Sunday, December 28, 2008

Koel bird is back

8 May 2007

The koel bird is back with its noisy call. Woke me up yesterday morning, 27 Dec 2008. I find the call very irritating!!

The bird is migatory and seems to pass through KL twice a year. It is a type of cuckoo, and like other members of the cuckoo family, it lays its eggs in the nests of crows, so that the young are raised by crows. According to Wikipedia, it migrates to warmer climates in winter, so as it has just arrived in KL in Dec, it must have come from a colder country. At a guess, it is the Asian Koel.

The call is loud, distinctive........... and irrating. It seems to scream rather than call, drawing out the last syllable - ko ellll. Apparently it is the male which makes this call.

Although I often hear the koel, it is quite difficult to see the actual bird. Managed to take these photos from my window using the zoom, lousy photos, but at least I managed to shoot the bird! The photos were taken in May 2007 and 2008.

I made a note of when I heard the bird and it was almost every morning until Jan 27 when I went away. It called only in the morning, usually between 7-8 am though sometimes was later. It was still calling when I got back in mid Feb.

And when I was in Bangkok at the end of Jan, the first thing I heard from my hotel was............... yes......... that wretched koel bird !

There are good photos of the koel on Wikipedia.
Update 2010
I came back to KL in mid Jan and the koel was calling. It was still there Jan 27. By early Feb I heard one calling occasionally. I was in south Thailand first week in Feb and the koel was there as well! Towards the end of Feb there seemed to be less calling, though one was still waking me around 7am in early March. Mid March and I occasionally heard one calling. It's been excessively hot since end of Jan, so maybe the koels are staying longer than normal cos of the heat.
I was away mid Mar till end of May. Then forgot about it, but I realised by mid July that I hadn't heard the koel at all for at least a month, maybe longer.

I didn't hear it again until Nov 13, when one bird called for a short time. Nov 18 it was calling again. I suppose it will be here now for the (European) winter. From 23 Nov I heard one calling almost every day, I still heard it in early March.

© Liz Price

Friday, December 19, 2008

Deer Park at Lake Gardens, KL

It must be at least 10 years since I visited the deer park at Lake Gardens in KL. From what I can remember, the deer were roaming on a grassy hillslope and people could walk past the enclosure.

I was in Lake Gardens this week (Dec 2008) and noticed a lot of changes i.e. development. Decided to go to the deer park to see if I could get some photos to build up my library. I was in for a shock.

Entering the area, I had to jump across a large amount of water which was flooding the footpath. Then I went past 2 or 3 cages of mousedeer. It was impossible to take photos due to 2 layers of close mesh netting. The mouse deer were living on earth and had fresh trays of chopped carrots but few were eating.

The path led up to some stairs and a raised walkway. Here there were lots of macaques. Luckily they weren't really interested in me once they saw I had no food. One was picking at a jackfruit still attached to the tree.

Then I saw something mystifying. There was a caged tunnel running alongside the path I had walked, and inside was a very moth eaten deer. It's coat looked quite bad and it had 3 large open sores on its rump, a large wound on its front right leg and several older sores along the right flank.

The ground was very wet mud and the cage tunnel was hardly wide enough for the deer to turn round - you can see from this photo it had trouble turning -

 Some vegetables had been put in the mud at the end of the tunnel under the raised walkway. The macaques were trying to get at this food, and one succeeded, it had obviously found a hole in the fencing. I couldn't understand why this poor deer was isolated in this tunnel.

I continued along the walkway and soon smelt a strong smell. It was the main deer enclosure. I have no idea why the smell was so strong, considering the enclosure is totally open and the deer were some way away. These deer were a different type from the one in the tunnel. They looked relatively OK, but I noticed they had no water to drink, and some were drinking water from a puddle in the hut, you can see this puddle in the photo with the blue roofed hut.

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Train from Asia to Europe

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Trans-Asian railway to become reality

Network of stations: (From Top) An old steam locomotion in Gemas, Malaysia; Phnom Penh railway station; At one of the stations in Vietnam; Travelling through Vietnam by train. Pictures: Liz Price

Sunday, December 14, 2008

IN THE not too distant future, people will be able to travel by train from Singapore to China. And when these lines are complete and open, it means the railway network will link South East Asia to China and Europe.

