population of Melilas was 245 people, but most do not live there and only come back during holidays.

The Brunei Times

Scientists try to convince gov't to turn Sg Ingei forests into wildlife sanctuary

Thursday, July 21, 2011

SCIENTISTS vying to convince the Brunei government to convert the 18,000 hectares of protected forests of remote Sungai Ingei into a wildlife sanctuary, are also suggesting for the establishment of a buffer area that can be zoned for ecotourism and other activities.

Leader of the two-year Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity Survey, Dr Joseph Charles of Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), told The Brunei Times recently that they wanted protection focused in the "core" area, where the group of scientists are working in the second phase of the project.

"But outside, from the Belait River and all that, that is the buffer zone to here," he said.

Some 14 to 15 kilometres from the nearest village of Melilas, scientists have been living in the pristine forests for weeks at a time, documenting species using camera traps to catch elusive mammals, mist nets for birds and bats, and using other scientific techniques.

They claim that they have made significant finds, but are withholding much of the data to avoid attracting poachers who might be among the recipients of the news, until the proper enforcement is in place.

"We have now discovered (that) Ingei is one of the rarest places in Brunei that has got wildlife like this. So you really want to protect it."

However, Dr Charles said the Forestry Department gazetted area of "protection forest" was not large enough for the animals found there to thrive and thus, the scientists were asking to make the proposed sanctuary "much bigger".

"This is a new gem that we have found and it's not really big at all. To be able to sustain wildlife over a long period, you need much bigger area."

Along with the enlargement of the gazetting of Ingei, the senior UBD Biology lecturer added that it should be complemented with a buffer zone.

"We will suggest where the boundary can be," Dr Charles, said adding that it will be up to the policy-makers to act on the scientists' recommendations.

"The uniqueness of Ingei can only be maintained if you have sufficient area around Ingei to protect what's within."

World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Special Adviser to the Heart of Borneo, Dato' Dr Mikaail Kavanagh said that the buffer zone from the proposed sanctuary's boundary to Kg Melilas.

"It requires proper zonation. There are areas of very special conservation sensitivity and we're right in one now," said the conservationist, while joining a VIP excursion on July 8 to visit the scientists at work in Ingei proper.

"But there are other areas which are of great value to tourists and so on," the former WWF Malaysia CEO added.

Dr Charles said that carrying out "controlled" ecotourism activities into the buffer zone would particularly benefit the locals from Melilas and Sukang, many of whom have been migrating from thelonghouse life to urban areas.

"We have to somehow maintain the people and the culture, by making them produce (and) sell handicraft, what they were doing. They can bring in tourists, and stay in Melilas," he said.

Some of the villagers who have remained have been helping out the scientists with the wildlife survey, acting as local expert guides in tracking animals, as well as building the UBD-led project'sbasecamp in Ingei.

Downriver of Ingei, at Sungai Topi, was a camp owned by two of the Melilas locals, who occasionally use the cabins they built there to fish and hunt for their own needs. They have rented theTopi camp for the use of the scientists, as well as a group of Japanese tourists.

This type of activity was encouraged by the scientists, but in a controlled manner.

Dr Charles said that considering ecotourism's potential for the locals, it was in their interest to preserve the environment.

"What does a tourist want to see? He wants to go for a night-walk and see a slow loris in the forest at night. So don't knock the forest down, maintain it. Tourists come, you can show them every night. Charge them. All that can be done over there (in buffer zone)."

The Brunei Times