Fruitful Baram heritage survey can lure more research, conservation

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Researchers present their research results to the local community.

MIRI (Sept 28): A two-year survey under the Baram Heritage project has come up with a rich trove of data which is expected to drive further research and boost bio-diversity conservation in Baram.

The Baram Heritage Survey project, the largest-ever ecological and social survey of Baram, has revealed an eye-opening abundance of species in indigenous-managed forests and also proved that there is much potential of wildlife and plants regeneration in formerly logged areas.

It is also the first to describe the diversity of species in the study area, and more information are expected to be made public later after data is shared with the stakeholders, including the government agencies soon.

This was announced in a press conference by The Borneo Project, SAVE Rivers and Keruan Organisation at the launch of the Baram Heritage Survey Atlases in Miri yesterday, the culmination of more than two years of work conducted by six Penan and Kenyah communities in the Baram River Basin.

The trove of quality scientific data collected is expected to pave the way for publication of research papers and lead to more experts in their respective fields to conduct research in this hotspot and open the door for greater conservation drive.

“The atlases produced will be shared with the local community while data will be shared with university researchers, Sarawak Forest Department or Sarawak Forestry Corporation,” said SAVE Rivers network manager Celine Lim at a joint press conference here.

The Baram Heritage Survey hired and trained technicians from Orang Ulu communities throughout 2020 and 2021 to collect animal data along forest paths and interview community members about hunting, fishing, livelihood, nutrition, land rights and land management. The atlases are the resulting publication — tailored to each community — and are the first time that community reliance on forest resources has been compiled across the six participating communities.

The 90-page atlases document the importance of forests for community life and reveal an incredible abundance of rare, threatened and endangered species that thrive in indigenous-managed territories.

At the press conference, The Borneo Project executive project director Jettie Words said the survey is unique in that it was co-designed by indigenous communities, non-profit organisations, and researchers from Malaysian and American universities; University of California Berkeley, University of Montana and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).

The 12 trained indigenous technicians from the Kenyah, Penan and Kayan communities are invaluable assets to the research project.

“Instead of sending in graduate students, indigenous village-based field technicians were hired to collect the data between 2020 and 2021. They know what every sign and sound they come across means.

“They have what no university can teach: inter-generational ecological knowledge where they helped identify six different types of hornbills by sound,” she said.

The survey collected animal data along forest paths and interviewed community members about hunting, fishing, livelihood, nutrition, land rights, and land management and the atlases are the resulting publication.

“The wildlife and social data make it clear that communities still very much depend on forest resources for survival, and that they are quite concerned about protecting these resources.

“The Upper Baram Forest Area is absolutely necessary, and further protection measures need to be put in place that limit or eliminate logging in the area,” said SAVE Rivers chairman Peter Kallang.

Komeok Joe, executive director of Penan NGO Keruan Organisation, said the Penan and Kenyah people protect the forest and the Upper Baram Forest Area, and it is important that their rainforest and indigenous knowledge can be recognised globally.