Turtles Galore … my bucket-list item achieved in Sarawak, Malaysia!

Sarawak’s first marine national park, Talang-Satang was established with the primary aim of conserving Sarawak’s marine turtle population. The park includes the coastline and sea around four islands in southwest Sarawak: this area has 95% of all turtle landings in Sarawak.  I’m thrilled to stay overnight on two of them. One turtle arrived on the first island, ten on this one,  Talang-Talang.

I arrive on Talang Talang - photo by Gustino
I arrive on Talang Talang – photo by Gustino Basuan Sarawak Tourism Board

Marine turtles are amongst the world’s longest-lived creatures, but only about one in one thousand eggs grow to maturity about 30 to 50 years old!

Ten turtles arrive overnight and I watch as they laboriously dig the holes for the nest, lay about 80 eggs, cover them up and go back to sea. We then see the forestry staff carefully dig them up, record the details,  and rebury them safe from predators.

I hope some of the sixty hatched eggs (that had been buried safely about 45 days earlier)  that I was privilege to count into the release bucket, are among those very low odds and return to this island to complete the process.

My photos tell the story. (There are no overnight photos for 2 reasons – one, I wanted to just enjoy the experience and two, it’s hard to photograph at night with no flash allowed!)

 

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A turtle may lay 10,000 eggs in her lifetime, but once they reach the sea, as few as 10 hatchlings will survive to reach maturity. Some don’t even get to the sea … ghost crabs and birds are always waiting for a meal to appear.

The Sarawak Forestry has conservation programmes at which volunteers can help (holidays with a purpose) : the eggs are either removed from nests and placed in guarded hatcheries, or left in place and guarded round the clock by Sarawak Forestry wardens. After 40 to 60 days incubation, young hatchlings are released at night to reduce losses from predators.

Please note: The Sarawak Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme is not suitable for everyone. Accommodation facilities are basic and everyone is expected to help with cooking and cleaning-up. Volunteers join a team of dedicated conservation experts whose mission is to monitor every turtle landing on the island and so help to preserve Sarawak’s natural heritage. Volunteers can expect a rewarding ‘Back to Nature’ experience but should bear in mind that the programme is not a beach holiday.

More Info http://www.sarawakforestry.com/htm/snp-np-satang.html 

And here is a not very good video of ‘our turtle’ being released 

 

Reef-balls similar to this protect the sea from nets and dredging. Great!
Reef-balls similar to this protect the sea from nets and dredging. Great!

 

One turtle arrives in the middle of the night

“You are lucky I’m a pacifist’ I tell Gustino, from the Sarawak Tourism Board, “if  not, I would slap you!”

“Don’t worry”, he tells me, “many will come tonight”.  I remind him of the old saying about birds and how one in the hand is worth two in the bush – and that that specific turtle was the one in the hand. He laughs, “don’t worry, you will see them tonight” he reassures me.

 

We leave Sematan town for the national park
We leave Sematan town for the two hour trip to the national park

We are on Talang-Satang Island National Park which  is part of the Tanjung Datu National Park the smallest in Malaysia’s largest state : the tonight he’s talking about is the island where we will be in a few hours, Talang-Talang. (all National Parks are managed by Sarwawak Forestry)

He, as our host, was woken at about midnight by the ranger who was patrolling the beach to watch for landings. Perhaps they thought we were exhausted (true) after a week at the Borneo Music Expo and the Rainforest World Music Festival but seeing turtles lay eggs has been on my bucket-list for ages and I’m scared I’ll miss out!

no lifeguards here!
no lifeguards here!

Anyway, miss out that night I did but this is what I’m told:

  • it was her second egg laying visit in 10 days
  • she laid 104 eggs (80 last time)
  • the eggs were transferred immediately to a safe area (the monitor lizards must hate the rangers)
the eggs are buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators
the eggs are re-buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators

Despite being disappointed I did hear gibbons calling early in the morning – they remained out of sight but it was thrilling to hear them again, my first time had been in Sabah last year.

After breakfast we boarded our fishing boat for a one-hour trip to the island where I’ve been told “you will see them.”

See my next blog to see if I was able to tick off one of my bucket list items or, if I had to abandon my pacifist leanings and slap my host!

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Here is a pictorial journal of our stay on the island.

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Feeding the lions!

