Hornbill Guardians

At the edge of Temenggor Lake in Hulu Perak, the boat laden with food provisions for a night and two days’ stay is ready to depart the jetty. Yeap Chin Aik, hornbill conservation officer from the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) glances at his watch and looks northwards. Two of his Hornbill Guardians have yet to appear. Their village – Kampung Sungai Tiang – lies deep within the Royal Belum State Park. We only hope they have not forgotten this afternoon’s rendezvous.

From the floating pontoon at the jetty, I catch sight of the lush forest complex – almost 320,000 hectares of tropical forest – Royal Belum State Park lies north of the East-West Highway and Temengor Forest Reserve to its south. Together with southern Thailand’s national parks, they form one of the largest contiguous expanse of forest with rich flora and fauna biodiversity. Bird life in particular.

Yeap has been studying hornbills in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex since 2004 with the aim of promoting the conservation of wild hornbills and increase the awareness of hornbills as seed dispersals in our forests. Five Jahai and a Temiar – are the Hornbill Guardians – and helping Yeap monitor the movements of these magnificent hornbills. For the next two days, they will exchange binoculars for compact cameras, SLRs and a video camera to learn basic photography and video skills to improve their hornbill documentation.

When the latecomers finally arrive by boat, we join Roslan Carang another Hornbill Guardian in his boat and set off for Kampung Chuweh Baru, about a half hour’s journey away.

Yeap Chin Aik en route to the village

After an absence of five years, little of the Temengor Lake landscape has changed. Beneath these waters are the valleys long ago flooded for a hydroelectric dam.

Kampung Chuweh Baru comes into view. I am fixated on the ultra steep concrete pathway, the kind that takes your breath away. At the top, neat rows of brick and concrete homes powered by diesel-generated electricity, and clean water running out from taps and showers are vast improvements. Half a decade ago, the villagers had no electricity and fetching water from the lake in pails was the norm.

In December 2014, the original Chuweh Village was submerged after dam water rose to record-breaking levels. Most of the Jahai moved away to rebuild, but even though they have modern homes and flat screen televisions, their original homes made of bamboo and thatched sago and tepus leaves still exist at the fringes of the village.

It’s not all theory; participants practice what they have learnt.

After ascending the steep concrete track, the hill sloped gradually down to a banana orchard and the MNS field house which is two-thirds complete. It has a zinc roof, wooden floorboards and four thatched walls. It will do.

We quickly settle in and proceed to walk to the other end of the village. The classroom, with mesh netting walls is equipped with melamine-topped tables, plastic chairs, and a white board. After a round of introductions, the workshop begins in earnest.


Punctually at 9am, they rode in on motorbikes, a few riding pillion. Looking around the wooden table, faces of school-going children, adolescents and barely adults are the managers and habitat guides of Kelab Alami. Sitting outside the kelab house, with pens hovering over open notebooks, and a warm breeze encouraging discourse, we begin the workshop on news reporting.

What makes a village story newsworthy? I run through examples of what is news, and the criteria that makes a story newsworthy. The workshop ends with a practical session on how to frame shots, and an introduction to a free editing phone application. By pure coincidence, the club’s co-founder Shalan Ju’mat arrives – his truck is loaded with fishing nets and rambutan fruit, which becomes part of that morning’s news – and a refreshing snack!

Kelab Alami equips club youth with citizen science skills to help monitor island and coastal habitats.
Kelab Alami equips club youth with citizen science skills to help monitor island and coastal habitats.

Kelab Alami

I was invited to stay at Kelab Alami, a single-storey house set in the middle of a cluster of homes in Kampung Ladang, Johor Darul Takzim. The environmental youth club founded by local Shalan Ju’mat and his wife Serina Rahman is strategically located close to the Gelang Patah R&R, the Second Tuas Link into Singapore, and Pak Ngah jetty, the latter being the jumping off point for excursions to the natural wetland areas of southern Johor.

One of Kelab Alami’s initiatives is to teach the youth how to be citizen scientists to help study and monitor island and coastal habitats; and to provide them with entrepreneurship and employment opportunities.

At the beginning of my stay, I was teaching two teenage boys how to craft a simple website using a freely available hosting service. By mid-week, a teenage girl joined our class, and by the end of my stay, the class size had grown to a dozen inquisitive children sitting cross-legged on the linoleum-covered floor. Shalan had requested that the children, from nearby villages, learn how to use e-mail. We just had enough time to share safety tips when using the Internet and set up e-mail accounts for everyone. Hoping to share with them more digital skills so they can use social media to promote Kelab Alami.

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