Maya Angelou’s poem may have been written as a metaphor about her freedom from prejudice and abandonment during childhood. But nothing could be further than the truth right here in Southeast Asia, where literally, songbirds are caught, caged and illegally traded, leading to the demise of many endangered species and the devastation of our natural heritage.
Familiar scenes that may float to mind include bird markets from Hong Kong to Jakarta that are popular with locals and tourists, or songbird competitions in Singapore that are a cultural past time for many senior citizens. But the truth is closer to home.
The Javan green magpie, the black-winged myna and the Bali myna – currently categorised as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List – were identified as high-priority birds at the Asian Songbird Crisis Summit held in Singapore last September.
By Lim Wan Phing
Read more in ASIAN Geographic No. 116 Issue 1, 2016.
The proboscis monkey has received increasing attention in recent years. Indeed, it has become a flagship species for tourism activities throughout its range, particularly in popular areas like Sukau in Kinabatangan, Sabah in East Malaysia. Tourists are almost always guaranteed to be rewarded with the sight of these enigmatic animals, as they can be easily found along rivers on a slow boat cruise in the mornings and evenings. This is due to their preference for habitats along rivers and coastlines; and their social group structure, which consists of basic one-male, multi-female or all-male groups congregating along waterways.
Preserving The Proboscis
While on-going field studies have and will continue to reveal more information about the basic biology of this charismatic species, improved knowledge has also placed the long-term survival of the species increasingly under the spotlight. Borneo, having lost 30% of its rainforests in the last 40 years has had a particularly critical impact for the proboscis monkeys, which are adapted to swampy forest along waterways and have highly specialised diets, consisting leaves, unripe fruits and seeds found within these forests. The monkeys have quadripartite stomachs characterised by enlarged, sacculated fore stomachs for bacteria and enzymatic digestion of these hard-to-digest plants.
In recent years, mangroves and peat swamp forests in Malaysia and Indonesia have seen the highest rates of loss. Lowland forest habitats are also increasingly converted for land development, particularly for palm oil plantations. Unlike more generalist species of primates like macaques, proboscis monkeys are least likely to find alternative food resources in human-modified habitat and converted plantation forests.
By John Sha Chih Mun & Ikki Matsuda
Read more in ASIAN Geographic No. 116 Issue 1, 2016.
When I climbed the top of Indonesia's highest volcano, Gunung Kerinci (3805m) in West Sumatra, I was first gasping for oxygen. Then as I neared the top's crater, the smell of rotten eggs hit my nose. Who was the culprit of this terrible odour? It came from a column of steam, constantly rising from the crater and wafting over the edge towards us hikers. The mucus membranes of our eyes, mouth and ears were simply itching.
What's That Smell?
In chemical terms the cause of this smell and itch is hydrogen sulphide (H2S). Minor quantities are simply irritating, but - and this may come as a surprise - in large volumes, H2S becomes odourless as it numbs the receptors in our noses and becomes lethal within a matter of seconds.
Gases play a major role in the eruptions of volcanoes, and sulphur dioxide (SO2) is an important one. If enough gases accumulate in the magma chamber of a volcano, the material in the vent blocking the gas may then be belched out, taking at times the whole top off a volcano like the proverbial cork popping out of a champagne bottle.
The biggest eruption in recorded history was right her in Indonesia's Gunung Tambora. It happened in 1815, and this volcano on the island of Sumbawa was estimated to be about 4200m before the eruption. It now stands at 2850m. This was followed by the Krakatau eruption in 1883 in the Sunda Strait, which was estimated to be about 2000m high before the eruption - resultingin a 300-metre deep underwater crater. Between the two, Gunung Tambora's eruption catapulted about 150km³ of volcanic material into the air, about eight times more than the Krakatau.
By Carl-Bernd Kaehlig
Read more in ASIAN Geographic No.117 Issue 2, 2016.
It is He who has let free the two bodies of flowing water: One palatable and sweet, and the other salty and bitter; yet has He made a barrier between them, a partition that is forbidden to be passed.
- The Noble Qur’an, 25:53
Listening along the hillsides of small patches of dry coastal forest of southern Grenada, you can hear the mournful coo of the Grenada dove (Leptotila wellsi), one of the world’s most critically endangered birds. This dove is primarily brown with a pinkish head and a white breast with a red rim around its eyes, the males slightly darker than the females. It is simple in its colouring – its only flamboyant features are its crimson red feet and legs – yet the species has a uniqueness that merits attention. However, like many island endemic species, it has become very particular to the kind of habitat and conditions it requires. Vulnerable to change, it is now threatened with extinction.
The Grenada dove is endemic to Grenada in the West Indies, and is recognised internationally on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as one of the 197 most critically endangered bird species globally. Its population is extremely small and fragmented, estimated at only 136 individuals remaining. It is found only on two small isolated patches of coastal seasonal forest, one in the southwest on and adjacent to the Mt Hartman Estate, and a second on the west coast around the Perseverance Dove Sanctuary and the Beausejour and Woodford Estates. Due to conservation efforts, all Grenada dove habitat now has international recognition as Important Bird Areas (Birdlife International) and Key Biodiversity Areas.
Image above: Grenada Doves are assumed to be territorial, and current population estimates are based on this assumption. Grenada Doves in the Mount Hartman area have been observed fighting (Blockstein 1988), and other Leptotila species show varying degrees of territorial behaviour (Goodwin 1983).
by Bonnie Rusk
This article first appeared on Asian Geographic magazine No. 106 Issue 4/2014.