Sunday, January 25, 2009

Borneo pygmy elephants

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

Into the Kinabatangan jungle in search of Borneo pygmy elephants

In isolation: Borneo pygmy elephants in the wild.

Pictures: Liz Price

Sunday, January 25, 2009

ON ONE of many visits to the national park, Taman Negara, in Peninsular Malaysia, I was really excited to see a solitary elephant in the wild. I was also quite scared to be so close to this huge pachyderm, as I was alone.

So you can imagine my delight when I went to the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo, and saw a whole herd of elephants. In fact we were able to get so close that we could see the wrinkles and hairs on their hide.

These were the Borneo pygmy elephants. Although elephants have been known in Sabah for some time, it was only in 2003 that it was reported they are possibly a subspecies of the Asian elephant.

There are different ideas about their origin on Borneo, and suggestion says that the elephants are a remnant population of a domesticated herd abandoned on the island by the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century. Others say they were brought to Brunei by the British Borneo Company to help with the logging activities.

The elephants were known to be smaller than the normal elephants in Asia, but DNA analysis carried out in 2003 proved that the pygmy elephants were genetically distinct from other Asian elephants. They are likely to belong to a new subspecies.

The DNA evidence showed that these elephants were isolated about 300,000 years ago from their cousins on mainland Asia and Sumatra. During that period, they became smaller with relatively larger ears, longer tails and straighter tusks.

They are officially named as Borneo pygmy elephant, (Elephas maximus borneensis). Sadly they are already recognised as an endangered species, and although their population is not known, it is estimated to be less than 1,500. Most of these live in Sabah, in lowlands and valleys. They are endangered due to loss and fragmentation of habitat, poaching and culling for their ivory, and other body parts.

So I felt quite honoured to be able to see them at such close quarters. Not all tourists are so lucky. The elephants are migratory and need a huge area of natural habitat to live and breed. So the elephants are only in one place for a short time before moving on.

Quite often when tourists go to the banks of the Kinabatangan to look for the elephants, they are disappointed as these creatures are many miles away. The guide told us they are only seen about five to six times a year.

Normally they try to avoid humans, due to their shy nature. Due to the loss of their natural habitats, they have to pass near populated areas and plantations, and along the banks of the Kinabatangan.

The elephants have a gentle nature and don't seem to mind the presence of gawping tourists equipped with cameras. Although they are the same colour as the Asian elephants, the pygmies have longer tails and are very appealing with their babyish faces and rotund shape. Asian elephants are smaller than their African relatives.

Borneo pygmy elephants are forest herbivores. One adult can eat up to 150kg of vegetation per day, feeding mostly on species of palms, grasses and wild bananas.

They love durian and will roll the entire fruit including spikes in mud, then swallow it whole. They also appear to require supplementary minerals, which they obtain from salt licks.

Elephants live in a matriarchal society, led by a female in small groups of around eight individuals, although larger groups can be seen gathering in open feeding grounds, particularly on riverbanks.

Family groups consist of the females and immature males. Sometimes an adult male can be associated with a herd. When not in a herd, adult males usually remain solitary. They sometimes gather in small but temporary bull herds.

The group I saw consisted of about 15 animals and there were several babies with their mothers. There were four more further away, and yet another group in the woods in the distance.

Even though we made quite a noise scrambling up the river bank from the boat, the elephants stayed put and continued feeding although they did trumpet at our arrival.

The elephants need contact with other family groups to maintain genetic diversity for their evolution and survival. These animals live for up to 60 years in the wild and more than 80 years in captivity. One calf is born at a time and female Asian elephants have about seven calves in a lifetime.

This means they give birth about every four to six years if environmental conditions are favourable. The gestation period is between 19 to 22 months, almost two years, more than twice as long as human babies!

Soon after these pygmy elephants were declared to be a new species, some were captured by traders and were almost exported to zoos in China and Japan. Fortunately the authorities stepped in and banned the export of pygmy elephants.

These pachyderms will only survive as long as their habitat lasts. Large-scale agriculture is encroaching onto their territory as well as deforestation and development. Shrinking forests have also brought the elephants into more contact with people, increasing human-elephant conflict.

