Category Archives: Malaysia

Cat Catcher


Two posts in a row on cats! What is wrong with the Lone Grey Squirrel? Has his little squirrely brain gone nuts …….more than usual?  Is it a case of cat scratch fever?

Editor’s Note:- Cat scratch fever is a real thing!  And just another reason to get rid of your cats and adopt squirrels instead. Just another public service announcement.

The cat that I refer to in this post is the palm civet cat.  It is also known as the toddy cat and in Malaysia as the “musang”.  It’s scientific name is Paradoxurus hermaphroditus.  However, just to confuse things, it is neither a true cat nor a hermaphrodite.  Confused yet ?

But all this is unimportant to the telling of this true story.

What you need to know is that the musang is about 40 in or 100 cm from nose to tail and that it can sometimes be seen in urban areas.  Being a nocturnal creature, it comes out under the cover of darkness and run across the roof of houses causing such a racket with their clawed feet that house owners are often awakened from slumber, thinking that a cat burglar is trying to gain entry.

malay-civet
Palm civet a.k.a. Musang

I was once called to attend to a case involving the civet cat.  The cat had fallen down an airwell into a house and had found its way into the master bedroom.  Now trapped and panicky, it was running around scared, ripping the bedsheets with its claws and peeing and pooping all over the place.

The home owners knew me personally and knew that I was working as a science officer  at a nature conservation organisation and called me to come help them out.  It was meant to be a capture, relocate and release operation.

Now, we did have colleagues that were trained field biologists with practical experience in handling wild animals.  Unfortunately, they were all out at that time doing their thing in the jungle.  There was just Andy and me.  Andy was our PR guy and I was actually trained in microbiology which meant that the only thing I knew how to catch was the flu!

The house owners were placing their hopes and expectations on us.  Little did they know we both felt as scared and as panicky as the civet.  We had zero field experience and zero equipment with us other than a large burlap bag in which we hoped to capture the animal.  So there we were entering a room with an angry, scared and cornered wild animal and we all know a cornered animal is a dangerous one.  I was thinking, if it bites me, I will have to get painful rabies shots. Yikes.

What followed was like something out of Keystone Cops.  First we tried to get it to run towards us and the bag but when it started to run towards us, we dropped the bag and fled in fear.  Then we tried to jump on it with the bag but it flashed past us leaving us in a heap.  We tried chasing it but it ran way faster than us.  We tried driving it into a corner but it got so angry that our courage failed.

Eventually it ran under the bed and stayed there.  When we peered under the bed, we could make out its beady eyes in the darkness.  And we stared at each other for a very long time; both civet and humans glad to have a pause in the frantic running around.

Andy and I did not really want another round of chase the cat.  So we discussed what we would do instead and all the while the civet stayed put in the gloom under the bed.

That was when we had an eureka moment.  The civet cat felt safe under the bed not just because the bed was a physical barrier but because being a nocturnal animal, it would always prefer to seek the safety of darkness.

We went out and brought back a long cardboard box, a broom and a couple of strong torchlights.   We placed the box down with one end open.  We then took positions on either side of the bed and then at the count of three we both switched on our torchlights.  The civet had lost its dark hiding place and with the further inducement of a prodding broomstick, streaked out of there.  But where would it now go?  It ran straight into the safety of the dark interior of the box.

We quickly closed the box.  Ta-da.  Mission accomplished and I may add, the civet seemed to calm down quite a bit in its new dark sanctuary.  After that, we were able to transfer the animal to a forest reserve and release it without further drama.

We were both proud of our newly learned civet catching skill but strangely enough we were never ever called to use that skill again.

Oh, did I mention that though we escaped physical injury, we both stank to high heaven from being around the civet’s secretions.  There was a definite dip in social life for the near future. Yeah……on second thought, I am glad I never had to do it again.

B.B.C. – Cool Cat


I guess it goes without saying that squirrels and cats have a bit of a strained relationship; like Tom and Jerry, or Frodo and goblins, or Harry and “He who must not be named”. So when you say  “rare cat”, I would usually say “not rare enough!”.

