July 5th, 2014

Green: Plight of the Malayan tapir

Often misidentified, the tapir needs our attention if its existence is to be safeguarded, writes Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal

“COME out, come out! It’s here,” the frantic knocking on my chalet door and the excited shouts coming from outside my window make me abandon all plans to unpack as I scramble to my feet and yank open the door to see what the commotion is about.

Outside, I spot a steady stream of resort guests walking briskly along the meandering footpath towards a patch of grass near the spacious dining hall. Grabbing my camera, I join the crowd, my curiosity piqued.

From their chatter, I discover that a lone Malayan Tapir has wandered out of his inner sanctum to the resort grounds for some sustenance. Scattered messily on the grass are slices of fruit, from juicy watermelon to golden papaya. Holding court is a handsome black and white tapir enjoying a grand ol’ feast, totally oblivious to the excited scrutiny of the human paparazzi.

It has been mere hours since I arrived at the rustically picturesque Mutiara Resort Taman Negara in Kuala Tahan Jerantut, Pahang, in part lured by the promise of tapir sighting and also to witness the unveiling of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and Mutiara Taman Negara Tapir Conservation Programme (TCP).

The programme, conceived by Mutiara Taman Negara and developed by MNS, aims to promote and undertake conservation and awareness activities to protect the natural landscapes that’s home to protected wildlife and in particular, the Malayan Tapir or Tapirus indicus.

The tapir has a dear place in the hearts and minds of MNS, concedes its president, Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed. It’s not only the organisation’s icon, but “... is also a symbol of what’s important for us to appreciate and protect,” says the jovial Maketab during his launch speech.

He adds: “With the TCP, MNS, with support from corporates such as our friends here in Mutiara Taman Negara and members of the public, will embark on awareness and strategic activities to highlight the plight of our forests and the wonderful tapirs that make it their home.”

It’s a natural partnership that Mutiara and MNS are embarking on, believes the affable Naithan Vaithi, Mutiara Taman Negara’s general manager. He says enthusiastically: “With Taman Negara celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and MNS welcoming its 75th year next year, we hope that the programme and the activities we have planned will not only bring attention to the tapir and their home but ecotourism will also feed into conservation. Taman Negara, with its 130 million-year legacy, is truly the best destination in the world to watch amazing wildlife.”


Taman Negara is the best place to observe amazing wildlife

PECULIAR UNGULATE

With its stocky body and a prehensile proboscis formed by a thick upper lip and an extended nose, the Malayan tapir cuts an intriguing picture. It’s hardly your cute cuddly bear or panda (well, it’s also black and white), nor is it the type of creature that inspires googly-eyed fawning. But there’s something about this peculiar ungulate with its four toes on the forefeet and three on the hind feet, and the distinctive white “saddle” on the back of its dark body (a great form of camouflage against predators), that’s still very special.



This lone Malayan tapir is a regular on the grounds of  Mutiara Resort Taman Negara

There are only four species of tapir inhabiting Central and South America and Southeast Asia. The Malayan tapir, or Cipan, the largest of the four tapir species, and native to Asia, is the only one that’s bi-coloured.

The rest, from Central and South America, are black. “We have the unique species here in the country, a symbol for all Asian tapirs. Asia only has one tapir species so we need to look after it,” says Maketab, scanning the faces of his captive audience, before sharing with us that the tapir is listed as “vulnerable” by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

While Malaysia is the main bastion for this species, it can also be found in Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia. The current population of tapirs in the country is between 2,000 and 2,500 and they can be found in concentrations in protected areas such as Taman Negara and wildlife reserves.

FATE OF THE TAPIR

The call to action is a call that needs to be heeded. Despite its protected status in the country which means that it’s illegal to hunt the animal, the Malayan tapir’s numbers continue to dwindle because of habitat loss. And that’s bad news. With loss of habitat, the challenge to revive the tapir population around the world becomes a lot tougher. Deforestation, flooding caused by the damming of rivers, and illegal trade all contribute towards the depleting numbers of this animal, which once made Southeast Asia’s tropical lowland rainforests its playground.


The unveiling of the Tapir Conservation program

“Cut here, cut there, build highways, how is the tapir supposed to survive?” laments Maketab, brows furrowing in frustration. “At least if we have viaducts, that’s not so bad because then not only the tapir but also other animals can be assured of safely crossing near areas with traffic as they move from one forest patch to another. “

Caption Area



Mutiara Resort Taman Negara is your gateway to the world of the tapir and the other wildlife

He adds: “One of the problems we have on the east-coast highway, for example, is the absence of viaducts so the animals end up having to cross the road like we do. Then they get run over because drivers fail to see them in time. Thankfully, there are wildlife viaducts already in place in some parts to mitigate the negative effects of forest fragmentation.”

