Thursday, 26 April 2012

Wait continues for Sg Ingei sanctuary

The Minister of Industry and Primary Resources, YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahya (2nd L) speaking to Singapore High Commissioner to Brunei HE Joseph Koh (L), as the survey leader of the Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity Survey, Dr Joseph Charles (2nd R) and Stephen Hogg (R), a professional photographer-cum-videographer look on. The minister was on his fifth visit to Sg Ingei base camp from April 13 to 15. Picture: BT/Rasidah HAB
(Top) One of the frog species that can be found at Sg Ingei. (Above) A decomposing carcass of a crocodile was sighted on a riverbank, on the boat ride back to BukitSawat Jetty from Sg Ingeibase camp. The Brunei Times was invited to cover the progress of the Sungai IngeiFaunal Biodiversity Survey from April 13 to 15.  Pictures: BT/Rasidah HAB
Thursday, April 19, 2012
TURNING the Sg Ingei conservation forest in the interiors of Belait into a sanctuary is still under consideration as the government has identified some issues that needs to be resolved before proceeding with the idea.

"The idea of a sanctuary is a good one in ensuring that Sg Ingei's flora and faunal will be protected," said Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri SetiaHj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar.

Scientists working under the survey are vying to convince the Brunei government to convert the 18,000 hectares of protected forests of remote Sg Ingei into a wildlife sanctuary, with the establishment of a buffer area that can be zoned for ecotourism and other activities. This is so that protection can be focused in the core area, where the team are currently working.

The minister was one of the VIPs invited to Sg Ingei from April 13 to 15, on the invitation of the survey team together with The Brunei Times.

The trip also saw the participation of WWF special adviser to the Heart of Borneo Dato' Dr Mikaail Kavanagh, British High Commissioner to Brunei His Excellency Rob Fenn, Singapore High Commissioner to Brunei His Excellency Joseph Koh and spouse who were no strangers to the trip, as well as Australian High Commissioner to Brunei His Excellency MarkSawers.

When asked about the status of wildlife management and wildlife enforcement in the country, YB PehinDato Hj Yahya said a multi-pronged approach taken by the ministry and government showed that they were serious on preserving and conserving the environment.

The management of wildlife in the country has recently been transferred to the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR). His Majesty has also consented to the transfer of wildlife matters to the ministry, and with that MIPR is working on establishing Wildlife Authority to protect both faunal and flora and the environment as a whole.

There is no timeline set yet for its establishment, but the work was in progress, YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahyasaid.

"We wanted to do this as soon as possible. There is a lot of administration work to be done, the legal matter (that has to be amended), financing as well as manpower (that needs to be look into)," he added.

One of the multi-pronged approaches that the minister talked about in the interview was establishing honourary or voluntary forest rangers (for Sg Ingei).

Sg Ingei Survey a community project

YB Pehin Yahya elaborated that the honourary rangers, once put in place, will comprise locals from Kg Melilas and Kg Sukang. However, a change in regulation or law (from the ministry) is needed to enable the honourary rangers to perform their duties and responsibilities.

"We are working with the locals (from Kg Melilas and Kg Sukang) to gather information, to listen to them but as of now, they still do not have the (authority) to perform official duties (similar to forest rangers who are officially appointed)," he said.

The Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity Survey, since its conception in 2010, has always been a community project. Locals from Kg Melilas and Kg Sukang were hired as guides due to their knowledge and expertise of the area as well as boatmen for the researchers.

The trip from Bukit Sawat jetty (in Belait) to the Sg Ingei base camp can range between five hours to eleven hours depending on the river's water level.

The locals feel a strong sense of belonging and pride on Sg Ingei, and this is shown by their involvement in the survey process.

"We need to take advantage of this, so that our efforts can be consolidated, to make our efforts more effective and synergise. It is beneficial for both sides," YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said.

Poaching issues

A major challenge that continues to be an issue in Sg Ingei is poaching, not only by intruders but also allegedly to have been executed by the locals, the minister pointed out, and the plan to create honourary rangers was driven by this issue.

The minister called on all members of the public including the grassroots leaders, heads of communities and associations as well as Legislative Council members to stress on the importance of environmental protection to their people, and to help in curbing poaching.

"If there is no demand, there will be no supply. If anyone is caught poaching or selling (wildlife), please report this matter (to the authority) so that the demand will decrease. We are working with the locals to prevent poaching here," he said.

A Community Outreach Programme (COP) slated within this year is also aimed at increasing public awareness on this matter. The COP, part of the ministry's multi-pronged approach, will talk with locals around Sg Ingei area who are not directly involved with the survey on the importance of preserving the area.

The programme was supposed to be organised last month but was postponed due to high water level.

"This will also teach the younger generation on the importance of environment, to make them more responsible and our efforts more effective," said the minister.

Call for Funding

Environmental preservation and conservation is not only a government effort as it concerns all, YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said, and this means funds from sponsors are most welcome.

"We hope the involvement of the private sectors and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) will continue and more will come forward," he said adding that he was grateful for the involvement of Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) Brunei and HSBC as sponsors for projects under Heart of Borneo (HoB).

The minister expressed his wish for the two-year survey, due to end by this year, to continue but this depends on the availability of funding, and sponsors who wished to contribute or sponsor the survey.

"This is a thankless job. We may not be able to see the benefit now, but over the long run, it is rewarding. Many new species of faunal were discovered, and we have not yet look into the flora or microbes. The findings are worth the funding. If there are no sponsors, then the government would have to think of ways how we can preserve the area before this area is affected by poaching and illegal logging," he said.

The presence and support of the minister at the base camp was seen as a boost to the team, moral support to the researchers as well as the local residents.

"We know that this job is not easy. We really appreciate the work done by the researchers in UBD and the funding from SCB. Mingling with the locals is one way to tell them that the government care for them," he said.

The visit was YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahya's fifth visit to Sg Ingei. He had joined the team to various field trips and research sites.

Last weekend, the minister joined four members from the survey team as they trekked the deep interior of Sg Ingei jungle to set up camera traps as well as continue with the research work.

"The experience was one that we cannot gain from hearing stories or reading book, we must see it for ourselves," the minister commented.

Previously, he joined some members of the team to salt lick areas where animals congregate as well as joined an Indonesian researcher who specialises in the Ecology of the Western Tarsier, Indra Yustian, to check his net (trap) at midnight.

"(Even in the base camp), once the light is out, you can hear the animal calls (sounds). This is hard for us to get from books. Even the boat ride to come here, we need to experience that so that we can appreciate the beauty of this place and the works done by the researchers," he said.

The Brunei Times

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