But being a liberal minded squirrel, I have to say in all fairness that some…..just a few….cats may not be all bad.  Putting away my own horrific experiences with the cat version of Cujo;  I have to grudgingly admit that the Bornean Bay Cat or B.B.C. is kinda cool looking.

borneanbaycat
The B.B.C. captured by camera trap (BBC Wildlife Magazine)

Little is known about this shy elusive creature except that it is only found on the island of Borneo (part Malaysian and part Indonesian with a tiny little bit of it belonging to Brunei) and that it is very rare and rarely seen.  In fact, it was only rediscovered by science in 1992 and the first photo of a live specimen taken in 1998 (photo above).  It is about the size of a large domestic cat (head and body about 53 cm long and the tail about 39 cm long).

The reason I am posting about this rare kitty, apart that it is found in my neck of the woods, is that the very first video footage of it was captured just last year and here it is…….the B.B.C. – cool cat.  So whaddya think?

 

Yellow and Red and Black and ….


Below is an excerpt from the highly esteemed BBC talking-type wireless show (or so they claimed for themselves), The Goon Show.  Written by the rascally Spike Milligan, the episode entitled “The Affair of the Lone Banana” has our intrepid but dumb hero, Seagoon, going to South America in search of a missing British citizen.  But when he arrives, he finds himself in the midst of much social unrest…………

Seagoon:  Now, now what’s all this about?
Moriarty:  It is the revolution señor – everywhere there is an armed rising.
Seagoon: Are you in it?
Moriarty:  Right in it – you see, you see señor, the united anti-socialist neo-democratic pro-fascist communist party is fighting to overthrow the unilateral democratic united partisan bellicose pacifist cobelligerant tory labour liberal party!
Seagoon: Whose side are you on?
Moriarty:  There are no sides – we are all in this together.

I used to think this was so funny even though I knew that sometimes reality actually sails very close to this.  Unfortunately, it has now even come closer to home, to Malaysia.

On the 19th of November, thousands of Malaysians put on yellow shirts and attended the Bersih 5 rally on the streets of the capitol, Kuala Lumpur.

Aerial view of just one of the rally locations:- How many yellow shirts? (some say 50,000; police say 15,000; one establishment newspaper claimed about 5,000)

But they were not alone.  Just like the Affair of the Lone Banana, there were other parties present too and they were all in it.  I hope to try to give some clarity to the situation.

Yellow Shirts – these are the peaceful, pro-democracy, pro-transparency, pro-electoral reform, anti-corruption, pro-justice, pro-change, anti- current Prime Minister Najib, supported by past Prime Minister Mahathir, non-sectarian, civil society groups and opposition parties.

Red Shirts- these are the thuggish, bullying, sectarian, anti-yellow shirts, anti-free press, pro-government, pro-status quo, pro-establishment, pro-Malay, pro-Prime Minister Najib, ruling party.

Image result for bersih 5
One of several sad incidents involving red shirts attacking a yellow shirt some days before the rally

Black Shirts – anti-rallies, anti yellow shirts, defenders of the law against protests, newly set up party with ties to establishment.

MJMM president Abdul Rani Kulup Abdullah (centre) posing for photographs outside the Dang Wangi police headquarters. — Picture by Melissa Chi
Black Shirts posing outside police station

Orange Shirts – anti-yellow shirts, pro-Prime Minister Najib, pro-Indian, pro-government party launched by the Prime Minister.

Purple Shirts – pro-yellow shirts, pro-protection of yellow shirts from red shirts.

In the end, the yellow shirts far outnumbered the rest.  There were probably more than  50,000 yellow shirts and about 2,500 red shirts.  The red shirts dispersed before long.

The police arrested many yellow shirt leaders and a few red shirt leaders briefly.  However, Maria Chin Abdullah, the leader of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections was jailed and placed in solitary confinement under an Act designed for action against terrorists.  Malaysians of all kinds of color shirts held nightly vigils for her release and she was finally freed after 10 days although the police say they are continuing their investigation of her.

Image result for maria chin vigil
The nightly vigil for Maria’s release from solitary confinement.

If all this was rather confusing, let me just a summarise it for you.  In a nutshell, we are in a lot of trouble in Malaysia and no matter what color shirt, we are all in it.  If we are not careful, we will all sink in it.  What is needed is for us to drape ourselves in the multi colors of our national flag, put down our own selfish interests and fight for a country with justice, equality and opportunity for all Malaysians.

