Sunday, May 30, 2010

Meeting with John Payne in Sabah

We had the privilege to meet with John Payne, author of numerous books about mammals in Malaysia who has been working here since 1977. He shared a wealth of knowledge with us over three hours, his experiences concerning numerous threats facing orangutans in Malaysia and Indonesia.

We also met and stayed with an amazing woman who works with Hutan, an Orangutan and Elephant Conservation Organization in Sabah. Harjinder Kler was a wonderful hostess. She has lived her whole life in Sabah, and also knows a great deal about the orangutans here.

From England, Dr. Junaidi (John) Payne is the senior advisor to WWF Malaysia. He received his BS in Zoology from King’s College, London University in 1972 and a Ph.D in Tropical Ecology from Cambridge University in 1979.

Dr. Payne has worked on a variety of conservation projects in Sabah, including wildlife surveys, Sabah Conservation Strategy (adopted by the Sabah Government in 1992), early proposals for Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, and building up a full-time WWF presence in Sabah. He has written several books including A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo (1985), and This is Borneo (1994).

In an interview a few years ago, Dr. Payne remarked:
“The remaining natural forests around Sukau are examples of an extremely rare habitat type – natural vegetation of an alluvial floodplain. This is the once-widespread habitat of South-east Asia which in early times (thousands, or at least hundreds. of years ago) was converted to rice paddies. Rice can grow only in open, exposed areas, free of invading tree cover. The ability of certain varieties of rice to grow in flooded land, where few tree species can grow, was a part of the reason why rice expanded as a major food crop through South-east Asia.

It is unclear why lower Kinabatangan escaped human settlement and conversion to rice fields in ancient times. In the ninetieth century, the British administration thought that piracy from the southern Philippines and head-hunting raiders from Kalimantan, were the main reason for the very small numbers of human inhabitants of lower Kinabatangan. More probably, the unpredictable timing and depth of flooding, compared to that generated by the more seasonal rainfall patterns on much of the mainland Asia, made rice growing too risky in the high by erratic rainfall zones of Borneo. Floodplains are not a stable ecosystem. Slow attrition and re-deposition of sediments means that the river’s course changes slowly. A big flood event can cause more rapid change at some localities, especially by cutting through a big bend in the river. Oxbow lakes may be created almost literally overnight, but they remain potentially for centuries before being filled with sediment and pioneered for vegetation.”

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