According to MNS, tapirs, being large herbivores, are invariably the first species affected by human encroachment into their territory, and among the last to return to regrowth forest. They need substantial tracts of undisturbed land to maintain a genetically-diverse population. Preserving the animal’s natural habitat has never been more crucial.

Unfortunately not as glamorous as the other larger mammals such as tiger, or elephant, the tapir finds itself on the lower rung of the pecking order when it comes to conservation efforts. There have been limited efforts made by wildlife authorities and conservation agencies as they perceive the tapir to be less under threat than its larger mammal counterparts. However, according to Maketab, this forgotten mammal of Southeast Asia will become critically endangered if we continue to pay only partial heed to its plight.

The plight of the tapir, says MNS, is rather symbolic of the wider threat to their habitats specifically, and the world’s ecology in general. One can tell the general health of their ranges by the decline in the population. There’s no “returning” for the natural environment when the animal disappears. Suffice to say, when forests are decimated into small, isolated enclaves and human activities start to encroach into pristine forests, all native species are affected. But, as the largest — yet possibly the quietest — of animals in their ranges, tapirs disappear without a trace with all those countless other species which once roamed the earth but of which we have today forgotten about.

Go to www.mns.my for MNS news.

TAPIR TRIVIA

• Tapirs are mammals that are often confused with pigs, capybaras and giant ant-eaters. Actually, their closest living relatives are odd-toed ungulates, horses and rhinoceros.

• The Malayan tapir is frugivorous by nature making it an ecologically important seed dispersal agent. Malayan tapirs play an important role in shaping plant communities as they can ingest more fruit, eat larger seeds and disperse over longer distances than smaller bodied frugivores.

• The Malayan tapir spends a significant amount of time before copulating with its mate. Only one off-spring is produced every other year. The long recruitment and slow reproductive rates imply that Malayan tapirs are sensitive to habitat loss as they can’t adapt as quickly to human-caused changes in the environment making them even more vulnerable to extinction.

• The Malay Tapir Conservation Centre (MTCC) in Malaysia is an organisation dedicated to understanding tapir reproductive biology. In addition to keeping captive Malayan tapirs healthy, the MTCC pairs up male and female Malayan tapirs at the right time for breeding by studying their hormone profiles and using ultrasonography.

• Denver Zoo recently celebrated the birth of an endangered Malayan tapir calf. The male calf, named Baku (Bah-koo), born to mother Rinny and father Benny, is only the second birth of his species at the zoo. Baku will remain behind the scenes in Toyota Elephant Passage while being cared for by his mother until they are comfortable enough to venture outdoors. INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL - NST Lifestyle 5 JULY 2014 @ 8:05 AM

Men: The reign of King James

Veteran footballer James Wong recalls a forgotten era and the victories enjoyed. Kerry-Ann Augustin writes

“YOU are making me think. I don’t like to think,” he says, snickering.

I am on the phone with James Wong, oddly asking him non-football related questions. Together with other footballing legends such as Mokhtar Dahari, R. Arumugam, Santokh Singh, Soh Chin Aun and fellow Sabahan Hassan Sani, they remain Malaysia’s favourite sons of the sport.

But Wong has deviated completely from football. He now runs an events company that supplies live bands for functions. “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” he says, referring to his decision to delve into another one of his passions. “I’ve always liked music. In fact we had a family band called The Final Fling…but it’s really final already-lah. Since it ended 20 years ago,” he says, jokingly.

A lot has changed since Malaysian football was something to talk about. But this World Cup season, some forgotten things are worth remembering ­— like what Wong meant to the fans and the people who knew him.

COURT OF KING JAMES

On Jan 12, 1986, an article in the New Straits Times by Dan Guen Chin lured readers in with a prophetic opening: “There are three things Selangor will fear when they line up against Sabah at the Merdeka Stadium tonight. Complacency, defeat and… James Wong”.

In truth, he wasn’t just a threat to Selangor — he was also a thorn in the side for teams who were pitted against the country’s best in the 1980s.

To the nation, he was King James — a figure of staggering height, of boyishly handsome looks and a beautiful build who struck fear in the hearts of opposing teams with his rapid pace and venomous strikes. To Sabahans, he was affectionately known as Ah Fook.

“I started playing football when I was about 10 years old,” says Wong, who is now in his 60s. “My father was not keen on my brothers and me playing football so we would sneak out of our house to play the game,” he sniggers, recalling the rebelliousness. Risking getting caught by his parents paid off as all five Wong boys (Tony, Harry, Vincent, Johnny and James) donned Sabah colours in the late 1970s to the mid-1980s.



Wong and his brothers all donned Sabah colours.  From left Johnny, Vincent, Tony, Harry and James

“My father eventually became a spectator and a supporter, of course.”

