Monday, 25 January 2010

Nature Guides, Ready to Roll!

As a youngster, more than I wanted to be a pirate-witch-cowboy-ninja-footballer-veterinarian-commando, I wanted to be a nature guide. I was no doubt inspired by the nature guides who edified me on Malaysian natural history during the various trips to FRIM that Covert Dad took us on. What could be better, I thought, than learning about flora and fauna and imparting that knowledge and your passion to others? For as the great, late Jacques Yves Costeau said, "People only protect what they love", and people can only love what they understand and are acquainted with.

As I grew older, I realised that Nature Guiding didn't have to be a career, but also a hobby, a calling and a passion. Although much of my volunteer work with the MNS consists of public speaking and outreach activities, I do enjoy showing friends around places of natural and ecological interest, and sharing what I know of local natural history.

When the MNS Nature Guides organised a Basic Nature Guiding workshop on Saturday, 23rd January 2010 for the purpose of training and recruiting guides for MNS events, I was one of the first to sign up. I carpooled to the MNS Nature Education Centre in FRIM with Vegan Eugene and Melissa, all raring to go.

Team-Building Activity: "Stepping Stones", made more challenging by the inclusion of four 'blind' colleagues. Vegan Eugene was blindfolded and I tried to lead him to safety but we took a big tumble.

Successful 'villagers' cheering their friends on. This activity not only helped us break the ice and practice cooperation and teamwork, it also brought home the importance of conserving our natural resources. Vegan Eugene and I had been eliminated by this point and were cheering from the sidelines.

An indoor session on the Basics of Nature Guiding, by our dedicated and passionate friend, Pasupathy, in the MNS Nature Education Centre.

Models of Rafflesia blooms made of papier mache and other discarded materials line one of the walls in the Nature Education Centre.

Special Guests after the lunch break: Raphaelle (11) and Gabriel (14) from Kids For Earth present a cheque for RM2,000 in favour of Green Living SIG to Selangor Branch Chairman Gary Phong. They raised the funds for MNS through the sale of cloth shopping bags. Kids for Earth is founded and led by kids for kids, and has generated a lot of awareness on the issue of reduction in the use and production of plastic bags.

Please visit them at Kids For Earth and leave them some words of support and encouragement for their commendable effort!

Bushcraft Ashleigh conducting the Interpretative Walk to help us learn the finer points of nature guiding.

Vegan Eugene's North Face pants were ripped during the fall. I hadn't tried to kill him, honest! I was trying to save his life by carrying him on my back when the 'stepping stones' got too small and too damaged, but I lost my balance 3 steps away from the finishing line and we both crashed into the gritty ground.

(Here's how it happened:

Photo credits: Workshop participant Nancy Ng.)

The Birds' Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) is an epiphyte with simple fronds radiating from a short central stem, with parellel veins that are closely arranged. Indigenous and rural communities make a compress from the leaves, which can be used to ease labour pain and treat fever.

Most figs (Ficus) have edible (though economically unimportant) fruits. All figs rely on wasps from the Agaonidae family for pollination. The wasps enter the fig inflorescence to pollinate the plant and lay their own eggs. This is truly a remarkable example of symbiosis in nature!

Reflection: If the use of pesticides and insecticides wipes out the Agaonidae population, the figs will disappear, leaving many birds and mammals on the brink of starvation. The Web of Life is magnificent, but fragile.

Conifers in the Tropics have their origins in Gondwana. India was detached from Gondwana approx. 90 million years ago (MYA). India then collided with Asia 30-45 MYA, and exchanged species. Later, as Australia-New Guinea drifted north, the collision of the Australian and Asian plates pushed up the islands of Wallacea, which were separated from one another by narrow straits, allowing a botanic exchange between Indomalaya and Australasia. Asian rainforest flora, including the dipterocarps, island-hopped across Wallacea to New Guinea, and several Gondwanian plant families, including podocarps (i.e. Southern Hemisphere Conifers), moved westward from Australia-New Guinea into western Malesia and Southeast Asia. Talk about having a colourful and extensive family tree!

The Artocarpus elastica/elasticus belongs to the mulberry family and is related to the breadfruit and jackfruit. The Artocarpus elastica/elasticus has strong fibres that are used by the indigenous and rural communities for cordage and as weaving materials.

What's this? Is it an aerial photograph of a riverine system? No, it's not! This is the canopy of the Kapur trees(Dryobalanops aromatica) exhibiting 'crown shyness'. The leaf tips of the trees do not touch or overlap, creating river-like gaps between trees to let sunlight in to the forest floor.

How? The cause of crown shyness is not clear, but some scientists believe that the growing leaf tips are very sensitive to each other and die off upon abrasion, but another theory is that the leaf tips are very sensitive to light and will stop growth when nearing adjacent foliage.