Let's hope that these animals, which are one of the last major discoveries in the animal world, will be able to survive and continue living successfully in Borneo.

The Brunei Times

Sunday, January 18, 2009

rubber, Ridley & Low

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

Rubber in Malaya began with Hugh Low

Rubber cultivation: Rubber processing unit; rubber mangle rollers; tapped rubber trees. Although rubber has been in Southeast Asia for more than 150 years, the tree originates from the South American continent.Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, January 18, 2009

RUBBER is one of the most important commodities in Southeast Asia and is an important natural resource for export. Rubber has been in the area for more than 150 years, however the rubber tree is not indigenous as it originates from the South American continent.

If you ask people about how the rubber industry arrived in Southeast Asia, they will probably mention the name Ridley. Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956) is often called the "father of Malaysian rubber industry". Although Ridley well deserves the credit for promoting the cultivation of rubber as a commodity, it was actually Sir Hugh Low Jnr (1824-1905) who introduced South American rubber to Malaya some ten years before the arrival of Ridley.

Low had a distinguished career in government service, but is also remembered for many botanical achievements. His father, Hugh Low Sr, ran a nursery near London and in 1844 sent his 19-year-old son to Malaya and Borneo to collect plant seeds. This was the start of extensive botanical studies, beginning with orchid collections from Johore.

Low Jr then went to the Riau Islands where he collected Pitcher plants (Nepenthes) as well as nutmeg, mangosteens, butterflies and animal skins. From Riau, he moved on to Borneo where he discovered many new species of Nepenthes, orchids and rhododendrons. Because of Low's efforts, orchids became a specialty in his father's nursery.

In 1847 Low was made Governor of Labuan and became Consul-General for Borneo. He stayed in Labuan for 27 years. Then, following James Birch's assassination in November 1875, he became British Resident in Perak in 1876. He remained in Perak until 1889 when he retired and returned to England.

During his years in Malaya, Low maintained a keen interest in economic horticulture, conducting experiments with coffee, cinchona, pepper, tea, sugar, rice and rubber. He is remembered for the introduction of the Balinese pomelo, and Jersey and Alderney cattle into Malaya. And of course rubber.

There are differing stories about how rubber left Brazil. One says that in June 1876, 70,000 seeds left South America — about 1,900 of those plants went to Ceylon, others went to Singapore but were dead on arrival and the rest went to Low's nursery. The following year more went to Singapore, where they did well.

Another report says that in 1876 the first seeds of this tree were smuggled out of Brazil by Henry Wickham and brought to Kew Gardens in London, where they were planted. About 22 seedlings were sent from Kew to Singapore. It was probably Low himself who took the 1877 batch to Singapore. He had gone to England in 1876, soon after the seeds arrived there and began to germinate.

In October 1877 Henry Murton of the Singapore Botanic Gardens took 10 Hevea brasiliensis plants which had been obtained from Ceylon to Kuala Kangsar in Malaya, and 9 of these were successfully planted in the Residency garden. Low probably accompanied Murton, as it is Low who is accredited with introducing and planting the first rubber in Malaya.

The seedling flourished, grew into healthy trees and in their turn produced seed. In February 1879 Low reported his trees to be 12 to 14 feet tall. In 1880 a tree flowered, aged two years. From then on, Low continued to collect and propagate the seedlings, and make test plantings in different parts of the state.

He obviously saw the economic importance of the new crop. The vulcanisation of rubber had already been discovered, in Brazil in 1839.

Whilst in Perak, and even before that in Labuan and Borneo, Low had been looking into indigenous Asian rubbers, but the South American type turned out to be much better. Low visited England in 1884-1885 and left his stand-in, Swettenham, with 400 seeds to plant out. It was these seeds which ultimately produced the trees for the rubber plantations of Malaya.

Ridley meanwhile had arrived in Singapore in 1888, where he took up the post of Director of the Botanic Gardens, from 1888-1912.

He was proud of the small collection of rubber trees and continued the planting of rubber and initiated the first really successful tapping in 1889.