It was during playing for the State that the locals watched Ah Fook bloom from Tanjung Aru boy to one of the nation’s best.

“The moment James Wong’s name is mentioned in the line-up just before the match starts, everybody goes crazy! Even the older fans!” says Thresia Moguil, a football fanatic who used to watch the Sabah team of the ’70s and ’80s play at the Likas Stadium.

“Teams from the peninsula before this had always looked down on Sabah and even considered Sabah as whipping boys. But James Wong made a big impact and changed the history of Sabah football.”

Former Sabah team manager Ronald Cooke agrees. “Wong was a truly gifted footballer and the best the state has ever produced,”

My father, Rupert, also grew up watching the Sabah team trample their West Malaysian opponents time and again with their footballing flair. “Ah Fook was in a class of his own. To us Sabahans he was the complete footballer. He towered above his opponents, had excellent dribbling skills, a powerful header, and deadly with both his left and right legs! But the thing that stood out most was that he was held in awe by not only his opponents and teammates but also by us, the fans. He had that X-factor, which is conspicuously absent in our professional footballers of today.”

A NATION’S MOMENT

On the afternoon of April 6, 1980, Malaysian fans with flags in hands and pride in their hearts marched towards the Merdeka Stadium. Malaysia was to play the gallant South Korea in a match that would determine a place in the Olympics.

With minutes left and both countries tied at one goal each, the swift Hassan Sani weaved his way through the South Korean defence, passing the ball to Wong who demolished the Koreans with a thunderous shot, sending the ball into the back of the net.



Wong (center) after scoring the winning goal in the Olympics qualifier against Korea in 1980

“It is the goal I am most proud of scoring,” confides Wong.

Rupert, who was among the thousands of Malaysians there that day, describes the moment as an unforgettable one.

“I felt the blood rush to my head and at that very point, the entire stadium erupted as we celebrated with joy, laughter and tears — proud that we were all united in a victorious moment for Malaysia.”

Duncan, Wong’s youngest son, says that his favourite memory of his father is encapsulated in a video — Wong’s historic goal has been immortalised in the digital world for the older Malaysians to remember what they had and for younger Malaysians to remember what they have lost.

Duncan, like many born in the ’80s, views the fuzzy footage of the match online. Given the state of our football these days, it is the closest they will ever come to experiencing a solid Malaysian team. “It’s the way they played with all the pride of winning the game. Till today, I still have that in my mind whenever I watch football,” he says.

GREATEST VICTORY

Even though Wong is mostly remembered for his prolific performances on the pitch, it is moments outside the game that he considers his greatest victories.



Wong and his sons Ian (left) and Duncan (middle)

Tying the knot and bringing two children into this world — that would be the most important wins of my life,” he says, referring to Jennifer, his wife of over three decades and their sons, Ian and Duncan.

“My dad is caring and funny. He doesn’t really tell jokes but whenever I’m down, he knows what to say. He calms me down and makes me smile,” says a shy Duncan who confesses that he and his brother saw more than just a fatherly figure in Wong. “Ian and I played football, of course. Our dad use to train us at home. I really wanted to be like him. There were lots of photos and trophies around the house when I was growing up and I used to ask him a lot of questions,” recalls Duncan, who was a rugby player before becoming a chef.

“I do see a lot of myself in my sons,” Wong says with a chuckle. “Yes, the mischievous side too.” He retreats backs to his earlier, more muted tone and says that raising children is the greatest responsibility and sacrifice.

“You can tell them not to do this and that but at the end of the day, they have to make their own mistakes. It’s the same for me ­— I don’t see my mistakes as regrets, I take them as lessons.”

Before I hang up, I ask if his proudest moment was the winning goal against South Korea. “No,” he says. “Raising my sons to be fine young men is.”

Looks like King James is walking tall in the courts of life these days. KERRY-ANN AUGUSTIN - NST Men 5 JULY 2014 @ 8:04 AM

Sharifah Aini laid to rest

KUALA LUMPUR : The body of evergreen songstress Datuk Sharifah Aini Syed Jaafar was laid to rest at Bukit Kiara Muslim cemetery here at 12.15pm today.

Her funeral was attended by hundreds of family members, friends and fans.

Among her friends who attended her funeral were Malaysia number one singer Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, 1Malaysia Artist Foundation president Datuk DJ Dave, celebrity chef Datuk Chef Wan, singer Rohana Jalil, Norman Abdul Halim, Herman Tino and Nasir Wahab.

Also at the cemetery were her ex-husband Ali Bakar and their only son Aliff Omar.

Sharifah Aini's body was brought to the cemetery after her final prayer was conducted at At-Taqwa Mosque in Taman Tun Dr Ismail here earlier today.

