The Habitat Foundation and The Habitat Penang Hill are proud to provide support to the Taman Negara Bird Count 2018 which was held from March 16-18 2018. This is an annual event aimed at getting students and young people excited about bird diversity. This is the 5th year the event is being held in Kuala Tahan, a major gateway to Malaysia’s premier National Park. Taman Negara NP is one of the most important protected areas in Malaysia with an area of 4,343 square km of rainforest including species-rich lowland dipterocarp forest. It is recognised as an International Bird Area and a total of 385 species have been recorded here so far.
Taman Negara NP provides many wonderful opportunities to see birds. Along the rivers it is common to hear bulbuls and to spot kingfishers in dazzling displays of blue and shimmering blue. Along the forest trails, you can even spot Crested Firebacks casually foraging for food. The hornbills are a must see for all birders! A total of nine species are found here and they are surprisingly easy to spot along the scenic new road which has been dubbed Hornbill Valley by local birders.
A truly community-driven event, the Bird Count organizing committee is led by members of the Taman Negara BirdGroup bringing together local communities, nature guides, businesses and dozens of supporters all working on a voluntary basis. Logistic support is provided by rangers from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) and the staff of Mutiara Resort, nature NGOs, and local government.
This year, the organizers hit their target of 300 participants. Many were from local schools and colleges. In all, 10 different nationalities were represented! In addition to being a fun biodiversity-focused activity which gets participants outdoors and into nature, the Bird Count is citizen science in action! It provides important scientific data on bird diversity and abundance. The final figure for the species counted 2018 was 120 species counted in three locations recorded in just three days.
The Habitat Foundation’s mission is to support initiatives related to rainforest conservation which includes those in the areas of education, research, and sustainable tourism. TNBC 2018 is remarkable as it covers all these pillars.
Here are some of the main reasons why we think that community-based avitourism is worth supporting:-
- Provides economic benefits to areas adjacent to important protected areas
Avitourism is beneficial to the local economic as visitors who come to see birds, usually stay longer in a place. They also take more time to learn about biodiversity and natural ecosystems and partake of local cultural and traditions. Birders come to Kuala Tahan and Taman Negara from all over the world, and this trend is increasing among Malaysians as well. They frequent local guesthouses and hotels and patronise the floating restaurants along the Tembeling River.
- Improved support and resources for managing protected areas
By generating economic activity, avitourism also sends a message to decision makers that protected areas are important and need to be continually protected. Protecting forest for Rhinoceros hornbills, also benefits smaller species like Rhinoceros beetles. Parks and reserves that are celebrated for bird diversity also provide vital habitat to an extraordinarily diverse range of plants and animals, many that are endemic to Malaysia and have not yet been fully documented.
- Upskilling and continuous learning
Bird guides at Taman Negara NP play a major role in helping people of all ages and nationalities gain a better appreciation of biodiversity. They are also able to command higher fees because their knowledge and experience in spotting and identifying birds is highly valued. More and more women and girls are taking an interest in birding and this provides them an avenue to diversify local income earning opportunities.
- Encourages the retention of forest habitat
The interest in birding has prompted local people to see the forest patches adjacent to their villages as sites for birds to nest and roost, instead of land for agriculture. This has contributed to the retention of a forest areas in the buffer of the National Park. In fact, some groups have also taken the step of improving the forest patches by adding saplings of native fruiting trees and also adding in nesting spaces which can be used by certain species such as the melodious White-rumped shama.