Thursday, 25 October 2012

Flying High at the Festival of Wings 2012

The Malaysian Nature Society's (MNS) Festival of Wings 2012 is the 8th Festival of Wings we have conducted to date; the fifth Festival for which I am a volunteer; and the second one in which we conducted the Firefly Conservation and Awareness Programme.
Festival of Wings is a migratory bird festival organised annually in October by MNS with the support of the Kuala Selangor District Council, the Selangor State Government and the state tourism board, with the objective of creating environmental awareness on mangrove and forest ecosystems and on the importance of birds as bio-indicators.

Kuala Selangor is the ideal location for this event, not merely because the Kuala Selangor Nature Park is managed by MNS, but because of the amazing biodiversity and natural beauty in Kuala Selangor, a district known for its synchronous congregating firefly population.

 In 2011, I developed the Firefly Conservation and Awareness Programme with the assistance of Sonny, the MNS Head of Science and Conservation, along with my incredible volunteers, Liza Manshoor, Ilani Manshoor and Sheela Prabhakaran. We were happy to repeat the programme this year due to its success last year, and I am pleased to report that we received an encouraging response from the public at our booth and for our activities this year as well.

One of the side attractions at our Firefly Conservation Awareness Booth -- Games! In the Nerf gun challenge, visitors learn to identify threats to firefly habitats (which include the clearing of river reserves, large scale oil palm cultivation, unregulated sand mining activities, river widening for flood mitigation, water pollution and poor waste management) and shoot them down. They have to name at least one threat to firefly habitats before picking up their prize(s) to ensure that this doesn't descend into a gratuitous game of target practice. 

 The second challenge, the buzzwire challenge, helps visitors develop empathy for fireflies and acquire natural history knowledge in the process.

Informative posters on congregating firefly zones, firefly life cycles and major threats to firefly habitats and populations.

Folklore in bottles, to help visitors understand the cultural value and significance of fireflies. This one is a story from Central Luzon, about Alitaptap, the firefly princess.

Bilingual firefly bookmarks with natural history and conservation information designed by our awesome volunteer, Liza Manshoor. I just prepared and verified the text and got the bookmarks printed.

Aravind explaining threats to firefly habitats and populations to the youngsters, while Sheela explains the natural history of fireflies to another group of visitors.

Wise Macaque, he says: "A worm in banana is better than half a worm in tummy."

A rare quiet moment at the booth before we are besieged by schoolchildren and visitors again.

Our environmental educators Laila and Syuhada... all ready for Halloween, I see?

Schoolgirls trying their hand and shooting down threats to firefly habitats.

A view of the wetlands from the watchtower.

Monkeys, park benches and a lighthouse -- a combination that never goes wrong.

A mother silver leaf monkey and her golden-haired offspring at Bukit Malawati.

Green Living's Water Conservation Challenge was flagged off at noon on Sunday. Participants had to locate 12 laminated tags bearing pictures of water-wasting habits, and suggest alternatives and water saving measures in response to each picture. This contest was a test of speed and environmental know-how, and we had a full turnout for it.

Aravind and I taking down team positions after the Water Conservation Challenge.

The prizegiving ceremony for the Water Conservation Challenge was a joyous affair for the local schoolchildren who formed the majority of the participants. The 2nd place winners were all smiles when they saw the science kits and other prizes in their bag of goodies.

All the participants of the Water Conservation Challenge received a copy of the Green Living booklet and a Firefly Awareness bookmark each, so no effort was left unrewarded.


Young visitors trying out the buzzwire game at our Firefly Conservation & Awareness Booth.

An exhibit on mangrove flora and ecosystems by the schoolchildren. The drinking water bottles on the right hold different water samples for water quality testing.

A horseshoe crab in one of the mangrove exhibits set up by the schoolchildren. They assured me that they would release the horseshoe crab on Sunday evening.

And so another meaningful yet fun Festival of Wings came to an end on a rainy Sunday evening. But the Kuala Selangor Nature Park remains open to visitors all year around.

The Kuala Selangor Nature Park has been under the management of the Malaysian Nature Society since 1987. For more information, please contact:
Kuala Selangor Nature Park (KSNP)
Tel : (603) 3289 2294
Fax : (603) 3289 4311

Firefly Watching Etiquette:
1. Do not switch on bright lights. This includes lights from mobile phones and cameras.
2. Do not talk loudly or make unnecessary noise.
3. Do not try to catch or touch fireflies or break branches of trees to get a closer look.
4. Do not litter. Please bring your litter out with you.