The 61-year-old songstress, who among her famous songs were Seri Dewi Malam and Seiring Sejalan, died of lung infection at the Damansara Special Centre at 1.26am today.






Sharifah Aini's only son, Aliff Omar leading the special prayer for his late mother
at the At-Taqwa Mosque in Taman Tun Dr Ismail. She was later laid to rest at the
Bukit Kiara Muslim Cemetery  at 12.10pm. Pix by Mohamad Shahril Badli Saali.



Datuk Sharifah Aini laid to rest at the Bukit Kiara Muslim Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur .
Pix by Muhd Zaaba Zakeria

57 glorious years of ‘ Berita Harian’

THE significance of “57” to Berita Harian? The newspaper was born in 1957 and on July 1 this year the newspaper turned 57.

It is one of the earliest Malay newspapers in Rumi (Romanised) script. It made its debut 10 years earlier than Utusan Malaysia, the Romanised edition of Utusan Melayu. Berita Harian was born exactly two months before the independence of Malaya.

The history of Malay newspapers and magazines has been an interesting one. The first Malay newspaper in the country was believed to be Jawi Peranakan published in Penang in 1876 by the Indian Muslim community. It was edited by Munsyi Mohd Zain and Dada Mohidin.

Most of the newspapers and magazines before the Second World War were published in Jawi. Researchers believed that the first newspaper in Romanised script was Bintang Timur first published in Singapore in July 1894. Interestingly, the editor was Ong Siong Song. Very little is known about the newspaper that lasted about two years.


A man reading the Berita Harian at a stall. The history of malay newspapers and magazines is interesting.

In 1939 Utusan Melayu, the first newspaper “owned, financed and staffed solely by Malays of the Archipelago”, was published in Jawi at Cecil Street Singapore and edited by A. Rahim Kajai. It took the company 28 years to publish the Romanised edition, Utusan Malaysia in 1967. On the other hand the company that published the Straits Times took 112 years to come out with a sister newspaper in Malay. The management must have realised the importance of a newspaper in Bahasa Melayu.

Back in the 50s, the renowned literary movement Angkatan Sasterawan 50, popularly known as Asas 50, was championing the case to popularise the Romanised script. In fact Asas 50 was instrumental in changing the Ministry of Education’s stand to use Rumi in schools and in official correspondence. After all Malaya was on the verge of independence. The written script for national schools that have always been in Jawi needed to be “Malayanised”. It is not a coincidence that the first editor of Berita Harian was (Tan Sri) A. Samad Ismail, one of the articulators of Asas 50.

Berita Harian started rather modestly, perceived by many as merely the translated version of the Straits Times. Over the years it developed its own character. Berita Harian was there to record the exuberance of the people of Malaya celebrating their independence on Aug 31, 1957. Berita Harian has been chronicling the history of this nation ever since — its trials and tribulations, its exultations and sadness.

Newspapering is never easy. For the fledgling Berita Harian it was even tougher. But it had some of the best people at the help to lead the newspaper. Other than Samad, Abdul Wahab Zain, A. Samad Said, Salim Kajai, Adibah Amin, Ahmad Sebi, A. Kadir Jasin and Ahmad Nazri Abdullah were among the editors. Others like Ahmad Rejal Arbi, Hishamuddin Aun, Manja Ismail and Mior Kamarul Shahid made their marks in other vocations later or moved on to greener pastures.

Berita Harian has gone through many design changes and most notably the migration to compact format from broadsheet in 2008. It is now known asBH and BH Ahad for its Sunday edition. The current editor, Mahfar Ali, literally grew up with the newspaper. He started 29 years ago. He understands very well the challenges in the media today and the dwindling circulation numbers bedevilling all major newspapers of the world.

BH is more than just a newspaper that harps on news and events. For many years it has positioned itself as a newspaper of choice for students. Its education supplement Didik is hugely popular. More importantly its spaces for culture and the arts are the mainstay of the newspaper. The literary columns have nurtured many young writers over the years. I am one of the proud “graduates” of these pages since my university days. But what is a newspaper without gossips and faces of pretty starlets and dashing young male artistes? BH Sunday supplement B*Pop provides that and more. It has entertainment pages every day.

BH prides itself as a paper for all. And speaking on behalf of the people. The recent series of expose made by the newspaper under Mahfar’s leadership is a vindication of its commitment to journalistic excellence. It is good to know 10 of its journalists were awarded the coveted Hadiah Kajai since 1983.

True to its current tagline, Merentasi Generasi (transcending generations),BH has reinvented itself many times over to endear itself to the young and old in line with the changing dynamics in society. It has been around for the last 57 years and certainly looking forward to 57 more.

Dirgahayu BH! JOHAN JAAFFAR - NST 5 JULY 2014 @ 8:01 AM