Saturday, December 7

Princess Diana had wanted to visit Danum Valley – Yayasan Sabah


LAHAD DATU: Fifteen years ago, there was another British Royal who had intended to visit Danum Valley in Lahad Datu, Malaysia’s well-reserved rainforest.

Arrangements were made to accommodate the royal visit, and the date was tentatively set.

Scores of discussions were organised to ensure everything was fit for a princess.

Yayasan Sabah Conservation and Environmental Management Division group manager Dr Waidi Sinun said they made sure everything was in order, especially when the guest was one of the world’s most influential women, Princess of Wales, Diana.

“Of course we were all very excited,” he said when met at the Danum Valley Field Centre over the weekend, adding: “It was indeed an honour to have such influential person having interest in our work and the area itself.”

But all hopes were crushed when Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car accident on August 31, 1997, six months before she was scheduled to visit Danum Valley.

She and companion, Dodi Fayed, succumbed to serious injuries after the Mercedes-Benz they were traveling in hit the road tunnel in Paris to elude paparazzis.

The car driver, Henri Paul, was also killed in the accident, while the couple’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, survived the crash.

But Danum Valley had ‘its second chance’ to play host to British royals.

Fast-forward just over a decade later, they again received a call that the British royal couples, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and wife Catherine Middleton, or fondly known as Kate, had picked Danum Valley one of the top three rainforest research centres in the world to end their visit to Malaysia. William is Diana’s eldest son.

Their visit to the forest was planned because of William’s longstanding interest in conservation, which also offered the royal couple an opportunity to experience the ecological wealth of Sabah’s forests and the importance of supporting the efforts of the scientists working to understand and conserve them.

Whether the visit was part of William’s way of fulfilling his mother’s wish is anyone’s guess, but according to Waidi, “If it was me, I would do it.”

Waidi, who had a half-an-hour chat with Britain’s future king, however disclosed that William did say that his father, Prince Charles, has a soft spot for the rainforest.

“To have Princess Diana’s son at Danum Valley is a great honour. It is a recognition to the conservation work that Yayasan Sabah has done, jointly with the Royal Society’s South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP). It has elevated Danum Valley to a higher level,” he said.

William became a Royal Fellow of the Royal Society during its 350th anniversary celebrations in 2010.

Danum Valley is older than the Amazon rainforest, which is about 60 million years old, is a world class ecosystem, home to about 125 species of mammals, over 300 birds, 72 reptiles and 56 amphibians.

Located in the southeastern part of Sabah, Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA), about 82 kilometres from Lahad Datu town, covers an area of 43,800 hectares, and is one of the last strongholds of undisturbed lowland dipterocarp forest.

Most of the researches are collaborative efforts between Malaysian and scientists from overseas and mostly based on long-term research programmes initiated in 1984 between Danum Valley Management Committee and The Royal Society’s SEARRP, where these studies have contributed to the understanding of tropical forests.

William and Kate had an enjoyable three-hour tour at DVCA, trekking into the rainforest jungle, met up with 25 researchers and Oxford University undergraduates, and were lifted up 50 metres above the ground to listen to Semporna-born researcher, Dr Kalsum Yusah’s findings on ants.

Malaysia is the royal couple’s second destination after Singapore on their nine-day tour of the Far East as representatives of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in conjunction with the celebration to mark the 60-year reign of the Queen of England.

The couple left for Solomon Islands yesterday where they were greeted by warriors in traditional dress.

On Tuesday, they will arrive in the tiny South Pacific island of Tuvalu where they will be carried from their aircraft in the island’s traditional reception for visiting dignitaries.