Friday, February 3, 2012

Mist net in Bungai

Innocuous looking scarecrows looking after a field of paddy in Bekenu, at the junction to Bungai. Upon closer inspection, the cruelty less obvious is heartbreaking.

We found a quiet free Sunday and headed to Yone Restaurant in Bekenu for our Sunday breakfast. By "we" I meant Ali, Aisya and yours truly.

Bekenu has been a favorite weekend hangout ever since we got to Miri, even before the kids. It's now apparently Palm Oil Capital of Northern Sarawak for some obvious reasons. This comes complete with a giant fruit bunch right in the middle of town. It's not big and it's not small either ... they should just make it gigantic if they are trying to make a point.

Before oil palm, there was fruits and tonnes of them. If people in Miri sell rambutan at $5 for ten wiener rambutans, here in Bekenu market you get the whole sack, big motha of rambutans. And they have plenty of fruits too in the right season. Plenty of fruits ... durians , pineapples, watermelons, mangoes ... if you are a fruit junkie you'd be here every weekend.

We love Bekenu so much, we did one of our first birdwatching outreach here back in 2008 with Pamela Lim, Lee Bor Seng, Ali Nazeri and the late Choo Tse Chien in conjunction with the first ever WMBD celebration in Sarawak. It was followed up in 2009, 2010, 2011 with support from the kind folks from MNS Miri Branch. Basically we go to schools in the area and talk about the joys of birdwatching and show the children and teachers in the area some nifty Malaysian birds. Then we take them out birdwatching in the neighbourhood. The conservation theme always central to the cause.

Growing up in a rural setting, it's understandable how these children and their folks view birds. These thoughts must've run through their brain everytime they see us : "What's the big deal with them birds anyway? Some are too small to eat, some destroy our crops and some steal of chickens." Not many have come through the villages preaching about birds as a tool for conservation: observing, analyzing and at the same time gain understanding of our environment. At minimum, allows us to appreciating the exquisite beauty of God's creation. In bird diversity alone, one would be more than just be impressed. Aesthetics however has little value in impoverished or semi-impoverished community such as ours. Thus the neglect, don't care, what's it got to do with me attitude.

We who most likely have had the benefit of perhaps slightly better exposure and more forgiving surroundings must have seemed very weird people to these kids, their parents and teachers. Who watches birds anyway?

That Sunday, we recorded birds trapped in mistnet in Bekenu. At least two still alive birds struggling to free themselves from the ever tightening deathly grip of the net, right by the roadside main thoroughfare to Bungai. It encourages no reaction from passers by ... why else would there be dead and dried birds hanging from the nets. In fact there were several birds writhing in pain and panic trying their best, giving it all their worth to free themselves from their fate set by farmers to protect their patch of paddy.

Rufous backed Kingfisher:

Eurasian Tree Sparrow:


Yellow bittern

Rufous backed Kingfisher

No doubt these are the work of the adults aka parents, but surprisingly where are the other people?

Perhaps, it's worth reminding us and the community of Article 32 of the Sarawak Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 which states:

"(1) Any person who sells mist nets for the catching of mammals or
birds without a licence issued by the Controller shall be guilty of an
offence: Penalty, imprisonment for three months and a fine of one
thousand ringgit.

(2) Any person who uses mist nets to catch any mammal or bird
except under and in accordance with the terms and conditions of a
licence issued by the Controller, shall be guilty of an offence:
Penalty, imprisonment for six months and a fine of two thousand ringgit.

(3) All licences issued under this section shall be subject to such
terms and conditions as may be imposed by the Controller."

Selling and using a mistnet for such purpose is clearly an offence. It is very clear is that we need to do more for the community : the outreach, the talks and slideshows, and occasionally enforcement. Show them the birds, perhaps they'd understand better and learn to be interested in our feathered friends.

"Apologies to have destroyed your mist nets. Please furnish us with a copy of your identity card, sign here and collect your due compensation from the Controller's office at the 11th floor of Wisma Pelita. Be prepared to bring some change of clothing and $2000 cash in case we feel like stuffing you in jail for 6 months for your dastardly deed."

Images and text by Nazeri Abghani/MNS Miri/Feb 2012

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