Saturday, 29 December 2007

MV Doulos

As my visit on board the world's oldest sea-faring passenger ship cum floating bookshop counts as one of the special events of 2007, I just have to post this entry before the year is out!

I set foot on this grand old lady for the second time at Kota Kinabalu Port on 13th Oct 2007, the previous time was 20 years ago on 3oth August 1987 in Tawau!

Doulos was purchased in 1977 by Gute Bücher für Alle e.V. (Good Books for All), a private, non-profit, charitable organisation registered in Germany.

Over 20 million visitors have been welcomed on board for tours, programmes and visits to the floating book fair. With stops in over 500 ports of call, this unique ship has visited more than 100 countries in including Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and many island nations.

The ship's official website is:

Close Encounter With a Python

It was in January, 1977. In the heyday of the golden crop, Cocoa, in a plantation right in the middle of the best cocoa land in the country - the Quion Hill Area of Tawau, Sabah. In this plantation only the best land was planted with the golden crop, while the so-called marginal soils were planted with a side crop - Oil Palm.

Well this post is not about crops, it's about a fatal encounter with a giant Bornean reptile, fortunately for the humans involved, it's fatal- but not to the humans!

Rajoo, a transplanted Tamil worker from Johor (Muar-mari) was taking his 5-year-old son to harvest his block of oil palm at the edge of the plantation with his faithful dog leading the way when all of a sudden he heard a loud sharp yelp from his dog who was just out of sight around a corner from him. His son was just a few yards behind the dog. When he reached the spot where the sound came from he was horrified to see his dog in the massive coils of a python with his child rooted to the ground in front of the gruesome spectacle. He quickly grabbed hold of his boy and ran back to the kongsi to alert the other workers.

By the time the workers arrive at the scene, the python had already swallowed half of the lifeless dog! With sticks and stones the workers made short work of the reptile which had spat out the unfortunate canine, and paraded their kill to the plantation office to show the Tuan (my boss)!

Fortunately I had a loaded (film, of course) camera with me and took a few photos for posterity!
I also took out a measuring tape and found that this monster python measured "only" 20 feet, short of the standing world record then! (The Guinness Book of World Record listed the longest snake ever found at 32.75 feet - a specimen shot in Sulawesi in 1912)

Note: Python reticulatus the Asiatic Reticulated Python is one of the two species of pythons found on Borneo. The other species is the much shorter and smaller Borneo Short-Tailed Python now recognised as a species in its own right: Python breitensteini.

[The pic shows Rajoo standing at the head of the snake, while the brave man pulling the (dead) snake's tail is Lawrence Kuloi the plantation's official hunter i.e. pests exterminator!]{click image to see full sized photo}

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Chorus in the Rain

Click play button to watch and hear frog carol!

IT may be the season for Christmas carols but here there's definitely no silent nights! When it rains cats and dogs these little frogs gather together to sing their surprisingly loud chorus of groans and hongs.

When we were children we thought the sounds were made by monsters in the swamps, and adults warned us about playing in the rain! Now I wonder whether the adults then actually knew what made the ruckus, surely only few knew such loud noise could be made by such small frogs!

The musical wonders are actually squat little 2 to 2.5-inch (50-65mm) frogs with short legs commonly called Brown Bulfrogs (Kaloula baleata) that walk rather than jump. During dry weather they are quiet and secretive, hiding under dry leaves and plant debris and coming out to feed mostly on ants at night.

When calling they are a sight to behold as my short clip shows; the males inflate themelves grostequely while floating on the surface of temporary ponds. I took this video when there was a lull in the downpour with the help of a flashlight.

A champion singing male >

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Fish Poo

YOU sunbathers out there! Don't get offended if I say you guys are lying on dung all day!

Well, I would not be wrong if you’re sunbathing on a soft white coral sand beach on a tropical island like Sipadan!

Photo: Lovely coral sand on Sipadan Island>

Marine scientists and divers had long known that coral sand are made by coral-eating fishes and are actually the excrement of these fishes! Of these the most important, therefore most prolific producers, are the 60 species or so of parrotfishes.

Parrotfishes, with their fused teeth that form beak-like mouths (thus making them look like parrots) feed on algae that grow on corals by biting chunks of coral and then grinding it before swallowing it. Their digestive systems extract the organic parts and excrete the rest as sand which get deposited in the reef and on the beach. As it is estimated that on a single reef they can produce tonnes of sand every year they are very important for coastal maintenance.

One species, the Bumped-head Parrotfish grows up to four feet in length and is said to use its bumped-head as a battling ram to smash up the coral before munching on the pieces. They feed in big schools and have huge appetites and when so many big fish eat so much coral that means a lot of sand. Arab fishermen know this so their name for this fish is “Abu Kharian”, meaning “father of shit”. Ahh, bless!

Looking at the beautiful fine grains one could hardly believe that each grain has gone in one end and out the other end of a fish! And how tons of it, virtually the whole of some islands, are produced in this seemingly revolting manner!

Being a non-diver, I have to rely on my diver friend to get photos of this underwater wonder. Unfortunately even though he had actually seen the sand coming out of the sandmaker many times, he had so far not been able to photograph this fascinating process! So I hope just this photo of swimming Bumped-head Parrotfish will do!

< This photo of bumped-head parrotfish was taken by S. M. Lo off Sipadan Island, Sabah.

This article by this blogger was first published in The Sand Paper - the quarterly newsletter of the International Sand Collectors Society.