Exciting biodiversity in proposed Payeh Maga National Park
LAWAS: A male Ashy Drongo, flies back and forth between a few trees to a designated tree near a wooden hut belonging to villagers of Long Tuyo, in the picturesque highlands called Payeh Maga.
The bird, known scientifically as Dicrurus leucophaeus, is a dedicated mate as it helps to feed the female that is roosting on a tree a few metres away from the hut which is known as Camp One.
It is very alert to anyone who tries to approach near to the nest, keeping a close eye to any interference including a group of people comprising Forest Department Sarawak and WWF-Malaysia staff who are carrying out a joint-wildlife survey in the area recently.
The expecting pair is a much welcome sight to the staff after a tiring hike to Camp One from the foothills of Payeh Maga – nearly 4km walk through hilly slopes, swampy grounds, heath and sub-montane forests.
Ashy Drongo is just one of the many birds species found in Payeh Maga, a bird-watching paradise, that is already known for many rare and endemic avifauna species.
In 2014, Forest Department Sarawak commissioned birders Chi’en C. Lee and Yeo Siew Teck to carry out a survey on the area’s avifauna. The survey showed Payeh Maga has over 180 bird species including 27 endemic bird species, comprising over 50% of the Bornean total.
Among the species endemic to Borneo found in Payeh Maga are Bornean Banded Pitta Pitta schwaneri, Black Oriole, Bornean Green Magpie Cissa jefferyi and Bornean Bulbul Pycnonotus montis. Bigger birds such as hornbills and eagles are often spotted soaring in the area as well.
Payeh Maga, nearly two hours drive from Lawas town or about 70km through bumpy logging track is an important area for birds and other forms of wildlife.
Located at the far northeastern of Sarawak, this area is already known for nature-based activities, particularly bird-watching. Payeh Maga is also situated within the Heart of Borneo (HoB) area of Sarawak.
Visitors to Payeh Maga normally spend a night or two at neighbouring Lun Bawang village called Long Tuyo before putting on their hiking and camping gear the next day. Long Tuyo is 7km away from Payeh Maga. With support from Forest Department Sarawak, villagers have built basic shelters, Camp One located 965m above sea level and Camp Two (1,590m), to cater for researchers who are doing work in this area.
“I’ve brought in domestic and foreign tourists who are jungle trekking, birding and frogging enthusiasts,” said Dawat Barok, 57, a local guide from Long Tuyo.
Since last February, he said, he received between four and six visitors every month. Their visits gave the farmer and his family some side income as they worked as local guides, porters and opened their humble house as homestay.
Dawat said their forefathers used to collect resin in the forests of Payeh Maga and sell it for income but come to their generation, they could not continue the trade as many resin trees had been felled by loggers.
“Payeh Maga used to be a logging concession area but our village stopped the company from further operations in the late 1990s,” said another local guide, Jafri Salutan, 46.
“We realized the importance of this site and therefore, had to prevent any logging activities from being carried out. We do this not only for ourselves but also for our children. Some parts of the area are primary forests,” he added.
Long Tuyo headman, Salimun Berauk, 73, said the villagers welcome any move by the government to protect Payeh Maga as a conservation area to better protect the area and promote nature-based activities.
He believed that Payeh Maga can provide steady tourism ringgit for the villagers and overall state tourism industry.
“Long Tuyo has 33 households and most of the time our homes are empty as the young generation are working and studying in Lawas and Miri. So we have plenty of rooms for guests who wish to visit our village, see how we live and head up Payeh Maga for a day or overnight trip,” he said.
“We are more than happy to have visitors to our village otherwise it will be very quiet all year round,” he added.
Payeh Maga, which means swampy highlands in the Lun Bawang language, has three peaks. They are Gunung Doa which stands at 570m, Gunung Tuyo (1,752m) on the east side and Gunung Matallan (1,828m), the highest peak, on the west quadrant.
Forest Department Sarawak carried out scientific expeditions since 2010 to determine the rich biodiversity in the area. From the first expedition which only covered 20 per cent of the area, researchers from Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia have recorded exceptionally rich flora and fauna species.
According to a report, Heart of Borneo Series: Paya Maga – Sarawak’s Pristine Highland Forest, published by the Forest Department Sarawak, it said from the flora component, orchids and gingers are the two most diverse plant groups recorded in Payeh Maga areas.
Preliminary results from the expedition indicate that orchids with 45 genera consisting about 130 species of Rhododendrons recorded in Payeh Maga which are possibly the highest spot for Rhododendrons of Sarawak.
Ferns, bryophytes and fungi species are also found abundantly in the area. From those plant groups, many new records have been created. The fauna component is also exceptionally rich.
Great numbers of mammals, birds and insects have been recorded which are comparable high as compared with those found in Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary. Among the mammals found are sun bear, barking deer, pangolin, pig-tailed macaque, leopard cat, Muller’s Bornean gibbon, red langur, Hose’s leaf monkey, yellow-throated marten, bearded pig and Malayan porcupine.
One of the outstanding features of Payeh Maga is that the area is probably the only highland area in the state that is covered with peat forest. The peat forest is probably the highest peat forest on the highland areas in Sarawak at the altitude between 1,400m and 1,600m.
Many waterfalls and rock stream with high aesthetic values for nature-based tourism spots are also found in this place.
The report also stated that Payeh Maga highland is an important water catchment area and is drained by two major rivers, Sungai Tuyo from Gunung Tuyo that drains towards the east side to the Sabah state, while Sungai Matallan from Gunung Matallan drains towards the west side of the areas.
The highland area is occupied by sedimentary rocks. The formation comprises amalgated sandstone, white sandstone, coal and shale.
The area is part of Murud complexes located on the northern east toward Lawas town. It consists of four major vegetations – hill dipterocarp forest, sub-montane forest, peat forest and mossy forest.
With so much waiting to be discovered in Payeh Maga, Forest Department Sarawak is expected to carry out more wildlife surveys and scientific expeditions with institutions of higher learning and WWF-Malaysia to determine the area’s biodiversity.
WWF-Malaysia is setting up camera traps in Payeh Maga to document terrestrial species that occur here. The survey team has since visited the site twice, once in November 2014 and another recently in May.
Findings from these surveys and expeditions will provide significant contributions towards scientific studies and records of flora and fauna found in Borneo, and hence better conservation efforts to the highlands.
WWF-Malaysia (World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia) was established in Malaysia in 1972. It currently runs more than 90 projects covering a diverse range of environmental conservation and protection work, from saving endangered species such as tigers and turtles, to protecting our highland forests, rivers and seas. The national conservation organization also undertakes environmental education and advocacy work to achieve its conservation goals. Its mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the nation’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. For latest news and media resources, visit http://www.wwf.org.my/media_and_information/media_centre/