Saturday, February 25, 2012

Learning about nature and culture in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Can you find Borneo on a map? It is a large island shared by three countries: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. We visited Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah. Borneo is known for its exotic wildlife, especially the orangutans.

However as with wildlife the world over, Borneo finds it is necessary to protect its wild animals. The main orangutan rescue center in Sabah was a day trip from Kota Kinabalu so we went to the Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort Nature Reserve where they have a variety of nature-related activities. The program, “In Search of the Orang Utan,” included information how they try to protect them and about the orangutan’s natural habitat. Orangutans eat leaves, barks, buds, stems, and fruit. One of the biggest threats to the orangutans is that their jungle home is being logged so there is less and less land for them to call home. Also, some people illegally catch them to sell them as pets often killing the mother so they can get the baby. A 15-minute jungle walk took us to the orangutans viewing and feeding platform. The orangutans are free to roam the jungle but they know when it is feeding time and where to get their food. The orangutans are being slowly introduced to the wild and learning how to survive. Most are around three years old and were rescued as infants. Either they were injured or they had no mother to take care of them. When they are about six they will be sent to a larger nature center in Sepilok. It was fun watching them. They are very human-like in their actions. The tour ended at the nursery where the babies are kept, bottle-fed, and trained until they are nearly three-years old. At that time they can fend for themselves with the other orangutans. The babies are not put with the older orangutans earlier because the older ones tend to play too rough. Wild long-tailed macaques also showed up to play and eat.

Kota Kinabalu is a busy city with malls, highways, and even Burger Kings. We wanted to learn about the various ethnic groups found in Sabah state and how they lived years ago so we visited Mari Mari Cultural Village.

The cultural village, high in the hills in the rainforest, consists of five traditional homes. Each group has its unique architectural style and special way of living. Visitors are greeted by guides in traditional outfits and learn about some of the traditions. We tried many things. For example: we learned how to shoot a dart from a blow pipe, how to make fire the traditional way, and prepared part of our lunch by putting chicken and vegetables in a banana leaf, rolling it up and slide it into a length of bamboo to be cooked. One of the highlights of the tour is the visit to the Murut Longhouse with a few skulls hanging from the ceiling, as the Muruts are one of the headhunter tribes in Sabah, and these skulls are simply handed down from generation to generation. In there longhouse there was a trampoline-like floor made of bamboo where the warriors get the floor bouncing and then one jumps up to grab a prize from the ceiling. Many visitors tried but they could not even stay upright. We also saw a cultural show of the traditional dances from the various groups. At the end of the tour we enjoyed a lunch that included the bamboo portion we prepared earlier.