When I arrive at Christchurch International Airport my favourite car rental company  (Rental Cars New Zealand) has a car ready for me and I immediately  head to Orana Wildlife Park to feed the lions!

I recall my father being very dubious about a brother giving a little money to support the idea of a wildlife park and now, how surprised he would be to see what a successful place it has become. My kids have always loved a day at the park and especially driving into the lion enclosure, always hoping a lion would rub against our vehicle. This has since stopped because of stupid people who could not follow directions about keeping windows up – endangering not only themselves but also the lions and Orana staff.

I don’t have to worry about windows on this safari! I’ll be in a cage and the big cats will be fed through the wire with the big chunks, hair and bone included, down a chute.

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Planes fly overhead and memories of previous trips waft through the air, along with the smell of exotic pines and eucalyptus mixing with our native trees and the hot dusty Christchurch summer breeze. Families, young couples, the Christchurch Star’s Christmas party group, mingle with groups of tourists – all enjoying the day and its surrounds.

I have my ticket and a stamp on my arm, which guarantees my entrance into the lion’s den and arrive early at the gate in anticipation: it’s a hard day at the office – NOT!  I have two cameras and a backup battery primed for the lion encounter, an well-worth extra on the entrance fee.

Before long our guide arrives, we’re given a safety briefing then are led to the vehicle. We, about 20 of us, are chattering excitedly. Being up close to the King of the Jungle, Leo, the symbol for my birth month is thrilling.

We leave our bags at the entrance and go into the wire-caged truck back and before we push through the gates are again reminded to keep our fingers inside the vehicle. We are not to attempt to touch the lions – they’re cats but not as we know them!

It’s a wonderful experience, and my only regret is it doesn’t last long enough … that we didn’t stay still for a few minutes after the last food has been given to them, so we could just watch them.

However I’ll let the pictures tell part of the story … for best results, have a lion encounter yourself!

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To get to Orana Park see here … including taking a shuttle from the city and here is their Facebook page

Interestingly, most of the endangered animals at the Park do not belong to Orana Wildlife Trust but to the relevant international breeding programme which makes decisions about which females are best bred with which males to make sure the most diverse gene pool possible in the captive populations. From time to time animals are moved between various zoos and parks to enhance the genetic diversity of their particular species. See here for more of their conservation activities

More stories from my Orana Wildlife Park visit to follow … also other Christchurch stories including about the lovely Eliza’s Manor House where I stayed.

 

great new book for bird and nature lovers

Birds of New Zealand by Julian Fitter and Don Merton

Sad facts for New Zealand, and the world, is that since the arrival of  people in New Zealand (about 800 years ago), some 41 species of bird have become extinct.

Today several species are only surviving thanks to intensive conversation measures and thanks for people such as Don Merton QSM – who unfortunately died in April 2011 before this book was published. I only met him once, but I, and other NZers value the work he did for us and our wildlife.

While we have lost many species and the forest no longer echoes with wonderful birdsong, the bird life in New Zealand is still remarkable with much of it being not just endemic, but unlike anything elsewhere.

The Kakapo, the world’s largest parrot, and the Takahe, the largest member of the Rail family, are two flightless examples of birds unlike anything else in the world. Other good examples are the two wattlebirds, the Saddleback and Kokako.  All of these would probably be extinct by now were it not for recent intervention by dedicated conservationists, by people such the authors of this new book, Birds of New Zealand.

Takahe - at Zealandia Wellington

 

Birds of New Zealand (ISBN 1869508513)

is a beautiful photographic guide featuring all 350 species of bird you can possibly see in New Zealand, illustrated with over 600 full colour photographs with full descriptions of all native species and the regular visitors: it is a wonderfully practical book that no bird spotter or nature enthusiast should be without.

This book is not just a guide to identifying the native birds: it is also a wake-up call to look after them, to appreciate and protect them. As Julian says in his acknowledgements, ‘the real thank you has to go to the amazing native bird life of Aotearoa New Zealand, for being so special, and so different. My one hope is that this book will do just a little bit to help you survive and prosper. You have had a rough 800 years and you deserve better.’ 