Chew


His name is Chew Keng Lin.   When I think of Chew, I think of a man of simple tastes and a happy disposition; more contented and at ease in the depths of the rainforest than enjoying creature comforts of city dwelling.  He loved nature and being out in nature. In fact, he made protecting nature his life’s work.

chew

I first got to know him at this place – Endau Rompin.

endau rompin

We were on the same team; I was team leader.  Together we contributed to the building of a field centre for scientific research and nature education in a relative pristine forest are. Today, it is part of the National Parks of Johor or “Taman Negara Johor”.

Chew continued on and became a senior officer in the Parks Corporation.

Tomorrow is Chew’s funeral.  He was only in his forty’s.  I don’t know much but was told he had some kidney problem; sudden and unexpected.

Although I have not met up with him for some years, I feel a bond to everyone who worked together on that team.  We accomplished something important and we all did a lot of growing up together.  That means something.

I am sad that he is no longer with us. I am sad that he passed on so young. I am sad that I will not be able to be there at his funeral to honor and remember him.  I pray that he is in a better place.

Here We Go Again….


So it is happening again.  First,  Anwar Ibrahim, the main opposition leader in Malaysia, has been in prison since February 2015 after being convicted on sodomy charges.  Many believe that the whole case was arbitrary and politically motivated and that was the conclusion too of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention .

Now, Lim Guan Eng, the Chief Minister of the state of Penang, is being charged with corruption.  Specifically, he is being accused of buying a house from a Ms. Phang Li Khoon for USD 645,000 when the prosecution contends that the market value of the property should be in the region of USD 1,065,000.  It is alleged that this favorable transaction was tied to the Chief Minister asserting influence to have a different piece of land rezoned from agricultural to commercial use.  This is despite the fact that the State Council has said that no such land use conversion had been approved and in fact the application had been rejected.

Lim Guan Eng is another opposition leader.  He is well respected and many people credit him for reducing corruption in state government machinery which has resulted in a the state moving from a large deficit to becoming the most fiscally successful in the country.  So, many are unconvinced that there is a corruption case to be answered.

Many on social media have noted that the Attorney General was quick to bring charges in this case and to bring it to trial.  Yet, in January, the same Attorney General cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of wrong doing with regards to USD 12.5 billion debts accumulated by the state development fund 1MDB which he set up. This even while 1 MDB is being investigated in at least 5 countries for irregularities and  Swiss authorities have opened criminal proceedings related to 1MDB on “suspected corruption of public foreign officials, dishonest management of public interests and money laundering”.  The Attorney General also accepted that there was no wrong doing when about USD 650 million was paid in to the Prime Minister’s private bank account.

Anyway, an appeal was launched for donations of USD 2.50 each to be collected to pay the  approx. USD 250,000 bail for Lim Guan Eng.  Public support was evident as the target was reached in less than 24 hours.

And so, there is going to be more legal drama and political maneuvering in the near future and for many Malaysians, an extremely bitter taste in the mouth.

Embarrassing Moments in Science


Regular readers will know that the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel loves to celebrate excellence……….excellence in failure, that is!  Yes, there is something about epic fails that fills the heart with soul healing mirth and with admiration for the gumption of those who dared to try and fall flat on their faces.  That is why, the IgNobel Awards are frequently feted here.

But recently, the Squirrel had been alerted to a new source of inspiration.  Fieldwork Fails is a book that has a collection of stories of scientists hard at work in the field collecting data and making a fool of themselves in the process.  Kind of a tribute to those who push the boundaries of science and find that the sometimes the boundaries push back.

Here is a couple of examples from Fieldwork Fails which is compiled and illustrated by Jim Jourdane.

science fails 1

science fail 2.jpg

Now I have a few personal examples that I could add to the compilation on account that I am a scientist, have done fieldwork and have experienced epic fails.  But the following is one of my favorite, true, “cross my heart and hope to die” yarns.

This was early in my career as a conservationist and I joined a scientific expedition to a part of the Malaysian jungle that had been relatively poorly investigated by science.  I was really inexperienced at that time but had the wonderful privilege of being in the company of some very respected biologists and botanists and learning from them.  In return, all these eminent scientists asked of me was to carry all their heavy gear through the hot, steamy jungle.

We operated out of a base camp that was almost totally constructed of jungle material.  We slept on stretcher like cots made out of wooden poles and canvas under a shelter that was constructed from various palm leaves laid over a wooden frame.

