malaysian naturalist, june 2019
IT’S EARLY, 5am, and the sun is still far below the horizon. However, in tiny Rumah Enggang, people are already stirring, getting dressed and breakfasted. Soon they will leave this lake-side hill village, take a 20-minute boat ride to another hill, and spend two hours straining their eyes via binoculars and scopes. For a tiny speck in the distance, hardly visible to the naked eye, that is the plain-pouched hornbill.
The morning watch begins at 7am, when the hornbills leave their roosts in search of food. Then it’s back to base, the Orang Asli village of Kampung Chuweh, one of the settlements in the Temengor side of BTFC.
There, the volunteers take part in activities with the Orang Asli villagers, including learning about the blowpipe (sumpit) and the tree resin that lends to the poison tip of the dart, and traditional methods of cooking in bamboo. Participants are also encouraged to engage with the children in education or play. In one session, a volunteer brought with her small packs of toothbrushes and toothpaste, and spent time teaching the kids a song about brushing their teeth.
The evening watch runs from 5pm to 7pm, or until it is too dark to see. Scores are then tabulated and recorded into the larger database of the count, which has been undertaken for several years during the 15-year run of the Hornbill Conservation Project.
The choice of hornbills as the iconic species in MNS’s conservation efforts in Belum-Temengor is no accident. Aside from BTFC hosting 10 species of hornbills (the highest congregation in one area, alongside adjacent Ulu Muda), the birds are easier to track, as we read in the previous article about para-biologists.
Just think, a few hardy trackers in the form of MNS Orang Asli Hornbill Guardians and a slate of nature-loving volunteers willing to give up a few days of their time, can go a long way towards the conservation of hornbills, the forest landscape, and other wildlife under its canopy.