15th July, 2011
SANDAKAN: As home to 600 resident and migratory bird species, including about 50 that can only be found on the Borneo island, Sabah is a paradise for bird watchers.
Though Sabah is on the international bird watchers list, more needs to be done to promote the diverse bird fauna in the state, and convert it into economic returns.
Realizing the economic potential of bird-watching, and the need to create awareness of the state’s unique avian heritage, the Borneo Bird Club was established in Oct 2010, headed by Gary Albert.
Gary, president of Borneo Bird Club, told Bernama, recently, that the club, with 100 members, serves as the best platform to promote bird-watching as part of Sabah’s tourism industry.
A LOW PROFILE ACTIVITY
Though Sabah has been a favourite haunt for many foreign bird-watchers, the activity isn’t very popular in the state. Sabah is unlike neighbouring countries, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, or even Europe, where there are many bird-watchers’ clubs and tours.
“Only now has the club, with the cooperation of the state’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, Forestry Department and the Wildlife Department, embarked on programmes to inculcate interest in bird-watching and conservation activities,” he said.
The Malaysia Nature Society and the Nature Society in Sabah play an important role in cultivating interest in bird-watching.
BORNEO BIRD FESTIVAL
Sabah’s first official bird-watching activity, the Borneo Bird Festival, was held in Oct 2009, in Sepilok, near Sandakan, with overseas bird-watcher club members taking part, as well.
Due to an overwhelming response, the second festival took place in the following year. This year, the third Borneo Bird Festival will take place in October.
Gary pointed out that Sabah has a number of established bird-watching spots – Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) in Sepilok, Kinabalu Park in Kundasang, Kampung Sukau in Kinabatangan, Danum, Tabin Valley in Lahad Datu, and Sungai Klias in Beaufort.
These are the places where many species can be seen, including those endemic to Borneo.
However, bird-watching is not limited to bird-watching club members. The club is now focusing on programmes to attract public participation, especially from the younger generation.
For a start, the Borneo Bird Club has enlisted primary and secondary students for activities such as the young ranger programme at RDC.
A mobile exhibition is also on the cards, apart from the upcoming Borneo Bird Festival.
TRAINING BIRD GUIDES
According to Gary, to create greater appreciation for the state’s avian heritage, the club plans to train more bird guides, as their numbers are currently limited.
There are about six licensed bird guides in the state, and their services see high demand.
In the long term, the club plans to train tour guides to serve as bird guides as well. They will be taught different bird species, and the ethics of bird-watching.
At present, tour agents offer bird-watching in their tour-packages, but it is supervised by tour guides.
Meanwhile, the club’s vice president, Cede Prudente, added that more tour guides with a knowledge of birds were needed to promote bird-watching in the state.
“There are many foreigners who want to come to the state to observe birds, and it is up to us to fulfill the demand.
“They want guides who have knowledge of different bird species, and, therefore, we need to train more guides with knowledge in this field,” said Cede, who is also the vice president of the Sandakan Environment Lovers’ Club.
EDUCATION ON BIRDS AND CONSERVATION
Cede also stressed the importance of educating the public to appreciate bird fauna and conservation efforts.
The upcoming Borneo Bird Festival will provide a good platform to educate the public in appreciating birds, and their conservation.
“The number of people attending the festival has been increasing since 2009, but we want to see visitors appreciate and understand birds as part of the animal kingdom, and the role they play in the ecosystem,” he said.
Borneo Bird Club also undertook bird-watching in several locations, with the first being IJM Sabang palm oil plantation at Sugut Beluran, on June 10, where 15 members of the club participated.
Bird-watching took place in the jungle around IJM’s clubhouse.
Among the species found in the area were the Wallace’s Hawk, Blue-Eared Kingfisher and the Rhinoceros Hornbill.
The programme, conducted with the cooperation of IJM Plantations Berhad, educated the club about the environmental conservation efforts undertaken by IJM.