Pa’Umor Conservation Project

Introduction

The Pa’ Umor Conservation Project started at the beginning of 2010. The idea began whilst working as part of the 2009 Cultural Sites marking project for Rurum Kelabit Sarawak (with two Trekforce teams) to document important cultural sites in the area surrounding Bario highland. During this time the local community became aware of the huge importance of the jungle in their lives and began to think of ways to conserve it.

Background of the project

The project began as a collaboration between Rian John Pasan of Pa’ Umor village, Al Davies and David Oz Bourne of Trekforce UK with four main aims in mind of the local community in Bario.

The first aim was to protect the jungle and cultural sites that had been previously identified and documented in 2009. For the Kelabits, the jungle has many meanings. It is an area of natural beauty and an integral part of the Kelabit lifestyle and history. It is a source of nourishment and provides everything that the community needs for its survival. It has nurtured a deep connection and  understanding for nature. Looking after the jungle is a way of showing respect to their grandparents and great grandparents who has been living in and around this jungle many years before year 1958. This is proven by the founding of all these existing cultural sites in this area. Conserving the jungle around Pa’ Umor is not only an important way of preserving the connection that the Pa’ Umor village have to their ancestor’s who roamed this area, but also an important task for the sake of every visitor who come to Borneo to explore the great diversity of the jungle.

The second aim was to encourage the younger generations and future generations to explore and learn about the significance of the jungle. In other words, to give them the opportunity to develop jungle survival skills; to respect their natural surroundings; and to look after the Kelabit Highlands in years to come.

The third aim was to make the jungle accessible to tourists and visitors. Trails around the jungle and past the many and varied cultural sites would constitute a great attraction to tourists visiting the area and would educate them about nature, the local history and customs as well as providing a source of income and economic support for the local community.

Finally, the project team hoped to encourage further research into the significance of the jungle and the natural bio-diversity of the Kelabit Highlands in Borneo.

trail-map

Progress of the project to date

Since the beginning of the project, many things have already been achieved. The first stage following the completion of the cultural site marking in 2009 was to build a series of shelters in the jungle and to connect them with jungle trails leading past the cultural sites. The locations, environment and design of the shelters are different in each case and in keeping with the natural surroundings. The original plan was to build five shelters along the edge of the jungle at a distance of four-five hours walk from each other.

The first shelter built was the Hornbill Camp (Pa’ Pere) in May 2010. It was built with the help of two locals and two groups of eight and nine Trekforce volunteers respectively from UK in about a month each group on different occasions. It consists of a sheltered sleeping area; a fireplace and a dining table. The location was selected partly for because of the vicinity of a stream and partly because it lies at one end of the jungle. The name Hornbill Camp was chosen because the site was visited by many hornbills over the course of building. In one week of building, the hornbills came six out of seven days. During fruit season it is likely that visitors to the camp site will also be visited by hornbills.

The second campsite the Riversnail Camp (Arur Kiran) on 2nd December 2010 at the other end of the jungle. It was constructed with the help of the Pembroke-Highvale World Challenge team from Australia. There were 11 World Challenge Volunteers and 4 local volunteers. The World Challenge team spent a week constructing up to the roof and the local volunteers subsequently finalised the construction on two separate occasions. The camp was named after the fresh riversnail (Akap) found in the river near the campsite. This is a local delicacy much loved among the Kelabit.

The third shelter built was Silverleaf Camp (ArurLetung) in June 2011, which lies roughly in the middle. This was also built by two groups. The first group of volunteers included six Trekforce volunteers and two local volunteers. The second group consisted of seven Trekforce volunteers and two local volunteers. The camp was built in two months and each group worked on the construction for a month. The name of the camp was chosen as the volunteers saw silverleaf monkeys both on the trek to the camp site and at the site itself. Also it is located about 30 minutes walking distance to an animal salt lick called Rupan Arur Letung.

Finally, the fourth and fifth campsites were built at the same time. Causarina Camp (Paru’ Semereng) was built between Riversnail and Silverleaf by two groups from Far Frontiers Expedition Ltd of 19 and 18 people respectively in July 2012. The groups were from Radley College and Tudor Hall School in England. They were assisted by four local volunteers. The clearing of the site was initially started by a Trekforce Trainee Expedition Leaders (TEL) group consisted of seven volunteers in July, 2011 from UK, Holland and United State. The campsite was named after the Causarina tree (Kayu Aru) which is very common in that particular area. The tree is particularly special to the Kelabit people who traditionally used the tree for Christmas light decorations. It has beautiful branches and needle leafs. The trunk is hard and lasting normally used for handle of any working tools.