 What You Can Do To Help Firefly Populations:
1. Switch off all unnecessary outdoor lighting.
2. Keep the environment clean and free of litter, especially near rivers, ponds and lakes.
3. Avoid using pesticides.
4. Use only natural fertilisers.
5. If you live near/beside Sg. Selangor, please avoid felling trees, clearing natural vegetation, farming activities that involve the use of chemicals and sand-mining on riverbanks.

Monday, 15 October 2012

"Big Dreams, Little Bears" at the KLEFF

Over the last decade, there has been a rise in documentary film-making, especially those with an environmental or social justice theme, including by Malaysians. The common objective of such films would naturally be to raise awareness on environmental and social issues and hopefully engender a spirit of activism.

EcoKnights, the same lovely organisation behind the Anugerah Hijau awards, has been conducting the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival since 2008 to make these documentaries accessible to the public.

You would think that someone with my pedigree in environmental activism would have attended the film festival before, especially since Yasmin of EcoKnights did such a glowing write-up on me in their newsletter. Well, I haven't, partly because almost all my after-work hours are filled with other volunteer and social commitments, and partly because I feel that watching a documentary and familiarising oneself with environmental issues almost never translates into hands-on action. Very few of the hipster yuppies and fad-following college sophomores who throng these green festivals end up walking the talk, although I would never discourage anyone from wanting to learn more by attending these film festivals.

My (genteel and largely silent) objection to such film festivals is chiefly due to the fact that: (a) At least half the people attending these documentary screenings would have driven there in private vehicles; and (b) they're preaching only to the choir -- those with high-consuming, high-waste lifestyles are not going to attend green film festivals. Half the population of the Klang Valley would still be shopping and dining out and yakking on their phones as they do every weekend, while a negligible minority who are actually interested in the documentaries would have driven out so they could catch the film festival.

The reason I haven't attended any of the documentary screenings in any of the installments of the Eco Film Festival is also that there isn't much the documentaries could tell me that I haven't already read or learned about. After all, if I have watched most of the documentaries on my computer or during volunteering stints, it doesn't make any sense to drive out on a particular weekend just to show my support at a "green" event.

 This year, I made an exception for "Big Dreams, Little Bears", a documentary on Malayan Sun Bears and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, a wildlife sanctuary and non-governmental organisation founded and managed by my friend, Wong Siew Te.

Directed by Howard Jackson and presented by Dr. Audrey Low, "Big Dreams" introduces the viewer to challenges faced by the Malayan Sun Bear population, including those resulting from deforestation, habitat destruction and forest clearing for agriculture. Thus began Wong's 10-year struggle to save the little-known sun bears.

When the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre was first set up, few people outside of conservation circles knew of it, or were even aware that these little bears are natives of Sabah. Few people have any encounters with sun bears apart from glimpses of the two forlorn sun bears in their barren enclosure in Zoo Negara (now improved and with enrichment activities). Many did not even realise that the BSBCC was independently funded, and had assumed that they received funding from the State government or WWF.

Aravind and I dropped by Universiti Malaya on Sunday after volunteering at the SPCA animal shelter as usual to catch the film and to catch up with old friends. Here are a few clips from the documentary:

Wong and team observe the sun bears, mostly rescued from private zoos, private owners and the cooking pot, shortly after the rescue centre was set up.

Two of the biggest male bears had a fight and they were given medical treatment under anaesthesia. Here is the foot of one of the bears. Isn't it adorable, even with blue wound spray on? The hairs in between his toes help him have a better grip while climbing. The bears may be small but they are very strong. Their claws and teeth could rip through a young coconut the way we crunch through peanut shells.

Wong, Wai Pak and the BSBCC team put up electric fencing to keep rogue macaques out and the sun bears in.

"Hello, I may be cute, but I am a wild animal and am unsuitable as a pet".

Wai Pak decided to try to lure Om the male bear out.

Om decided to go back into his enclosure and roll around in the leaves and branches that he pulled back into his enclosure.

Suria accepted Wai Pak's invitation to come out and play.

Suria chased Wai Pak around the compound for over 20 minutes. It looked like so much fun! I told Aravind that when we go to volunteer at BSBCC, I would like to be chased by a sun bear too. Aravind asked me to consider what would happen if a sun bear manages to catch me with his or her coconut-shredding claws. (Photo credits: TimeOut KL)

The film cast and crew: Dr. Audrey, Wai Pak, Wong Siew Te and Howard. (Photo credits: Siew Te's blog)

Siew Te has made many sacrifices in order to save these bears. This was a photo he posted on his New Year's Eve celebrations, when all of us were posting from wherever we were partying. What we wouldn't do to be in his place instead! He is doing such a great job. May we all continue to do our best to save the sun bears and their habitat.