Years ago there were two legendary train journeys which offered adventure, and had a sense of glamour and appeal of romance. One was the Orient Express, the other was the Trans-Siberian railway. The original Orient Express travelled from Paris to Vienna in 1883. Over the following years the route expanded, and went east to Istanbul in Turkey, and later a branch went from Budapest and Belgrade south to Athens. The train was made even more famous when Agatha Christie wrote "Murder on the Orient Express" (1934).

Today the Orient Express continues to criss-cross Europe, with the London to Venice route being one of the best known and most luxurious. The train uses the Channel Tunnel to cross under the English Channel.

The Trans-Siberian Railway is a network connecting Moscow and the European side of Russia to the Far East which includes some Russian provinces, Mongolia and China. The service started in the 1890s. In 1985 it was my burning desire to take the train back to Europe from China, but it was such a hassle getting all the various visas that I gave up and took the easier option of flying.

One rail journey that is not yet possible is to go from Europe to Singapore. However the China to Singapore option will soon become a reality. China already has a large network of railway lines. And there are more routes being built from Kunming in the southwest province of Yunnan. From here the line will head for the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. Already two-thirds of the line from Kunming to the Chinese side of the border is completed. From the Vietnamese side at Lao Cai on the border, the line runs south to the capital Hanoi. The railway line that runs through Vietnam linking Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is aging and needs upgrading.

Much of the funding for the China to Hanoi sector is coming from France and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). This is not the only railway to be upgraded in Vietnam. At least US$15 billion ($22.36 billion) is to be spent on building tramways, sky trains and subways within Hanoi, and a metro in Ho Chi Minh City. Complex upgrading works have Japanese and French assistance. From Ho Chi Minh city, the line will run into Cambodia. In Cambodia, the entire national network is now being overhauled, rehabilitated and privatised, with the help of foreign investors and multilateral funding. However getting from Vietnam to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh is still difficult.

From the Vietnamese border at Loc Ninh to Phnom Penh, the terrain demands several challenging bridges. China has funded the feasibility studies, but the money has not yet been found to meet the costs of the Cambodian project, an estimated US$500 million.

Going west from Phnom Penh to Thailand is a major problem as the railway lines were torn up in this area by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Work is underway on the 48 km missing on the Cambodian side, from Sisophon to Poipet.

On the Thai side things look much better, and the Thai government is fixing up the six missing kilometres of track on their side. For the Thailand to Laos connection, just a few kilometres are missing. And the Thai government will pay for the rail track over the Friendship Bridge that crosses the Mekong River between the two countries. Once across the river in Laos, a few more kilometres are needed for the line to reach the Laotian capital Vientiane.

This has got the South-East Asian mainland countries linked to Indo-China, so the next step is to connect the line to the South-East Asian peninsula. Malaysia has been doing double tracking of its lines for the last decade or so. It is hoped that it will be possible to catch a train from Singapore to Phnom Penh within two years, and from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City within five years.

Governments are realising there is an ever increasing amount of cargo traffic, which needs to be transported effectively and cost efficiently, and that railways are less intrusive than roads.

And there are yet more plans, depending if mountains and rivers can be tamed. One idea is to link the Chinese rail southward through Laos along the Mekong River, although the technical challenges offered by the dramatic landscapes would make this expensive.

And even more far-fetched idea is to link China to Myanmar and then to the coast. However this suggestion may not be realised as there are huge mountain ranges in the way, not to mention the political problems in the cash-strapped Myanmar.

There is still the problem of getting visas for international travellers, but some of the border crossings are getting easier and opening up more between Indochina and China.