Why? The reason for this phenomenon is not entirely clear either, but it could be to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor to allow seedlings to grow. Can anything be more miraculous and more perfect than the Tropical Rainforest ecosystem?

Descending the rope drop at Rover Trail.

Our little stream has dried up! It is now less than 25% of its usual volume! And there is so much siltation. What's going on here? It used to be teeming with aquatic life. You could dip a coffee cup in it and raise the cup to find it full of translucent shrimps, fish, tadpoles, pond skaters and freshwater crabs, tiny and iridiscent as jewels.

At the end of the workshop, most of the participants signed up to be guides for our upcoming Raptor Watch Week 2010 in Tanjung Tuan. Regretfully, I had to decline as I had already offered to volunteer as the emcee for the entire weekend, seeing as that our dynamic Mum-To-Be Lillian would be on maternity leave.

However, I know there will always be other opportunities for me to play the role of Nature Guide with the MNS, as I can be counted on to be present at most events and activities.

If you would like to find out more about the MNS Nature Guides, please visit them here:
MNS Nature Guides.

To find out more about the MNS Nature Education Centre in FRIM, please contact:
The Programme Officer
Nature Education Centre
Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)
52110 Kepong,
Selangor Darul Ehsan

Phone : 03-6277 1703
Fax : 03-6275 4376
Email :


Pat said...

A fascinating post, E! I love it when I learn new stuff, or have to rethink stuff I thought was right!

I looked at the pix of the canopy and recognised it for what it was. Then, read your opening lines and corrected it to be: a riverine system? Wah, it looks like tree canopies from the bottom up! Then, had to adjust back to my original idea!!!! Very the difficult lah, you!

But thank you for the 'maybes' behind why tree-leaves leave that little gap between trees! I've wondered about that - how come they do that? And in so doing, allow just enough light to keep the 'lower downs' alive!!!

Enjoyed this post :)

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks, Pat! Glad you enjoyed it! Ha ha ha @ the canopy photo having messed with your mind. Yes, if the trees do not let sunlight in to the forest floor, how will their own seedlings grow?

Cat-from-Sydney said...

Did I ever tell you that my Mama used to work at FRIM? Like more than 20 years ago! There was no MNS centre then but Dr Salleh Mohd Nor used to be her boss.
Anyway, I'd love to go on nature walk with you someday. If ever I feel tired, you can always carry me in your arms...OK? purrr.....meow!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Kitties-in-Sydney,

Yes, I remember you mentioning that about your Mama, when we had that discussion about Jacaranda and Tabebuia, and also when I wrote that post on cleaning up the waterfall and you told me that your Mama used to frequent the waterfall in FRIM! (My memory hasn't failed me yet!)

If you were to come with me, I will carry you when you get tired. Just remember to do a velvet-paw and not stick out your claws when excited. I hope you won't purr too much because it puts me in a trance and makes me go to sleep. When I hold my kitties and they purr and give me that sleepy-squinty-eyed look, I doze off!

louis said...

Hello CO'78,

As always, your post is brimming with enthusiasm, so much so that it affects me here about 8,000 miles away!

I live directly across from a Nature preserve. Occasionally an animal like a cougar or a coyote will take up residence. Usually if it's caught it's released somewhere in the wild, but this weekend, thanks to well-meaning but mistaken people who would have benefitted from instructions from nature guides like you, a marauding coyote had to be euthanized because evidently those people had been feeding it, making it unafraid of humans. As a result it had not been following its normal instinct to avoid humans or run away when confronted by them.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for stopping by, dear Louis!

I feel so sorry for the poor coyote! How completely unfair that a perfectly healthy animal had to be put down because people were too stupid to leave nature well alone.

Each time we ask people to stop feeding macaques, birds (rice and bread may actually swell up after absorbing moisture and choke the bird) and other animals, the response of these fatuous do-gooders normally is that the 'poor things' don't have enough to eat. Nature is bountiful and provides for all. Mother birds and mammals teach their young how to obtain food. Animals that have not been damaged, held in captivity and imprinted by humans should be left to forage for their own food, and we know that there is plenty of food in nature for the smaller animals, even in small pockets of greenery. It's because people have been feeding macaques, civets, raccoons, bears, coyotes and whatnot that these animals end up depending on humans for food, thus becoming vulnerable to hunting and poaching. People should learn to observe nature without upsetting it.

Unknown said...

Yay! Build a a team and work together - all for that!
Did I read somewhere that Nat Geographic came along to FRIM and featured 'crown shyness' of the kapur tree. Fascinating.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks for coming by, Keats! The MNS volunteers really are awesome. The way they work, you'd think they get paid! The 'crown shyness' phenomena in FRIM has been featured in documentaries and publications all over the world -- I believe this is the 2nd time Nat Geog has featured it!