Pete and I were standing motionless on the nature trail at Danum Valley Field Centre, our ears craned and binoculars at the ready. We were on a twitch. Some friends of Pete’s had reported sensational sighting of a Giant Pitta on this trail just a month before. The Giant Pitta is high on the wanted list of every bird watcher who comes to Borneo, but at this moment it was the call of a quite different bird that we were straining to hear. The instant I heard it I recalled a similar scenario, an occasion that my father described as our ‘Wild Cuckoo Chase’ in the company of Robert Chong aboard one of his boats on the Kinabatangan River. One of Robert’s specialities is locating and tracking the shy Bornean Ground Cuckoo through his well practised ability to imitate it’s call. I will never forget the call as we had to listen to Robert and a Ground Cuckoo in duet for nearly an hour without a glimpse for reward. I have still never seen one but it is now firmly on my Danum observation list recorded on call.
The presence of Peter Stephens, together with John and Jemi Holmes and me at Danum Valley was intended as a warm up to get our eyes and ears tuned-in before our ambitious trip to survey the bird biodiversity and abundance at Imbak Canyon. The purpose of this trip (apart from our own enjoyment) was to gather more evidence of the biological wealth of Imbak and hence help to secure its protection. Our noble objectives were soon to receive a bitter reality check.
One of the perks of working for the Sabah Foundation is that I get to stay at their conservation areas for free. The downside of this is that I have to do some work while I am there. I therefore reluctantly tore myself away from the Giant Pitta Hunt and returned to the Field Centre to fire up my laptop. The first email I read was from a bird-watching acquaintance responding with some useful information about their recent trip to Imbak. At the end of the email was a remark that stopped my heart; ‘enjoy it while you can, as they are going to log the area around the Imbak Tampoi Basecamp before the end of the year’!
The Tampoi Basecamp is an area I know so well that I can move through the jungle without map or guide. I have explored every corner and recognise individual trees, many of which carry fond memories. I was angry and indignant that they could be logged and began to feel slightly sick with despair. Fantasies about tying myself to trees and lying down in front of bulldozers leapt unbidden into my mind. In reality I felt so impotent that in my fantasy I would risk everything to save these trees. Surely even the headline ‘Western Activist locked-up without trial and key thrown away’ would be preferable to doing nothing?
Unfortunately I am not Julia Butterfly Hill, neither do I have the confidence and determination that my younger sister devotes to activism. I am at heart one of those who are reluctant to rock the boat because I am scared that the outcome may leave us in a worse situation than when we started. Nonetheless, I am certain there must be something that I can do.