Thursday, June 27

Info Centre Complex set to draw the crowd


Nico Lau (left) and her mother studying wall pictures of hornbills at the VIC.

PIASAU Nature Reserve (PNR), Sarawak’s first community-oriented nature reserve, is set to become a popular public place now that its much-awaited Visitors’ Information Centre (VIC) Complex has been opened to the public since July 1.

Coincidentally, several nests of the iconic Oriental-pied Hornbills are found at the Reserve.

A female hornbill, called Juliet, has been roosting on the tree near a house there since June 27 while another pair – a female called Aboi and its mate, Jool – have been inspecting the nesting area on the tree close to the fence of the VIC.

This wildlife setting together with other natural attractions are expected to be a hit among nature lovers.

“We are having steady streams of visitors to the Complex to view the interpretation centre which serves as a one-stop information centre, showcasing the past and the present of the Reserve, its biodiversity and natural assets.

“The visitors comprise both locals and foreigners and they are generally happy with the exhibits,” PNR warden Louis Velda told thesundaypost.

He said initially, due to manpower shortage, the Centre was opened only from 9am to 3pm but the hours had been extended on public request.

“Besides myself, we now have two park rangers and six general staff. While we’re hoping to get more staff, we will also be working closely with the local community to see how they can volunteer to help make PNR one of the major tourist attractions here,” he said.

Currently, the interpretation centre is the only facility at the Complex open to the public – apart from certain sections of the Reserve.

Jool, a male hornbill, perches on the branch of a casuarina tree at the Reserve.

Among other facilities soon to be opened to the public are an administration office, an exhibition gallery, a gift shop, a cafeteria, two lecture rooms and a conference centre.

The VIC represents the first phase of a restoration and development initiative for the Reserve, to which Shell and Petronas have contributed RM5 million each.

The public wishing to enquire about and contribute towards this effort can come personally to the office during office hours or call Louis (085-644487) or on his handphone (016-8898590).

Nico Wong, who runs a food business in Dubai, said she was impressed with the Reserve and VIC interpretation centre.

“They are important for tourism as well as environmental conservation,” added Nico, who was in Miri to visit her mother and took the latter to the Centre recently.

Park ranger Musa Musbah who was among those assigned to do a study on PNR, is also happy that the VIC is now a reality.

He hoped the opening hours could be extended up to at least 6pm to allow for more after-office-hour visitors.

On the hornbills nesting at the Reserve, Musa said it augured well for the numbers of the iconic birds.

Louis explaining the flora and fauna illustration charts at the Visitors’ Information Centre. Pictures by Cecilia Sman and Musa Musbah.

“Juliet is having its third nesting cycle, having already produced four offspring while it’s the first for Aboi.

“We understand that a pair of hornbills is nesting on a tree near the Public Works Department office in the town centre,” he added.

Presently, 22 hornbills are frequently spotted at PNR. The bulk of the offspring were produced by the pair, called Jimmy and its first mate, Faridah, which was killed by poachers on Sept 26 in 2013.

Notably, Faridah alone had produced 56 offspring since 2005.

Louis Velda (left) and the writer standing in front of a taxidermied hornbill, called Faridah, on display at the Centre.

PNR is being developed according to Gensler’s Masterplan and divided into three zones – Zone 1 designated as an out-of-bounds conservation zone, Zone 2 to be accessible to the public for outdoor activities while Zone 3 will comprise facilities for conservation and education.

The Reserve, located very near Miri City Centre, was gazetted on Dec 31, 2013 for the conservation of hornbills and other wildlife, and as a heritage site and buffer zone against natural disasters.

It has 107 plant and 75 fauna species, including 17 for fauna protected under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 45 for birds (including hornbills), three for mammals, five for amphibians, 12 for reptiles and 10 for butterflies.

The hornbill forms part of Sarawak’s State Crest and is the State bird. It is a totally protected species under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance (1998).

Totally protected species are defined as those in danger of extinction due to hunting and habitat destruction.

Penalties for keeping one as a pet, killing, hunting, capturing, selling, trading or disturbing them, or possessing any recognisable parts of these animals are severe – a RM25,000 fine and three years’ imprisonment.