What YOU can do to help sun bears:

1. Educate yourself on this little-known species.
2. Raise awareness on the plight of sun bears via blog and social media.
3. Support BSBCC's fundraising efforts.
4. Volunteer both at the BSBCC rescue centre and for their fundraising and awareness events.
5. Offer your skills and services -- whether as an editor, photographer, copywriter or graphic designer.
6. Be a smart consumer -- Read your labels. Buy only certified sustainable oil palm and timber products.
7. Do not support the wildlife trade. Report any incidences of sun bears being kept in captivity. Even in licensed facilities, sun bears may be ill-treated or not provided with adequate nutrition and enrichment. Keep your eyes open for such incidences of poor treatment.
8. Report wildlife crimes (including poaching, hunting, sale and consumption) to the Wildlife Crime Hotline at 019 356 4194 /

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  This Week's Photodump:

The baby bird CovertDad and CovertMum rescued from the drain 3 weeks ago, getting a sponge bath from CovertMum.

CovertMum feeding the baby bird. I think it's a Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

Post-bath treats for the dogs at the SPCA.

My latest foster cats, who were rescued from our office canteen on 11th October. They have since been given a flea bath and been spayed and dewormed. The adult cat is Cantina. Her kittens are named Boris and Clyde. All of them are up for adoption.

My friend Jennifer is providing temporary food and shelter for this handsome, friendly and approachable young male dog. We believe he was a former pet and has been abandoned. Dingo has already been bathed, Frontlined, vaccinated and neutered. As we have spent quite a significant amount on vet fees, we request a kind donation of RM100 as adoption fee. You will only have to attend to the second vaccination and the dog licence application. Please contact me if you would like to adopt our Dashing Dingo!

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Sunday, 7 October 2012

October Awesomeness

We are now officially in the final quarter of the year. October is a month full of delightful things to look forward to -- World Animal Day, Malaysian Nature Society's Festival of Wings, Oktoberfest, Navrathri, Halloween and some of my best friends' birthdays.

October started off with a bang with the visit of my buddy Sumita. We were best friends in college but somehow we drifted apart after graduation and being called to the Bar. She made a special trip down to KL for the World Animal Day festivities.

The funny ones do their bit for the furry ones! We attended the Stand Up for Animals charity comedy show at the PJ Live Arts Centre on October 4, World Animal Day. It featured some of our country's best comedians. All proceeds would go towards community animal spaying and neutering efforts.

My three best friends -- Aravind, Sumita and Nicole -- waiting for the show to start at the PJ Live Arts Centre. We know we're in for a good time!

Here I am now, with the girls, before the show started. What a riot it was!

Kuah Jenhan was the best comedian by far. That's a name we're not going to forget in a hurry! We love his politically incorrect jokes about the differences between men and women and his funny anecdotes about his family. There's just something so spontaneous, endearing and relatable about his jokes.

The five stars of the evening, (L-R) Jit Murad with Winter (Richard and Chae Lian's lovely dog), Harith Iskandar, Kuah Jenhan and Douglas Lim, came out to take a bow at the end of the charity performance. In my opinion, Kuah Jenhan and Douglas Lim did a sterling job of taking the mickey out of themselves and Malaysians and having us in stitches. I can tell Douglas has never really given up teaching (he used to be an English teacher before he ventured into acting and stand-up comedy) because his lessons on Malaysian English were outrageously funny and accurate.

My friends and I couldn't stop talking about Jenhan and Douglas for days, and continue to crack up each time we repeat the jokes to one another. Jit Murad was off-form and really quite pitiably unfunny. Maybe it's just not his day, or maybe he is going through some issues. Harith Iskandar is overrated as usual and nowhere near as funny as his younger and more charming counterparts. You can only reveal so much about your personal and family life before you start boring the audience and making us feel uncomfortable. I thought his performance was the weakest of the lot during Kings and Queen of Comedy Asia 2011 as well. Perhaps it is time for Harith to consider another career if he is going to continue recycling the same jokes.

Remember how I mentioned wanting to try the Bhut Jolokia in my Bucket List? Well, we sampled it and survived! In fact, it wasn't as painful an experience as others would have me believe! It really is very tasty and addictive if cooked right. You can see the Scoville Heat Unit chart here in Chilli Rush, one of my favourite restaurants, in Jaya One, also one of our favourite shopping complexes due to the fact that it is pet-friendly. The Bhut Jolokia (also known as Naga Jolokia) is estimated to be over ten times hotter than Chili Padi. Which suits us just fine because Aravind and I are the kind of people who eat Chili Padi for dessert.