The fifth camp is John Tarsier Camp (Pa’ Nipet) built between Silverleaf and Hornbill in July, 2012. This was built by two groups from Trekforce who came consecutively. One group consisted of 12 Trekforce volunteers and two local volunteers and the second group consisted of 10 Trekforce volunteers and two locals. The camp was named to acknowledge the dedication of Rian John who then added the name Tarsier in keeping with the natural theme of the names of the other camps. Tarsier small monkey are very rare in the highlands but found their existent also around this jungle.

The second step of the project was to design a series of trails which lead visitors past cultural sites and through areas of particular natural beauty such as the views from mountain ridges. This contrasts with many of the older trails built by the Kelabit people in the past that tended to follow rivers and as a result are often wet. The trails along the mountain ridges are dry but relatively challenging and this is another reason for having shelters along the way at relatively short intervals. Since the start of the project roughly more than fifty tourists have been guided along the trails. Typically, they start at Pa’ Umor and trek for one day to the Hornbill Camp where they stay overnight. They can then choose to spend their time as they like, either trekking to a new camp or spending another day at the present camp learning jungle survival skills from a local guide or visiting some of the cultural sites that are away from the trail.

In addition, the local children in Pa’ Umor are now able to go out into the jungle on their own and demonstrate a greater interest in exploring the jungle.

Evaluation of the project

In terms of the first aim – i.e. to conserve the Pa’ Umor jungle – there is some sense in which the community have come together to support and approve the conservation of the forest as a direct result of the project. This is shown among other things in positive comments made by the Pemanca;  Penghulu; Ketua Kampong and president of the Rurum Kelabit Sarawak (RKS). Moreover, the community in Pa’ Umor is now aware of the need to conserve and not only acknowledges the work of the project but now make use of the trails and shelters in their daily interactions with the forest. Many perceive this as being of great benefit to the community – in particular because access to the cultural sites means that they can and will be properly looked after.

However, the conservation of the jungle has yet to be approved by the government in any official format. With our evident base perimeter survey project done through our community association Rurum Kelabit Sarawak (RKS), it’s in the last stage preparation progress and to be submitted to get this approved. With your help and assistance to support in maintaining this on going conservation project would be a potential next step for the project to gain official recognition as communal forest reserve. This would further help to ensure the conservation of this remaining little jungle in the Borneo highland. Thus the project has had relative success in its primary aim of conservation. It has brought about a change of attitudes among the local population to realise to protect our vanishing jungle. Nevertheless, this part of the jungle is within Pa’ Umor vicinity as NCR land that other parties will respect the community’s wishes to conserve our jungle.

The second aim was to encourage the younger generations to develop an interest in their natural surroundings and going into the jungle. Many of the local children had not had the chance to go into the forest before the project began as most now spent times with computer & video games. Since the shelters and trails were built, about three times a year we organised young children with their parents or the elders to go out into the jungle and camp. During these trips, the adults taught their children many basic survival skills, including collecting firewood & wild products; lighting the fire and cooking. They were also able to learn about gathering edible plants in the jungle, which gave them an unprecedented insight into the way of life of their ancestors.

However, so far this experience has only been offered to a small number of children. This is partly because the trip has not yet been promoted and partly because there is currently only one experienced and licensed guide available to take the children into the forest. In future, the project team hope to introduce a programme to train young people to be able to go into the jungle on their own. The programme would include jungle survival skills, including:

JUNGLE SURVIVAL ACTIVITIES

  1. Selecting a safe location of a camp site
  2. Building jungle shelter
  3. Locating suitable firewood
  4. Fire Lighting
  5. Navigating in the jungle
  6. Handling a parang safely
  7. Learning about flora and fauna
  8. River Crossing
  9. Building Stream Bridges
  10. Forest medicine commonly used by previous generations
  11. Learning to identify and collect edible jungle plants
  12. First Aid

The programme would ideally be funded by the parents of the children who would pay a certain fee to cover the course; airfares, transportation; accommodation, camping equipment, food and tour guides. This would make the programme self-sustainable. The programme has already been trialled with groups who booked and came into the jungle from World Challenge, Trekforce, Far Frontiers and many individual tourists have made it with overwhelmingly positive responses about the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that it provides. Therefore, the project team would also like to extend these opportunities to Kelabit children and more generally to those interested in learning from the local community’s great wealth of experience how to survive in and interact with the jungle that surrounds us. Thus the project work done so far will facilitate future programmes, which should help to encourage younger generations to be able to learn about the jungle.

