malaysian naturalist, march 2018
Yes, laughter, because these are not real hornbills but young Orang Asli (indigenous) children donning hornbill head gear and pretending to be some of the majestic birds that can be found in their home ground within the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex (BTFC). It’s fun and games for some, but it’s also part of awareness and education outreach that hopes to teach youngsters about protecting their forests, wildlife and natural heritage through play.
On a wider perspective, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) aims to spread knowledge about the hornbills, their importance to forests and the necessary steps towards their protection. These “farmers of the forest” play an important role in tropical forest ecosystems as seed dispersers. It has been estimated that a hornbill can “plant” 14,600 trees in its lifetime, which helps forests prosper and also assist in regenerating degraded forests.
Within this ojective, the Society aims to develop and nurture Orang Asli Hornbill Guardians in Belum-Temengor, first among the adults and then trickling down to the younger generation. Part of this initiative was generating awareness among the Orang Asli villages in Belum-Temengor, with the first efforts culminating in the event at Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Tiang in the Royal Belum State Park on 20-22 December 2017. The event was themed environmental education for indigenous communities, with a focus on knowledge sharing on wildlife conservation efforts in this protected area.
Some 300 Orang Asli villagers attended the event, which featured presentations, a mini exhibition and adult classes on craft-making, cooking and baking. The children, meanwhile, took part in colouring activities and games.
All for the sake of fostering a sense of wonder and appreciation for the 10 species of hornbill that make their home in BTFC, which is in the northeastern part of Perak just south of the Thai border and is one of the last wild frontiers in Peninsular Malaysia.
In 2003, the author and Glenda Noramly, representing MNS, participated in another BTFC expedition led by the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia. Amazingly, large flocks of plain-pouched hornbills were seen still using their familiar flight paths in this forest landscape, indicating that this phenomenon occurs annually. Following our return from the expedition, plans were drawn up by MNS to secure funds and establish the MNS Hornbill Conservation Project (MNS HCP) in Belum-Temengor.
The choice to invest in hornbill conservation was timely for the following reasons:
• Not much was known about their biology, ecology, populations and/or conservation needs in their natural forest habitats;
• There were no long-term hornbill field studies in Malaysia to address the knowledge gaps;
• Government wildlife/forestry agencies were not actively investing in hornbill conservation in Peninsular Malaysia, thus hornbills were not given adequate conservation attention or resources compared to charismatic mammals;
• This would be a clear demonstration of MNS’s long-term commitment to the conservation of BTFC, one of the two sites in Malaysia that supports all 10 hornbill species in a single location; and
• To promote hornbills as one of the flagship species for tropical forest conservation in Malaysia.
To advance hornbill conservation, it is vital to engage in hornbill advocacy consistently to ensure these birds are accorded due policy recognition and resources. In Peninsular Malaysia, MNS is currently one of the key NGO stakeholders in several national level project committees related to the Central Forest Spine (CFS) and protected areas.
The CFS concept is akin to the Heart of Borneo (HoB) concept, whereby maintaining ecological connectivity and integrity of protected areas and forest reserves are considered crucial in preventing species extinction and decline. The remaining hornbill populations in Peninsular Malaysia depend almost entirely on the CFS remaining intact.
And with the awareness and education outreach activities such as that carried out at Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Tiang, it is hoped that the Orang Asli could act as the eyes and ears to better protect BelumTemengor and its wildlife.