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
"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
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