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Sarawak committed to Biodiversity

KUCHING: Sarawak is committed to conserving its rich biodiversity to enable the state government to formulate effective conservation policies, especially in the build-up to the development of bio-technology

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said on Wednesday the state government would continue to play a positive role and encourage the endeavour by providing research facilities and grants to local institutions, including Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).

"I am therefore happy to see that the collaborative promotion of research in the discipline of biogeography and biodiversity by Unimas on Wallace sites in Sarawak and Wallace collections in the United Kingdom is important as part of our cultural and scientific heritage and worthy of support," he said when opening an international conference on "Biogeography and Biodiversity : Wallace in Sarawak 150 Years Later" here.

About 80 local and international participants are attending the three-day conference jointly organised by Unimas' Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation and the Sarawak Development Institute (SDI) in recognition of the immense contribution and impact that naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace had on scientific knowledge and discovery through his writings and natural history collections from Sarawak.

Wallace, who arrived in Sarawak at the invitation of Rajah Sir James Brooke on Nov 1, 1854, spent the next 15 months exploring and collecting an enormous 25,000 specimens, including 2,000 beetle species, 1,500 moth species and 1,500 other insect orders along the Sarawak River valley from Santubong to Bau as well as the peat swamps of Simunjan.

The collections, which he sold to private collectors and institutions in Britain to finance his travels in the region, are now kept at the Natural History Museum in London and Tring, a town in Hertfordshire, 50km northwest of London.

In January-February 1955, Wallace also wrote his first major paper on evolution, which became known as "The Sarawak Law" at Santubong, followed by another major publication on the orang utan in Simunjan the following year.

However, recognising the danger that such specimens might be in great demand as collectors' items, the butterfly Rajah Brooke Birdwing, for which Wallace was more widely known, had been declared a protected species under the Sarawak Wildlife Protection Ordinance, said Abdul Taib.

The state government had also set aside about one million hectares of its forest as totally protected areas at the Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary to protect the endangered orang utan and other wirldlife species, he said.

Rehabilitation and release programmes were continuing at the Matang Wildlife Centre and Semengoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre near here, he added.

Abdul Taib also suggested that the sites Wallace had worked on in Sarawak, like the "Wallace Point" at Santubong, be preserved as historical, educational and scientific heritage as Wallace had brought the state to the height of international acclaim through his writings and collections.

"The old government bungalow on the hill overlooking the mouth of Santubong River, the exact spot where Wallace wrote his Sarawak Law, can be renovated to provide a one-stop centre for the study of natural history for schools, universities and researchers," he said.  

Speaking to reporters later, he said Unimas could take the initiative to set up a Wallace centre at Santubong, with the government's support, to inspire young scientists and promote acadamic discourses on issues relevant to the state

Updated: 13 Jul 2005 The Sun



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