Ridley was the first man to conceive the possibilities of plantation rubber as a prosperous industry, and he used to visit the coffee-planters and urge them to plant his seeds. One of his first recorded visits to Malaya was in 1889 when he went to Batu Caves and the nearby coffee plantations.

Some planters took them as curiosities. Few planters however took Ridley seriously, and among the planting community, he was generally referred to as "Mad Ridley".

Ridley acknowledged Low's work in horticulture when he wrote in 1911, "Sir Hugh Low was indeed a great agriculturalist and must rank next to Raffles as the greatest man we have had there".

So in fact both Low and Ridley contributed hugely to setting up the rubber industry in Malaya, and both should be remembered for their respective roles in making this natural resource such an important part of the area's economy.

The Brunei Times

recycling in Malaysia

I save a lot of my household items - newspapers, magazines, glass and plastics - and take them to the recyling centre. For me it is easy, as the recycling centre is in my local shopping mall so I can drive there. Last week I took 70 kg of items. And they pay you! Of course the pay is very minimal, but it encourages people to do their bit for the enviroment.

So I was interested to see this piece in The Star, as it refers to the recyling centre I go to. It's incredible to know they collect 5 tonnes a DAY.
Thursday January 15, 2009
Tonnes of recyclables sent to mall


THE next time you are planning to shop at Mid Valley Megamall, don’t forget to bring your recyclable garbage, that is, because you can exchange them for some cash as well as protect the environment.
An advocate on recycling and preserving the environment, Mid Valley Megamall started the recycling counter at Level P1 South Court about eight years ago whereby tenants and shoppers, including those working at the eight office buildings surrounding Mid Valley City, were encouraged to bring items for recycling.
“The programme worked so well that today we collect over five tonnes of recyclable materials every day,’’ said head of housekeeping and parking at Mid Valley Megamall, Amirul Adnan.
“People who hear about it come in armed with boxes, newspapers, magazines, mineral water bottles, batteries and basically everything that can be recycled. Even our shoppers started doing it,” Amirul said, adding that many would come in during the weekend to drop off their recyclable garbage.
The programme is being managed by Alam Flora .

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Truly Asian Indulgence

My friends laughed when I said I was going to an afternoon of fashion and make up. Normally I wear Tshirt and shorts and never use make up. But as I had an invitation to attend the event, I decided to accept.

The event, exclusively for ladies, was hosted by Suria KLCC and held in Spring Garden Restaurant on 4th floor of Suria. The CEO of Suria KLCC made the opening welcome speech, and about 70 ladies attended. Poor guy, being faced by a sea of women, he made his escape as soon as he had spoken! Drinks and small nibbles were served and we watched a skin care demo by SHISEIDO. This was actually a girl making up a model, and as I never wear make up, it was all alien to me!!!

High tea was next, and this turned out to be a full scale buffet. The restaurant serves Chinese food and dim sum and we all piled our plates high. The food was good, loads of prawns in different styles as well as lots of other dishes.

Whilst we were eating there was a fashion show by Ang Eng, Dewi Moon and Salabianca, which are designer shops in Suria KLCC. The models of course looked great, but I wondered how the clothes would look on us mere mortals. The fashion show was done to a very catchy song "Chop Suey". And Salabnianca's collection was entitled Dim Sum Drama.

The event ended with about 8 prizes (shop vouchers of RM500 etc),we were asked questions about Suria KLCC and first person to put up their hand could answer. It was a bit chaotic with dozens of people all with their hands in the air. I won nothing, as I don't really know the shops. But we were all given a gift bag on leaving, full of beauty products. Only problem is I don't know what most of them are! What the heck do you do with "super refining essence" or "intensive skin corrective program".
© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Venturing around Vientiane

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

Venturing around Vientiane

Charming country: Vientiane is still a charming place and the beauty of it is the lack of traffic and the lack of hassle from the 'tuk tuk' drivers. As Laos is a Buddhist country, Vientiane has its share of wats and temples. Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I WAS pleasantly surprised at how small Vientiane is. I am always a bit apprehensive in going to a capital city for the first time, as they can be huge and overwhelming places.

Vientiane is the capital and largest city in Laos, but compared to other Asian capitals, it is laidback and almost traffic free. The capital Vientiane only has a population of half a million.

