BRUNEI conducted its first faunal expedition over a period of about two years starting July 2010 to explore and document the wildlife of Sungai Ingei Protection Forest in Belait, believed to be one of the richest forests in the Heart of Borneo (HoB).
The Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity survey is the country's first faunal expedition to explore and document the wildlife of the Sungai Ingei Protection Forest. It gathered scientific data that will enable Brunei to better their natural wonder and wildlife.
Coined by the scientists as the 'Magic of Brunei', for its many undocumented animal species discovery, The Brunei Times talked to the project leader, UBD's Dr Joseph Charles and Project Administrator, Dr Ang Bee Biaw on what started it all.
The idea that start it all
The idea for the Sg Ingei faunal survey expedition was actually born while the duo was participating in the Lanjak Entimau expedition in Sarawak.
"There was a HoB expedition, and they invited scientists including Brunei. A few of us went and this initial group was supported financially by Dato Paduka Hj Hamdillah Hj Abd Wahab, (then Deputy Minister of Industry and Primary Resources). Members from the Forestry Department also came," he said.
"From there, we thought why not we start an expedition for Brunei, using people in Brunei and building up capacity building," he added. Asked why Sg Ingei was selected, he said Sg Ingei was the only place left in Brunei that has not been explored or developed for ecotourism. "We thought this is the best time to inform the local people what we have and if there is anything new that we have," he added.
Led by UBD, the survey was backed by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources and sponsored by the Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) working in partnership with WWF.
SCB funded the two-year Heart of Borneo (HoB) project, from a US$500,000 ($700,000) prize donation from the Race for a Living Planet Environment Challenge, which Brunei won last year for its HoB initiative.
Phase one and two
The expedition flag off ceremony was held on July 2 last year which comprised 36 participants.
The results from the faunal biodiversity survey, which were conducted in two phases, hoped to convince authorities to fully protect the area and its wildlife by upgrading it into a national park. At present, the area is known as the Sg Ingei Protection Forest.
The second expedition was carried out in July this year. They were joined by invited scientists from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Dr Ang said, "We brought in UBD scientists, students and members from the Brunei Museum and Forestry Department for capacity building. All been trained in different fields and technology. For the first phase, the focus was focusing in capacity building and they help us collect data. For the second phase, we don't get new people for capacity building, we want to maximise all time and effort on data collection".
She added the survey will continue again in March next year.
"We are hoping to get new people coming in. We hope someone will come in and do a study on fresh water invertebrates. We realised that the invertebrates' diversity is so different but the pity is nobody is doing that quantitatively so far," she said.
She added, "We hope to get Professor Indraneil Das (from UNIMAS, Sarawak) to do a crocodile survey in Sg ingei as local people have been telling us that they have seen two to three species of crocodile in Sg ingei. All these need validations that are why we are bringing this people in".
This being a HoB project, it will be nice to bring scientists from Indonesia and Malaysia as well, she said. The expedition saw participation of a tarsier expert Dr Indra Yustian from Universitas Sriwijaya, Indonesia.
Poaching: Sg Ingei's biggest problem
Sg Ingei is sacred to the locals and they did not go venturing deep into Sg Ingei, hence helping the conservation, said Dr Charles.
"But now things have change. They (locals) do not go but others, (mostly hailing from Belait town) came. The dirt road that aimed to be an ease for transportation for the locals now acts as a highway for poachers," he said.
Driving into Melilas by car, one can see poachers' four-wheel drive vehicles parked and (there are) poachers' camps along the Belait river.
The release of the survey findings next year is dependent on enforcement as poaching is Sg Ingei's biggest problem.
Museums Department, the country's main authority for wildlife, is in the process of revising the Wildlife Protection Act, created in 1978 and last revised some 27 years ago. Currently, the mammal list has been updated. And now they plan to continue with the birds list.
"We do not know when the law is going to come out, what we are pushing for now is to make Sg Ingei a sanctuary. At least to protect Sg Ingei from poaching, make it a sanctuary. These have been considered by the ministry," Dr Charles said.
The scientists are vying to convince the Brunei government to convert the 18,000 hectares of protected forests of 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.
Support for a community project
One of the most important things that we did right at the word 'go' was to have dialogue with the stakeholders, Dr Charles said.
The locals from Kg Melilas and Kg Sukang were involved in the expedition every step of the way.
"The stakeholders are the Kg Melilas and Kg Sukang people. We held meetings with them and with the Acting Penghulu of Kg Melilas, Pehin Datu Pekerma Dewa Hj Muhd Ali Abdullah Itam.Even before we go there (to Sg Ingei), we discussed with them and they agreed to help. This was not (the case) of scientists barging through, right from the word go, we involved them. That is why we got so much support from them. This is a community project," he said.
The locals act as boatmen-cum-guides for the project. Even the base camp where the survey team stayed during the expedition was built entirely by the locals. Dr Ang added "they have a sense of belonging that the project belongs to them as well. They feel that they had contributed to the expedition and the area".
The expedition had invited prominent figures to join the project, among them were Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar, who had visited Sg Ingei four times, British High Commissioner to Brunei Rob Fenn and Singapore High Commissioner to Brunei, Joseph Koh.
"We try to bring in prominent people who can make a difference to Sg Ingei, with the hope that they will be interested (in Sg Ingei) and they want to protect this place," she said.The Brunei Times