Friday, 5 September 2008

The art of selective felling

Perak Integrated Timber Complex (PITC) in the Perak state left the twenty of us a bit flabbergasted. PITC people have been selective logging dipterocarp trees for almost a decade now from the Temenggor Forest Reserve. The event that will remain with me forever is seeing a 2-m girth dipterocarp tree stoop to ground within ten minutes of play with a chainsaw. But I will keep that for later. We have good memories too, at least I do.

We all slept in two-man/woman tents except I think few who got rooms. Pasoh was a bed and breakfast resort in comparison with the field conditions at PITC; there was no electricity, generators ran from 6 pm till usually 12 am, no phones and internet, no shops 30 km in any direction. Our quote of the day everyday was ‘let’s go to the river’. After noticing the number of bathrooms (2), we figured a slippery walk to the river twice a day can’t be too bad. But it turned out to be the best bathroom there can ever be. Mornings we walk sleepily to the river 200 m away and the evenings we walk dog-tired with the proceedings of the day. The first time we walked me and Dtoon fell on our bum in wet mud so we took care during all our other visits to the river. In the beginning Pradeep, the frog-guy, Dtoon, ever-dancing Param and me were the only few that colonised the river, but in the end it was so much fun there was none of us who never went to the river for a wash.

Evenings were full of Sepak-takro, which is the south-east Asian version of volleyball, except that you cannot use hands, only the chest, head and feet, like in football. We thought it would take us years to learn, but after few days we Indians were not too bad! the locals who can even smash the takro with a banana kick must have surely had some laughs though!

We also saw an Orang asli community village, very similar to villages in north-east India or other parts of India. Presently an epidemic of Dengue and malaria was on in the village, so we were advised not to meet them.

Our group project (Lillian, Por [pronounced Paw] and me) was on butterflies. The three days we got lost, found our way, fell, slipped, missed butterflies, and caught butterflies, all in all super fun! At the end of three day data collection we found that forest and roads harbour distinct butterfly communities and we did some statistical-analysis and got these clear patterns. The event I wil never forget is an encounter with a Malayan tree nymph. 

We were supposed to catch one individual per species and kill it by pressing the thorax hard enough; quick death and mount each specimen onto an entomologists’ board. So the tree nymph that rarely descends two metres above ground was right in front of me, I instinctively swung the butterfly net I had, but he escaped mainly due to the excitement I was in, and then I caught him again but this time the wrong side of the net and all the while the two girls with me screaming ‘catch it catch it’. But even the second round failed and by then the nymph figured we were upto no good and I was happy that he escaped, would have been a pity to kill such a beautiful large slow-moving butterfly. We inventorised 45 species in our project which is high diversity to be encountered in three days.

Then was the day I might never forget. We visited sector 5 of the forest where selective logging is presently on. The men chose a large tree with a very business-as-usual way and we were wondering if they would really do it, they did. Two pics of the scene, one with the tree and one without, notice the canopy gap made in ten minutes.

We also were lucky to meet Dr. Christine Fletcher who has worked many years on bats so she and her team actually set out harp-traps and we saw three species of insectivorous bats up-close.

The last day we packed up and were ready to leave with mostly good memories, one very bad one. We were also given various lectures about how the system works and they follow the rotation method which ensures significant tracts of forests are left, but none of these convinced us. While the big tree fell, it also took down three other trees of medium size. I was wondering who gave us the right to play god.

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