Although I had been to Laos a few times before, I had never flown into Vientiane. So I felt quite at ease finding a small, quiet airport, and I was soon through the formalities. I changed some money and then bought a taxi coupon and again had a nice surprise when I found all the taxis were relatively new cars.

It is a straight road into town, and I was soon at my hotel. I dumped my bag and set off to explore the town. Vientiane is located on the banks of the Mekong River, and I could see this mighty river from my room. Although the river looks wide here, it is actually still roughly only halfway on its long journey from source to sea.

One of the requisites of a stay in Vientiane is to sit on the banks of the Mekong and watch the sunset over the water as its sinks down beyond the Thai horizon. Alternatively you can take your pick of the riverside bars or cafes, and then maybe have a seafood dinner at one of the dozens of outdoor food stalls.

The Friendship Bridge crosses the Mekong to connect Vientiane to Nong Khai in Thailand, but is 18km downriver so can't be seen from the city. It was dry season when I was there in January and there was a huge dry sandbank visible on the Lao side, which I had seen clearly from the air.

Vientiane is a city steeped in legend and history, and the city is small enough that you can easily walk around the centre and see the sights on foot. There is no need to take transport in the form of "tuk tuks".

A good place to start sightseeing is the Namphou fountain as it is quite central. The fountain circle and gardens are surrounded by colonial buildings, some of which are now cafes with pavement tables. At night the fountain is active and attractively illuminated.

The Lao National Museum is a 2-storey classical mansion opposite the modern town hall. Entry ticket costs US$1 ($1.47). The museum is small enough that it holds your attention, and has a good display on archaeology and prehistory, as well as the section dedicated to the Pathet Lao struggle including a feature on the Vieng Xai caves which were used to hide the government officers during the Vietnam War.

As you walk around you can see the city is a blend of French colonial architecture and gilded temples. The city first became a capital in 1560, but in 1828 was ransacked by the Siamese, who controlled the city for over a hundred years.

The French eventually took control of the city in the late 19th century, hence the abundance of French style architecture.

It is good just to walk around the streets lined with trees, and absorb the atmosphere. The busiest and biggest road is the boulevard which leads to the Pratuxai, which is a large monument very reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It was built in 1969 to commemorate the people who died in pre-revolutionary wars.

As Laos is a Buddhist country, Vientiane has its share of wats and temples. The two most important are Wat That Luang and Wat Phra Keo, both date back to the 1560s when the capital was established.

The massive gilded stupa of Pha That Luang is 4km northeast of the centre, and is the most important national monument in Laos. Phra Keo is the former temple of the Lao monarchy.

There are at least another five wats in the two blocks between the fountain and the river. It's a pleasant stroll along the riverside road, passing all the pavement cafes and then wandering around the temple grounds.

One of these is Wat Ong Teu, or Temple of the Heavenly Buddha. It is one of the most important temples in Laos, but the original 16th century building was destroyed in one of the wars with the Siamese and has been replaced with a 19th century building.

One stupa that intrigued me was the That Dam or Black Stupa. It is partially overgrown and situated in the middle of a small roundabout.

Legend says that the stupa is home to a dormant 7-headed dragon that came to life during a Lao-Siamese war in 1828 and protected local citizens. The stupa is impressive looking and resembles a bell. Facing it on one side are some old colonial houses.

I felt obliged to visit the Morning Market as it is in the tourist literature, but found it a disappointment.

A new shopping centre full of fashion and hand phone shops seems to have replaced the market, leaving just a very small ethnic market across the road next to the post office.

As Vientiane is so close to Thailand, it is now cashing in on visitors coming over. I found it hard to get authentic Lao food, as most seemed to serve Thai style dishes. The restaurants are quite international and I saw one offering Indian and Malaysian food, as well as several European styles.

And now that the airport is handling flights from local ASEAN countries, several restaurants along the river are serving halal food. I even saw a live goat being dragged into an Indian halal restaurant.

Thankfully there are no Western fast food places, yet, although local and European style coffee shops and bakers are opening up. Dao Coffee is one of the best known of the local coffees. There are few big shops and no large supermarkets, although there are two 'minimarts' that cater for expats.

