22.06.2008 - 23.06.2008 32 °C
From Kuala Lumpar, I took a bus at Titiwasa Bus Station to Temerloh, a small town in Pehang province, to visit the famous Kuala Gandal Elephant Sanctuary in Lanchang. This centre relocates and rehabilitates wild elephants all over South East Asia when the elephants raid farmer crops in previously forested land. Forced to separate from their families and land, some relocations create tremendous stress on the elephants which causes death. The lucky ones are placed on the northern side of the Malaysia National Park, Taman Negara, and reunited with their families. The young or injured are brought to the centre for treatment and rehabilitation.
I must have picked the busiest day of the year because there were busloads of school children and tourist crowds all anxious to see and ride these magnificent animals. All the elephants look quite relaxed and well-trained when dealing with people. Some of them are very picky at the kind of fruits visitors offer them. The highlight of my visit was the bathing of the baby elephants. The two were so at ease with playing in the water with visitors that for a moment it might seem to temporarily ease the painful memories of family separation for these youngsters.
I also visited the Deerland Zoo, a nearby small zoo that housed various animals, such as macquets, sun bear, pocupine, flying squirrels etc. Although the zoo allows touch and close contact with all these animals, I cannot help but think how much money the owner is making by putting a fence or cage around these once wild and free animals.
From Temerloh, I took a bus to Jerantut, the gateway to Taman Negara, the National Park of Malaysia. Waiting for the night bus to Kuala Tahan, the village at the park entrance, I wandered into a hotel hoping to rest in air-con lobby away from the humidity and heat from the streets. Once inside, I casually asked if there is any guide willing to take me up to Gunung Tahan, the highest mountain in peninsular Malaysia. The Chinese receptionist gave me the phone no. of a local guide. With nothing to do for the next few hours, I decided to try my luck.
To my surprise, the person on the other line was very professional. Within 15 min, he came to see me at the hotel lobby with pamphlets of jungle activities and explained to me that treks up to Gunung Tahan is very rare because it takes more than one week and too expensive for one person. Instead, he offered to show me to his regular job, timber truck driver.
Within a few hours, I was taken in a large timber truck to the logging hut on a clear patch of logged land in the middle of the jungle. The woman workers welcomed me with warm enthusiasm. We talked with broken english and malay until late night and felt asleep. Next morning, I was greeted with a delicious fried maggi noodle with chicken breakfast. After breakfast, they showed me around different logging areas by different owners, mostly Chinese. I spent hours watching the skillful workers carefully loading each truck with timbers, with meticulous precision to ensure safety and chatted with the owners about the timber market.
Apparently, timber drivers are paid relatively well because of the demanding working conditions. Many workers are indians and chinese who spend over 10 years taking timbers out of the precious rain forest. Timbers are logged in the inner jungle, then transported to the 'outer station' for loading. Trucks will take these measured and categoried timber to different factories for cutting. Prices flunctuates often depending on the quality of wood and on market conditions. I said farewell to the logging team, feeling very lucky to be able to see the story on the opposite side of conservation on this side trip.