Imagine you received a letter asking you to play an important part in the conservation effort. You were required to trade the life in the city for the life in the wild. A place you never even heard before. What would be your reaction? Would you reject the offer immediately or would you take it?
City girl Lily Sir had a second thought, but she accepted it. She was a University fresh graduate after finishing her practical at Sarawak Forestry Corporation. She was only 24 then. Just like any other city folks out there, her real fear was to have to start her life at a completely different environment. She was appointed to Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary (LEWS) – the last frontier for the conservation of the threatened primate in Borneo. LEWS is a place totally cut off from the outside world, for it was meant to stay exactly the same today and years to come. The only thing that connected them to the happening around the world was the radio. In LEWS, instead of the sound of the busting traffic and buzzing sound of people, the only sound she would ever hear was the sound of the nature in the stillness of the thick jungle. LEWS is about 10 hours upriver boat ride from Sibu town. The roughness of the river was not something she anticipated all along.
“I did not expect nor was I ready for that rough ride to LEWS. There was a fear of crocodile, and the fear that the boat would capsize. I remember I kept asking the man maneuvering the boat whether or not we had reached our destination.”
All that Lily ever thought of was conservation. When she got that offer letter, she became one of the team members. Despite the determination, it didn’t get easier accepting the new environment during the first few weeks. She missed the 7Eleven, the shopping malls, the cinemas, the cars, the entertainment, the televisions and so many things she sacrificed and left behind at her home in the city to get to LEWS.
“However, as time goes by, I got used to the new environment, and I feel that life becomes easier and everything seems to become normal to us.”
As the only communication system of LEWS is the river, today, Lily and her colleagues would have to travel for hours to Song (a very, very small town) twice a month to get groceries.
Because LEWS is too far upstream, the groceries boat would not able to reach the place. Lily is the conservative executive, apart from her job scope, she also deals with wildlife and conduct conservation awareness programme at the longhouses and schools, she also involved in research and surveys.
“I think the reason why we are able to let go whatever we had in the city is because we are really into our jobs and conservation, we like our job and that is why we are still here. The most rewarding thing about this job is that I am able to be with the nature, to be with the local and to be part of the conservation team and watch all these beautiful creatures everyday.”
LEWS was gazetted in 1983. The thick undisturbed jungle is a home to large presence of orang utans and hornbills and other animals that almost come into extinction. With 193,039 hectares, it is the largest Wildlife Sanctuary in Malaysia. LEWS is in itself and by description is not open to tourism and is the largest totally protected area in Sarawak. The biodiversity of LEWS is in the top 12 in the world. There is a mega diversity both flora and fauna and there has been many discoveries of species which are endemic and endangered. These biodiversity is what never bores Lily in her daily life in LEWS. Since moving to LEWS, she was given a rare opportunity to see all the wonderful things such as orang utans, monkeys, and hornbills feeding on the local olives just a few meter away.
One of her colleagues is Laing Lesley and he is a ranger. His job includes patrolling and boundaries maintenance, making sure that no one enters the sanctuary.
“We are focusing on the critical areas such as logging areas and plantation areas.”
Another amazing thing about these young people was they left their families behind. It could probably the biggest sacrifice they ever make in their lives. Although it might be temporary, Lily and her colleagues did not know how long would they be there. It could be another 10 years, or maybe 20 years, or maybe until their retirement. There are others been there for more than 10 years and amazingly no complaints. One thing for sure, they could always apply for a transfer, but apparently, it never crossed their mind to do that. Lily still goes back to city in Kuching once a month to catch up with her family and to buy the necessities that Song did not have. She’s turning 29 this year and still could not get enough of the beauty of LEWS. Watching the wildlife isn’t part of her job anymore, it had become her hobby. Others go back maybe a few times in a year, or maybe once a year.
The heart of the beauty of LEWS is beyond watching everything passing by; the crystal clear river, hornbills flying overhead, every bird calling, and the gushing of river, but the experience of just being there. It is something that the word ‘breathtaking’ seems too small a word for the hidden wonders it provide. Because of that and also considering that this virgin forest is the last frontier for conservation in Borneo, this place is so precious in the eyes of conservation project. That is why, the conservation team never tired of educating the people, and doing research in protecting LEWS.
If conservation was not done today, apart from the beautiful wildlife and aquatic creatures, its natural beauty would be gone forever. When it is almost wiped out, even costly conservative activities could not restore the beauty that the nature provides to this earth. That is why these conservation team such as Lily, Laing, their team members, and the locals living nearby, whose life dependent much on the produce from the jungle are so passionate about keeping the forest as safe as possible. And so…I SALUTE THEM!!