Vientiane is still a charming place and the beauty of it is the lack of traffic and the lack of hassle from the "tuk tuk" drivers.

You can walk around at your own pace, confident in the fact that the city is small enough that you won't get lost, and you can feel at ease in the peaceful atmosphere. The Brunei Times
Source URL:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thatched roofs of England

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

Thatched roofs — icons of England

Living historical heritage: (Clockwise from above) There are more thatched roofs in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. Thatchers have been practising their craft here since people first began gathering in villages - before the middle ages. A good thatched roof not only makes a country cottage picturesque - it is also very long lasting. A roof thatched by a skilled craftsman can last 40 to 50 years without needing refurbishment. Pictures: Liz Price

Sunday, January 4, 2009

COTTAGES and houses with thatched roofs are a pleasing sight in the English countryside. There are more thatched roofs in the United Kingdom than in any other European country.

Although thatch is used all over the world, it seems to be used in a charming manner in Britain. A quaint English village is typified by stone cottages with climbing roses and with well kept thatch roofs.

Thatch is probably the oldest roofing material and has been used in both tropical and temperate climates. The roof is covered with dry vegetation such as straw, reed, sedge, rushes and heather, and the vegetation is layered so that water runs away.

Although the work of thatching is now very costly in the Western world, in developing countries it is used as a low cost material, using local vegetation that is easily available.

In England thatch has been used since at least the Middle Ages, maybe as far back as the Iron Age, when the materials used were widely available. Thatched cottages and farm buildings were the norm in rural Britain for a millennium or more.

In those days people cooked on open fires, and it was very common for the thatch to catch alight resulting in disastrous fires which swept through the villages. It was such a problem that thatch roofs were prohibited in London as far back at the 13th century.

In those days it was easy to get the natural materials used for the roofs. But as the supply of wheat and therefore straw declined, especially during various wars, by the early 19th century thatching was in decline. One reason for this decline was better transportation. With new railways being built in Victorian Britain, it was easy to get cheap slate from Wales, and slate became a popular roofing material.

The tradition of thatching in Britain has lasted and a few skilled craftsmen are in high demand. In Asia most thatched roofs are made from sago and are known as attap. In England the traditional material has always been straw from wheat. Good quality straw can last around 50 years. New layers of straw are laid on top of the old layers, and can result in a thickness of up to 2m of thatch.

Water reed is also another plant widely used, but nowadays this has to be imported from Eastern Europe. As more of the English countryside is being devoured by new buildings and housing estates, there is an increasing shortage of natural materials as the landscape becomes more urban.

The thatcher has to be skilled to do a good roof. Bundles of the material are tied together and then laid on the roof. They are secured to the roof beams, and pegged in place with wooden rods. Layers are added on top of one another and the final layer is secured to the ridgeline of the roof. The thatch has to endure the inclement weather, such as rain and heavy winds, and the lifespan depends on the skill of the craftsman.

Some thatch is supported with wire netting. This reminds me of an old lady with her hair held in place with a hair net! The thatch requires some maintenance over the years, despite being fairly weather resistant. In countries such as England which are cold in winter, a thickly thatched roof provides insulation and keeps the house warm.

Some houses even have a decorative feature on the roof in the shape of a thatched animal, usually a bird such as a peacock or pheasant. Other animals such as hares and foxes are symbolised and it is said that each thatcher has his own personal "signature" represented by the animal he makes.

One thousand years ago, castles and manor houses in Britain had roofs lined with thatch. The poor people used thatch for their cottages and hovels. Farmhouses were thatched and even some churches used this material. Today some of the country pubs still have thatched roofs and this certainly attracts customers who are drawn by the beauty of the building. It's funny how thatch once started as a poor man's roof in England, and now is generally only used by the wealthy.

The Brunei Times

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Laos bushmeat

I actually submitted this article in Feb 2007 but the editor didn't publish as she thought the animal rights people would criticise. So I was surprised to find it published in Jan 2009.
See more photos on bush meat in Laos markets.