The third aim was to make the jungle accessible for tourism. This is arguably the greatest success of the project so far despite the fact that the trails and tours have not been actively promoted yet. The trails and shelters are already in use and trekking packages have been developed and implemented. Before the shelters were built, a very minimal number of tourists had ever trekked through the Pa’ Umor jungle. Since the completion of the project, a number have been on guided tours and have all left very positive reviews. One challenge for the future is to better promote the trails as the tourists that have been through the tours to date only became aware of their existence on arrival in Bario. This website aims to help this task. Some tourists have also opted to learn about jungle survival skills. In all cases, the opportunity to trek through the jungle has enlightened the visitors as to the importance of conserving the jungle for the local community.

Moreover, the trails and shelters attract visitors to Pa’ Umor village where they are then able to learn more about local culture and customs. For example, they are able to live in the longhouse and learn about the history and traditions of the Kelabit people. One unique feature of their stay in Pa’ Umor is the opportunity to experience an old Kelabit tradition of eating different meals with different families as a direct introduction into the community and performing and learning of the cultural dance.

The village in turns benefits from increased tourism, especially the shop owners, homestay operators and transport providers who receive extra business as a result.
The final aim was to encourage research into the jungle. This has not yet materialised in any concrete sense. However, with the trails and shelters in place and the reserve land untouched the area is ready for researchers to visit.

Future plans

There are a number of ideas that have developed throughout the process of the project. These include:

  1. Extending the project as a prototype to other villages within the Kelabit Highlands, such as Pa’ Dalih, Pa’ Main and Pa’ Lungan.
  2. Developing a community research centre within the Pa’ Umor jungle in order to bring research into the local area. This could be a potential collaboration with UNIMAS and foreign Universities.
  3. Transforming the Pa’ Umor Community Reserve into a wildlife sanctuary for slow-Loris and tarsier monkeys which are native to this area of the world but are increasingly rare and consequently a protected species. This would be specifically designed as a non-hunting zone or breeding ground for local wildlife to support sustainable interaction between the local community and the jungle. One suggestion of how to encourage wildlife is to plant extra fruit trees. The non-hunting zone could be enforced through the local village Adat and ketua kampong. The community is aware of this plan but is not necessarily sticking to the suggested guidelines at this present moment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the conservation project has been a success both within the community and visitors coming in. However, there are still many things to think about for the future, including developing new programmes to make use of and conserve the jungle as well as maintaining the trails and shelters that are now in place and deteriorating.

It is hoped that the project will enable the younger generation to take up the task of looking after the jungle in future and encourage them to learn the skills of their elders as knowledgeable local jungle guides are now in short supply.

Acknowledgements

On behalf of the community, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the project. It means so much to us because we believe that our jungle, small though it is, should be preserved for any individual from any part of this world to explore and enjoy. We are here simply to look after it for the sake of the past and the future generation, but cannot do so without your help.

Particular thanks to John Pasan@Rian without whose dedication and vision none of this would have been possible. This is a childhood dream that comes true shared together to all his other villagers and the Kelabit highland Community. He has worked hard in this project as the project consultant and designer, Jungle Survival Training Instructor and also as Tour Nature Guide with all his incredible local knowledge and skills. Thanks also to Al Davies and David Osborne and their teams of volunteers for all their hard work and to Trekforce/Gapforce UK, World Challenge Australia, Far Frontiers Expeditions UK, and some individual tourists. We, the community in Pa’ Umor, earnestly valued this jungle conservation project for all your contribution directly or indirectly. Finally, thanks to YB Dato Gerawat Gala, Dr PolinLaba, Charlotte Bulan, Researchers of Palacky University in Olomouc Czech Republic,  Bario Highland Guide Association, Local community leaders, Pa’ Umor Ketua Kampung Pasang Ibuh and villagers for their support and input.