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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jerry's Life Story -The Hornbill( burung Kenyalang) .

In safe hands:
Beliang (right) handing over
Jerry to Len Talif.

IT IS DIFFICULT to say how long Jerry has to be in rehab.

How do you wean a rhinoceros hornbill of the affection and care that human beings have shown it for half its life?

For 15 years, Jerry was a pet of Beliang Mandang who bought it for RM35 in Tebedu. Home for Jerry was a longhouse in Sri Aman. When the time came for Beliang to part from Jerry, Beliang was heartbroken.

It seems tragic that the love of Beliang and his wife for Jerry had poisoned Jerry to the extent that it had to be rehabilitated.

When Jerry’s story and photo appeared on the front page of The Star(JULY 20, 2010), it caused quite a buzz. Not many people have seen a rhinoceros hornbill or burung kenyalang, much less one that is breathing.

You usually have a better chance of seeing one after a taxidermist has done his job, rather than in the wild. Not surprisingly, our reporter who wrote the story received several emails enquiring about Jerry and where it was now.

Jerry is at the Matang Wildlife Centre. It will be released into the wild when it can fend for itself, but the jungles today are not the same as when it was caught more than a decade ago.

Of the 12.4 million hectares in Sarawak, there is only 512,390ha where Jerry can be safe. Even then, the land is distributed over 18 national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries and five nature reserves, and not all the habitats are suitable for a rhinoceros hornbill, the largest species of hornbill.

Whether that tree with the hollow in which Jerry was hatched from an egg, and where its parents had cared for it, is still standing, nobody knows. What’s for sure is that Jerry and others like it are rare in Sarawak and desperately need human intervention to ensure their survival.

There are some who argue about whether Beliang was right in handing Jerry over to Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC). After all, he had cared for the bird for more than a decade and done a good job.

Beliang, however, did not have a choice. If he had not surrendered Jerry. a protected animal, he could have been fine RM25,000 or spent two years behind bars under the state’s Wild Life Protection Ordinance.

Let’s hope then, for Jerry’s sake, that the people at SFC will do a better job than Beliang.

The affinity of Sarawakians for the rhinoceros hornbill is expected.

We live in the Land of the Hornbill and the bird is in our state emblem. It is revered by ethnic groups in the state, particularly the Iban and Kayan.

Despite its obvious social and cultural importance, it seems peculiar that little attention is given to the bird these days compared to the orang utan or sea turtles, which are international animal superstars in the world of conservation.

Google rhinoceros hornbill and you will find 20,600 results but for orang utan you get 10.4 million results. This, however, should not be taken to mean that little is understood or known about the bird.

A cursory search on the rhinoceros hornbill on the Internet reveals some fascinating facts. Its beak and casque are naturally white, but during its lifetime, it constantly rubs its beak against a gland under its tail which secretes an orange-red fluid that gives it its distinctive colour.

Another interesting fact is that it is faithful to its mate for life and is usually seen in pairs on trees. Its lifespan in captivity is 35 to 40 years.

How many of them are left in the wild in Sarawak? 

Are they on the verge of extinction? 

These are questions Sarawakians should be concerned with.

The next question is: What can we do to protect them?

In answering that question, we cannot escape the debate between development and conservation.

As one Sarawakian minister, when faced with this debate many years ago, said: “To eat the egg you have to break the shell.”

He may be right, but no Sarawakian should allow the rhinoceros hornbill to live on only as a carving or in a dance or as a seal on a letterhead.

The state must certainly take the lead in ensuring the bird does not go extinct.

SFC and the Forests Department, then, have their work cut out for them. Protecting the hornbill is obviously more challenging than saving terrestial animals like the orang utan, but SFC seems up to the challenge.

In April this year, SFC CEO Datu Len Talif Salleh, who is also the Forests Director, announced that the corporation would intensify its hornbill conservation efforts and restructure its protection programmes. He pointed out that enforcement on the ground must be strengthened.

We eagerly await his plans.

In the meantime, it should be pointed out that the penalty under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance is much higher for a rhinoceros, orang utan or proboscis monkey compared to a rhinoceros hornbill.

That said, we all have a part to play in ensuring its survival.

As the Ibans believe it is a messenger of the gods( the Iban god of war, Singalang Burong) perhaps it is time for us to start listening to what Jerry has to tell us.

RELATED:
Bernama(Burung Kenyalang di serahkan selepas 15 thn di penjara?)

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