THE STAR, Lifestyle
Saturday January 3, 2009

Bush meat, bats and buffaloes

Bored with your basic food groups? Explore potentially new sources of protein in Laos.
I don’t enjoy cooking, so rather than visit a wet market, I prefer to buy my meat and vegetables from a supermarket. And even then, I tend to be quite conservative and invariably buy meat neatly packaged with Clingfilm.
Typical of many English people, I tend to eat just the meat and discard all the rest – the innards, head, feet and tail.
My mother at the young age of 79 came out to Kuala Lumpur to visit me, and I clearly remember her horror when I showed her the packs of chicken feet neatly arranged in rows on their trays at the supermarket. And when I told her Malaysians love to eat fish head and that it was considered a delicacy, she began to question my sanity.

At first glance, the morning market at Luang Prabang looks like a typical wet market but a closer look reveals that among the fresh vegetables and fruits, there are exotic meats like monitor lizards, frogs, civets, birds and slugs. – THE STAR

So I haven’t yet told her about the “bush meat” I saw on sale in the markets of Laos.
The Lao will hunt and eat virtually anything that moves. So going to a local market is quite an eye-opener. At times I wished I had my field book on mammals to identify what I saw. While trekking in Laos, we saw no wildlife at all, except for the occasional bird. They were all at the market!
But we did see plenty of people out with traps and snares, nets, catapults and slingshots to catch any animal they see. Nothing is spared.
My friends had arrived in Luang Prabang before me. Knowing I had an interest in bats, they told me they had seen bats for sale at the local market. I was really excited to hear this, and next morning paid an early, pre-breakfast visit to the market. Little did I know that for the next three weeks I would see bats in every market, every day.
There were fruit bats and insect-eating bats. Some were dead, some still alive. Some were sold individually, others sold in bundles tied up with string. There were even miniature ones sold in lots of five, grilled between two wooden sticks. However, I didn’t see any of the large fruit bats, so maybe the supply was already exhausted.
Apart from bats, there were rats too. These were all dead, but some were very fresh with blood still oozing out, others were skinned, and a few were dried while some were almost mummified. I saw ordinary rats as well as white-bellied rats. The latter were quite attractive with their brown and white coats.

A variety of birds, mammals and rodents can be found at the market.
However, I was most fascinated by the bamboo rats, as these were still alive. Some were held captive in cages, whilst others were tethered.
The first one lunged at me as I tried to get close to take a photo. It attempted to take a chunk out of my camera with its large yellow teeth. From then on, I kept a distance from their strong choppers. These bamboo rats have stocky bodies, and large feet and claws designed for digging bamboo roots.
Other rodents commonly seen were squirrels. There were various types, the most attractive being the ones with the reddish fur.
Surprisingly, I saw very few chickens in the markets and villages. Although we saw pigs, there wasn’t an abundance of chickens. However, we did hear the noisy roosters, which woke us each morning.
Some market stalls were devoted to buffaloes. The whole animal was there for sale in various pieces, from horn to hooves.
At the markets, frogs were large and kept alive in bowls. Others were tied together with string. I only saw one snake, a species of Racer.
Laos is a landlocked country. In markets in the northeast, I saw sea fish, so probably these came from Vietnam. And in Luang Prabang, there were large fish straight from the Mekong River.
Last but not least, were the birds – Green Cochoa, Golden-throated Barbets, Asian Barred Owlet and partridges (maybe Mountain Bamboo partridge).
I have to admit we did try some of these exotic foods. First was squirrel, which wasn’t too bad, although it was rather bony.
We then ordered bamboo rat. This definitely wasn’t a favourite as the meat was tough and rubbery; there were lots of bones, and the skin was tough and fatty. I didn’t enjoy eating this, partly because I felt sorry for the animal. But I did keep the feet and a tail for a ­souvenir!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Fireworks and fogging

My last day of 2008 started with a cloud of fog as the houses in front of me were fogged at 7.30am. My year ended with some fireworks close to my window. Every New Year's eve I can see about 6 sets of fireworks around the city and also at Genting, but it was a pleasant surprise to have some fireworks right in front of my window.

HAPPY 2009 TO ALL !!!