The Trans-Asian Railway will soon link Europe to several parts of Asia, enabling freight to be carried. And it will certainly be a great adventure for passengers travelling from Singapore to London or even Venice. The Brunei Times

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Monday, December 15, 2008

ACRES of concern for animals

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Organisation to improve living conditions of caged animals 


Awareness: ACRES is devoted to the welfare of animals. Their aim is to improve the living conditions and welfare of animals in captivity, and foster respect and compassion for all animals, especially by educating people. (Photo)Rabbits living in crowded space.
Picture: Liz Price

Saturday, December 13, 2008

IN my capacity as a freelance writer, I was asked to attend a workshop relating to Responsible Tourism. If I'd known how depressing the class would be, I might have not attended. However I did learn a lot from that day.

The programme was called Zoo Check and we were shown lots of sad and sickening photos of animals kept in bad conditions in zoos and parks across Asia. It was pitiful to see some of the ways these animals had to lead their lives.

Zoo Check is a campaign by ACRES, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society. ACRES is a charity registered in 2001 in Singapore by Louis Ng. they are devoted to the welfare of animals.

Their aim is to improve the living conditions and welfare of animals in captivity, and foster respect and compassion for all animals, especially by educating people.

One of ACRES priorities is to oversee the zoos in Asia. They inspect the conditions the animals are kept in, checking the size and state of the cages and enclosures. If the animals have any injuries or wounds, these are noted.

Some zoo inmates are housed in cages which are bare and have no features or furnishings. Some animals need trees to climb, monkeys and apes need trees to swing in, and maybe nest in.

They need shelter from the hot sun and rain, and they also need somewhere for privacy where they can get away from visitors.

Soft substrate is important for many animals, especially those that want to dig or burrow or make a soft bed. Other animals naturally nest above ground level so it is wrong to give them sleeping boxes on the ground. A constant supply to fresh drinking water is a must and the enclosures must be kept clean.

Animals may be stressed by being kept in the wrong conditions, or may simply be suffering from acute boredom from a life in captivity with nothing to do.

Many zoo animals are fed at the same time each day, which adds to the boredom. Some may be underfed, others may be obese.

It is becoming popular now in some places to give animals food treats which they have to work at to get, for example pieces of fruit may be frozen in large blocks of ice and the animal has to wait for the ice to melt to get the treat.

Another good method is to put treats in artificial logs with small access holes, so animals such as apes have to use a stick to extract the food.

The animals are watched to see if they display any abnormal behaviour such as constant pacing, head swaying, or pulling out the fur. I'm sure most people who have visited zoos in Asia have seen some of these telltale signs of behavioural problems.

Animal shows are a rapidly growing industry, and Louis and his team monitor these shows to see if the creatures are badly treated or starved in order to make them perform.

The same applies to animals that are photographed with the human visitors; some are cruelly treated in order to make them submissive for the photo shoots.

The four main animals that ACRES assess at zoos and parks are bears, apes, big cats and elephants. The bear parks in Japan have long been a problem keeping far too many creatures in appalling conditions in concrete pits, where they are starved so that they beg for food from visitors. They are even encouraged to fight as humans find this funny.

In many countries bears and indeed many animals, are kept in concrete pits, and the visitor looks down on these animals. They have no natural settings such as trees to climb or soft material for bedding, and often no access to clean water.

One high concern for ACRES is the fact that polar bears are kept in the Tropics. These animals naturally live in the subzero temperatures of the Arctic and have enormous expanses of land over which to roam.

Sadly zoos neglect this fact and place polar bears in tiny enclosures where the pond is often larger than the amount of dry land. This is the opposite of the natural environment.

And polar bears have thick fur and layers of blubber so they cannot really adapt to the tropical heat and sun.

ACRES has a campaign aptly called "What's a polar bear doing in the tropics".

There is an increasingagreement amongst animal specialists worldwide that elephants should not be kept in zoos. Elephants are social creatures and live in large herds which migrate over large distances, and no zoos can offer these facilities.

The worst scenarios are the establishments that keep one solitary female elephant, as this is so stressful for the creature. More and more parks are agreeing that elephants should not be kept in such conditions.

Another concern is the rise in the number of dolphinariums worldwide. These intelligent mammals are made to perform tricks to entertain the visitors, and many are taken from the wild to supply these shows.