Julian Fitter is a conservationist, naturalist and writer with a special interest in island ecosystems. He spent 15 years in the Galapagos Islands where he established and ran the islands’ first yacht charter business. In 1995 he was instrumental in setting up the Galapagos Conservation Trust which has grown to be a significant supporter of conservation programmes in Galapagos. He is the author of a number of books on birds and wildlife, including most recently, New Zealand Wildlife and Bateman’s Field Guide to Wild New Zealand.

Don Merton is a name that is synonymous with bird conversation, worldwide.  He started work with the New Zealand Wildlife Service in 1957 and retired from the Department of Conservation in 2005.  The survival of several species, including the South Island Saddleback, Kakapo and Black Robin owe a lot to Don.  The techniques he and his colleagues used to ensure their survival, are now in use around the world and have helped countless other species in the fight to prevent their extinction.

NOTE: Another new book worth checking out by nature lovers is the  COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE Terrence Lindsay and Rod Morris 

Te Wao Nui, Auckland Zoos’ latest development

Te Wao Nui,  Auckland Zoos’ latest development opens in one month (Sunday, 11 Sept. 2011) and, one of the benefits of being a travel writer is you can get off the beaten track – or in this case, behind the fenced off area! With my ‘high-vis’ jacket on, I’m taken on a mini tour of the area by Jane Healy who is enthusiastic about the project.   

“Much of the work the zoo has done with native species has taken place behind the scenes. The Archey’s frog, for instance was housed off-display. Now, with Te Wao Nui, people will be able to see them and many more New Zealand native species” she tells me.

Covering one fifth of the Zoo, the area gives locals and tourists a unique experience of New Zealand with over 100 New Zealand native plant species and around 60 different animal species through six habitats’

I cross over the Old Stone Bridge and can see most of the area which is very close to completion and have the birds move in and settle before the public come to see them.   Here is a little of what is saw … in no particular order!

Jane tries to duck from the camera as we enter one of the areas of Te Wao Nui

The Islands area has a large Kauri Dam (originally a working one that has been moved here) and a large aviary where Tuatara, the Campbell Island Teal and Antipodes Island Parakeet, skink and geckos will live.

Wetlands has a large walk-through aviary, backed by a high mock-rock wall,  will hold: native eels, Kotuku, Pied Stilt, Kingfisher, Ducks  such as Shovellers,  Scaup, Grey Teal, and one of my favourites, the Paradise Shelducks.

The Night Forest is a large shed and will house the North Island Brown Kiwi, Ruru, and Short-tailed Bats. Its great people will be able to see these natives up-close, in the middle of our largest city.

On an island like New Zealand, the Coast is highly important. In this area of the zoo, Sea Lion and Fur Seals will be on show, while in the refurbished shore-bird aviary, Little Blue Penguins, White-faced Heron and Spotted Shags will be resident.

The Forest is the old walk through aviary (upgraded and re-fenced) which I well remember as that is where I first saw the beautiful black and tan saddleback (tieke). Evidently, Kokako, Kakariki, Brown Teal and kereru will be just some of our wonderful birds that will live in there.

Waiting for the whio!

As a Cantabrian, I was of course interested in The High Country. This will house the cheeky, and intelligent Kea, and the Blue Duck (Whio) – in its fast flowing ‘mountain stream’. The Whio is a unique and threatened species of waterfowl endemic to New Zealand. It is the only member of its genus and has no close relative anywhere in the world. Curious weka will also be here: a children’s playground is sited here too – a great place for parents to sit and chat while kids burn off some energy and natural surroundings.

I look forward to returning to the zoo to see the birds (and others) in their new, reproduced ‘normal’ native habitat. Te Wao Nui will be an asset to Auckland Zoo with its current and future conservation efforts on behalf of New Zealand’s native species.

Seals … cute but dangerous

The New Zealand fur seal

are …  fin-footed carnivorous marine mammals and are distinguished by visible external ears and hind flippers which rotate forward.

This pointy-nosed seal has long pale whiskers and a body covered with two layers of fur. Their coat is dark grey-brown on the back, and lighter below; when wet they look almost black.

Kaikoura, New Zealand is a good place to see seals easily: read here  to see what the  NZ Dept of Conservation says about not harassing these (and other) mammals in NZ.  Dont get between them and the sea, and keep your dogs on a lead.

As you can see I was travelling in a Backpacker campervan

Keep 10 metres between you and the seals
Watch for seals all along the Kaikoura coastline
I'm so cute!
Just pull over and see the seals!