On one occasion, I had a chance to follow a group of three entomologists who were leaders in their field.  (Entomologist = someone crazy about insects).  After a long day out in the field collecting insect specimens from various traps, we returned to camp and plopped our tired bodies down on to adjacent cots.

It was there, while we lay in the fading light, nursing our sore muscles, that one of the guys spotted an extremely large stick insect up in the rafters of our crude shelter. Now, Malaysia is famous for its many species of stick insects – some of which are very large.

Cameron Highlands - Stick Insect

Anyway, all four of us continued to lie on our cots exhausted, observing the creature from afar and there then ensured an academic debate as to the identity of the curious visitor in our rafters.  One was sure that it was a rare species.  Another disagreed, citing the proportion of the body to the head did not fit the species characteristics.  The third insisted it was yet another species based on the structure and positioning of the legs.  For once, I was wise enough to keep silent and let the experts argue it out.

After, about 15 minutes of heated discussion, one of the experts declared, “There’s only one way to settle this!”.  With that, he got up, reached for his butterfly net and scooped the insect from the rafters for closer examination.  With the prize in hand, all three gathered round to make the final identification.

That’s when they realised that it wasn’t a stick insect at all, it was a …..stick.

Broken Glass Houses


In the last post, I made comment about the crazy gun, greed and celebrity culture that seems to be prevalent in the USA these days.  But the Lone Grey Squirrel remembers the adage, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”  And so before you start throwing stones back, I readily admit that things are not so great over here either.

Recently in the news was a 21 year old Malaysian girl studying chemical engineering in Sydney, Australia.  The bank made a mistake and gave her bank account an unlimited overdraft facility and she proceeded to spend AUD 4.6 million (USD 3.3 million) on handbags, luxury items and rental of a luxury apartment – all in less than a year.  When authorities began to make inquiries, she tried to leave the country on an emergency travel document but was arrested at the airport.  When asked why she had spent so much and not reported the mistake to the bank, she replied that she had just assumed that her parents had given her the money to spend.

So many questions?  Whose fault is all this? The girl’s or the bank’s? Was she dishonest? Is she guilty of any crime? Or is she just naive?  Did she really believe that her parents would give her millions to spend?  And finally, how come the banks have never been kind enough to make such a mistake with my accounts?

Of course, she isn’t alone.  The Malaysian Prime Minister has also been in the spotlight with regards to USD 681 million that was paid into his personal bank account.  He too has an explanation……….it was a donation from an unnamed Saudi Prince.

The perception is that corruption and dishonesty has permeated the fabric of Malaysian society at every level from the man on the street to the engines of industry to the corridors of power.

Here are two funny tales that are circulating which help to explain how things are perceived to be done in Malaysia these days.

Story 1:- Shrewd Financial Management

A homeless man finds a 100 dollar bill  He goes to a 5 star hotel, gets a room for the night and orders room service.  The next day, the hotel demands payment of 800 dollars.

The man says all he has is the 100 dollar bill.  The hotel manager calls the police.

The police come and arrest him. While in the police car, the man offers the cops the 100 dollar bill.  The police immediately release him and ask where he would like to be dropped off.

Now, that is shrewd financial management

Story 2: National Service

Malaysia joins the space race and wants to send a man to Mars.  After a grueling training and selection process, the hopeful astronauts have been whittled down to just three candidates.

A high ranking government Minister in charge of the space program decides to meet the candidates before making a final decision on who will be selected. Each candidate was asked in turn, what would they like as a token of thanks from a grateful nation for carrying out this dangerous mission.

Candidate 1 told the minister that he was happy to serve the country but it was a risky mission and he has 3 wives and their families to feed.  He therefore asked that he be given 3 million dollars to make sure that his families were well taken care off in case he did not come back.  The Minister said he would consider the request.

Candidate 2 similarly asked for 1 million dollars.  He explained that he had one wife and that 1 million would make sure that his wife and family were well taken care off if he failed to come back.  The minister said he would consider the request.

Candidate 3 told the minister that he would need 5 million dollars.

Taken aback, the minister asked if the candidate had 5 wives?

Candidate 3 replied that he was not married.

“Why then do you need 5 million?” asked the minister.

Candidate 3 leaned over and whispered into the minister’s ear, “Give me 5 million……2 million I give to you, another 2 million I will keep and I know a fool who will actually go on the mission for just 1 million.”

Or in other words…….how government tenders work.

Savvy???