Although the animal's facial structures make them appear to be smiling, few of these creatures are probably happy, as some are known to be starved in order to perform tricks to gain a fish as reward.

ACRES also cares about domestic animals, as well as the illegal trade in wildlife. This is a constant problem as animals are traded for the pet or food markets.

They also run a wildlife rescue centre to house rescued animals, either from the wild or the pet trade, and those suitable will be reintroduced into the wild. ACRES is certainly doing a wonderful job in the ever ongoing battle to help nature's creatures, but they need the help of the public everywhere.

Any cases of cruelty or neglect need to be reported, and preferably documented by ways of photos or videos.

And of course education is so important, to teach people as well as the big establishments about the better care needed for all animals that are held captive by man.

More information can be seen on their website, http://www.acres.org.sg/

The Brunei Times


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SIS present postcards against book banning to Ministry

On 9 Dec 2008 I joined a group from Sisters in Islam, as well as other NGOs to deliver almost 1000 protest postcards to the Ministry of Home Affairs at Putra Jaya.

These postcards are in protest at book banning in Malaysia. The campaign was set up by SIS after 2 books were banned in Aug, and taken from the bookshops without any warning or explanation. One book is by Prof. Norani Othman and published by Sisters in Islam, and had been on sale for 3 years before being banned.

the boxes of postcards

It was hoped to hand the postcards and poster directly to the Minister Syed Hamid Albar, but he sent his Under Secretary, Che Din, to receive us.
Che Din


See my album SIS forum on book banning.
See also Sharon Bakar's blog NGO's Protest Book Banning in Malaysia Dec 10 2008 and also her blog entry 20 Aug 2008.

Wednesday December 10, 2008
NGOs protest against book ban with 1,000 signed postcards

PUTRAJAYA: A group of 10 non-governmental organisations including Sisters in Islam, Suaram and representatives from the Bar Council handed some 1,000 postcards protesting against the banning of books to the Home Ministry here.

SIS senior programme manager Maria Chin Abdullah said the postcards were collected from September and bore the signatures of people voicing their protest over the ban.

“We are concerned because the guidelines leading to the ban of books are vague and the decision by the Government is often arbitrary. Some of the banned books have also been published and widely sold in stores for some time but then, the Government decides to confiscate them.

“Similarly, we didn’t even know the books were banned until we read about it in the newspapers,” she told reporters here yesterday, pointing to a book published by SIS — Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism — as an example.

“We want the ministry to call for a consultation with all the parties involved in the publication of books to resolve this matter. Banning books has a negative effect on information and intellectual development,” she pointed out.

Maria said the non-governmental bodies also wanted to know if writers would be compensated for losses suffered when their books are damaged or destroyed in the confiscation process.

The SIS book was edited by Prof Norani Othman from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, who was also present.
© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Friday, December 5, 2008

Balls at Mid Valley - who's lost their marbles ?

At least one year after The Gardens opened next to Mid Valley, they are finally making the gardens.
However outside the entrance to Mid Valley Centre Court, these balls have appeared. I guess it is some form of art...... but to me it is a case of..............


© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Christmas in Mid Valley & Gardens

It's that time of the year again, when it's hard not to get caught up in the festive feeling. Once again Mid Valley has put on a good display for Christmas - they also did an excellent display for Hari Raya 2008.

Whereas the neighbouring Gardens keeps their themes more simple.

Mid Valley's theme for Christmas 2008 is a carnival. At first, I wondered why a carnival, as it's not Christmassy to me. Then I saw the carnival relates to a circus, which still has little to do with Christmas. However when I was a child in England we always went to see the visiting circus which was always in winter time.

As I hate crowds, I only go to Mid Valley in the morning before the real crowds get there. Unfortunately I miss all the shows which generally start after lunch.

However they play Christmas songs throughout the mall and these are really catchy.

Across the road in the neighbouring Gardens, the decorations are more simple and traditional.

However I couldn't work out what the white 'cages' are. At first I thought they were cages, like giant bird cages, but now I wonder if they are some sort of garden pergola.

And the Christmas songs and carols are more traditional and sombre.

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission