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Borneo, Sarawak, Sarawak Environment, Sarawak Tourism

Explore the Kuching Wetland National Park

THE Kuching Wetland National Park has gotten quite a bit of media coverage lately and frankly it really is about time.

Located just 15km from Kuching, the park covers 6,610 hectares on the estuarine reaches of the Sibu Laut and Salak rivers. In case you didn’t know, it’s just around 5km from Damai Beach.

Being so close to Kuching city, you would think that more locals visit the area, but I recently realised many haven’t and some didn’t even know it is a national park!

It was actually gazetted as a national park in July 2002, because the State Government recognised the ecological significance and tourism potential of the area.

More importantly, in November 2005, Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. (The Convention on Wetlands called the “Ramsar Convention” — after Ramsar, Iran where it was held in 1971 — is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.) You can find the Ramsar Site report on the Kuching Wetland Park by doing a search here.

Most of the park is a saline mangrove system that includes an extensive network of marine waterways and tidal creeks interconnecting the two major rivers, which actually form the boundary of the park.

What can you expect to see at this national park? Well there are small patches of heath forest in the interior. It is also a vital spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species – yup some of the local seafood you enjoy would not exist if not for this important area.

There’s also a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of birdlife, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shore birds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork. You can also find  Irrawaddy dolphins and, at night, fireflies!

Mangroves are vital not just for their biodiversity but they also protect shorelines from erosion and from damaging storms. For the visitor, Kuching Wetland offers an excellent introduction to the mangrove environment and a chance to see a range of wildlife along one of the most interesting stretches of coastline in the whole State.

To explore the park there are a lot of tour operators who offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park. It is a great way to spend the weekend.

Although it is great to have lots of visitors to the park to understand its importance and appreciate the beauty of God’s creations, steps must also be taken to ensure that the area remains protected as a heritage for generations to come.

The report from The Borneo Post:

Kuching Wetland National Park to be important tourist draw

by Jonathan Chia

KUCHING: In its effort to promote eco-tourism, the state government through the Ministry of Tourism is intensifying efforts to promote Kuching Wetland National Park (KWNP) as an important destination for local and international tourists.

The 6,610-hectare KWNP is located about 15 kilometres from the city in an area formerly known as Sarawak Mangrove Forest Reserve (SMFR). In 2002, the area was gazetted as a totally protected area and was recognised as a Ramsar wetland end of last year.

The state government in 2008 commissioned Universiti Malaysia Sarawak to conduct a multidisciplinary assessment of KWNP aimed at establishing a comprehensive description of the physical, biological and human environment of the area.

The exercise also included the assessment of threats and opportunities and developing a management plan for the park in accordance with the requirement of a totally protected area and as a Ramsar site.

According to the officer-in-charge of the Ramsar project Suliman Jamahari, from the state Forest Department, the recognition of KWNP as a Ramsar wetland made it the fifth wetland to be listed in the country and the first to be listed in the state.

Suliman said KWNP fulfilled four out of the nine criteria required before it could be listed as Ramsar Wetland, namely the beauty and maintenance of the mangrove system and that it supports the lifestyle and breeding of animals that are becoming extinct.

“The third criteria that KWNP fulfilled is that it is a breeding sanctuary for crocodiles as according to a survey, this (KWNP) area has the most population of crocodiles — estimated to be about 317,” he stated during a special media tour to KWNP in conjunction with World Wetland Day which was themed ‘Wetland Tourism, A Great Experience’.

Suliman highlighted that the highest concentration of crocodiles were found in and near the confluence of upper Sungai Sibu and Lobak Matang at Sungai Lemidin, Sungai Semariang, Lobak Kilong and Sungai Gelugor-Enggang, which suggested that estuarine crocodiles use these areas as breeding ground.

“Besides being a sanctuary for crocodiles, the fourth criteria that KWNP fulfilled is that it is also the breeding ground for fish,” he said.

Suliman said from observation and by mist-netting method 104 species of birds from 41 families had been recorded at KWNP.

“The lesser adjutant stork is listed as vulnerable by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while five other species are listed as near-threatened. Seven species of birds are totally protected and 38 species are protected by Wildlife Protection Ordinance,” he added.

Suliman also said three species of primates such as proboscis monkey, silvered langur and long-tailed macaque were recorded in KWNP.

“Proboscis monkey is endemic in Borneo, listed as endangered by IUCN, listed under Appendix 1 and CITES and totally protected by Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998,” he added.

He stated that other mammals recorded at KWNP included wild pigs, bats, plantain squirrel, common tree shrew, otters and Irrawaddy dolphins.

In terms of vegetation, Suliman said a total of 64 species were recorded in KWNP, of which 14 species were major mangroves, four species were minor mangroves and five species were mangrove associates.

“The mangrove forest plays a major role in protecting the river banks against wave action, provides breeding grounds for fish and serves as their food source as well as a source of food and refuge for wildlife. The endangered proboscis monkeys in KWNP consume almost exclusively ‘perepat’,” he further explained.

Besides being the breeding sanctuary and habitats for animals, he said KWNP is also home to about 8,000 residents of seven villages — Kampung Telaga Air, Kampung Sibu Laut, Kampung Sungai Aur, Kampung Temenggong, Kampung Pulau Salak, Kampung Semariang Batu and Kampung Mersat.

“Most of the villagers in these seven villages depend on KWNP for their daily needs,” he added.

The launching of the state-level World Wetland Day will be held this Saturday at Sungai Lemidin.

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