Study hoped to bring new life to Sg Ingei
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