Here's Aravind reacting to his Bhut Jolokia chili wings. How I laughed at my funny, goofy boyfriend and his stomach of steel! He did find it scrumptious, though. Nothing would mar the experience of paying a lot for a dish for the sake of the novelty and bragging rights of having sampled Bhut Jolokia more than to find that the dish was unpalatable. I've always loved the food here, and they have quite a wide vegetarian selection.

I had a vegetarian burger with Chilli Rush's special chilli gravy. Their food, as always, is full of flavour and texture. I've had soggy and crumbly vegetarian burgers before but Chilli Rush's veg burger is not one of them. The vegetables are fresh and crunchy, the bun and patty remained firm and tasty and the whole experience was a treat. This is the sort of place you want to come to for a celebration.

Approaching the Bhut Jolokia gravy with eyes wide open, for more reasons than one. I touched my eye by mistake after handling the chilli and was in pain for a few agonising moments.

My fellow vegetarian Sumita with her veg fried rice. She was sensible enough to stay away from the spicier dishes. Nicole joined us later and had bangers and mash. We finished off our feast by sharing a slice of lychee cheesecake and one of carrot cake. The cheesecake was exquisite and silky, while the carrot cake was moist, dense, delicious and not too sweet.

I took the afternoon off on Friday to spend time with Sumita. We had lunch at Vegelife Cafe, one of my favourite eateries, and then moseyed around Sunway Pyramid for a few hours. Aravind called up to say that he was at the Oktoberfest event in One Utama with his colleagues, and asked us if we wanted to come over to join in the fun. As if we needed an excuse for beer, good music and a party! Some people hate crowds, but I love people and being among others, and was soon a part of the sweaty, smiley mass of humanity.

Lovely and obliging Oktoberfest lasses promoting the beer and the festivities.

Prost, prost! We drink to your good health! Aravind got us a giant souvenir mug with a litre of Franziskaner beer each. Sumita and I found the beer refreshingly smooth and sweet to the tastebuds. Definitely a class above the rest!

Some brave souls volunteered to be the victims at the Dunking Station. Considering the amount of beer the guys had, most of them had deadly accurate aim.

Drinking responsibly to me also entails being cheerful and happy revellers, and none exemplified the spirit of Oktoberfest so well as these Malaysian celebrants who formed an impromptu Conga line. The musicians were as enchanted with the sporting crowd as we were with them.

Give a group of people enough beer and time on their hands, and they will find their architects within! This was not part of the official activities, but the revellers at this table decided to build a tower of boxes.

Not to be outdone, the guys at the next table commenced building their box tower as well. Unconventional building materials were added and amazingly enough, the tower managed to remain standing for a significant amount of time.

Oktoberfest turns into a bit of a Burning Man Festival with everyone outdoing the other in making towers and sculptures out of anything they could find. As my friend Pat said: "To think they managed this with beer inside!"

Friday's pleasures necessitated a detoxification regimen on Saturday. We had lunch at BMS Organics. It was like dining on the set of The Biggest Loser. They made us take spirulina tablets before our meal and the lunch sets came with a hair-raisingly strong-tasting enzyme drink (think full-strength apple cider vinegar).

My curry laksa is made with soy milk instead of coconut cream. The meal was unequivocally healthy to the point that we had to compensate with french fries and soda later.

I spent Saturday afternoon at the SPCA as usual after seeing Sumita off.  I will miss Sumita very much -- we had so much fun over the last 3 days that it was like our undergraduate days all over again.

The dogs and I were just chillin' at the Maternity Kennels after I gave them their baths and tickwash. I know our animal shelter could do with a new coat of paint and some new cages. Perhaps some kind organisation would like to help us out as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility project?

Isn't she precious? This doggie had a little cut above her eye, and I dabbed Beprogent ointment from my animal First Aid Kit on it after I gave her a bath and tickwash. The dab of ointment just makes her look more comical and vulnerable. I wish I could bring them all home. I finished cleaning and disinfecting the shelter only around 8.00 I had arrived late.

World Animal Day treats for my Rowdies, for they have made my life complete.

 ~May your October be as filled with joy, meaning and friendship.~ 

To learn more about the PJ Live Arts Centre, follow this link.

To learn more about Malaysia's Own Oktoberfest, follow this link.

To learn more about volunteering at the SPCA animal shelter in Ampang Jaya, follow this link.

To learn more about Chilli Rush Restaurant, follow this link.

To learn more about BMS Organics, follow this link.