Elephants of Kuala Gandah

Located near Lanchang, Pahang, is Malaysia’s National Elephant Conservation Centre. It is relatively easy to get to by car and is a pleasant 2 hour journey from Kuala Lumpur with great mountain and forest views along the way. I made that journey twice this week to attend a meeting at the National Institute of Biological Diversity or IKB which is nearby.

IKB is relatively new and has little to interest visitors but just 15 minutes away in the National Elephant Conservation Centre which is at a place called Kuala Gandah because it is the point where the Gandah River meets another river. This site was established in 1989 and is now the base for the highly successful elephant relocation program which was started in 1974.

The Centre takes in orphaned young elephants, take care of them and prepare them for release into the wild. The Centre is home to several specially trained older elephants which are used in the relocation program. These special elephants and their trainers were both trained in either India, Burma or both.

They play a very important role in elephant relocation. As the country has opened out its land for housing and cultivation of rubber and oil palm, the rainforest became fragmented and there exists pockets or islands of forests which are no longer contiguous with the main forest and wilderness areas. As development and encroachment continues to chisel away at the size of these forest islands, animals are no longer able to find sufficient food and they invade houses, farms and plantations. This was happening to the elephants. The solution was to catch them and transfer them to protected forests and therefore reduce human-animal confict.

When a problem elephant is spotted, it is tranquilized and nowadays often fitted with a radio-tracking collar. Two specially trained elephants are brought in on either side of the elephant so that it is re-assuringly hemmed in and kept calm by the other two elephants as it recovers from the tranquilizer. In this way, the problem elephant can be relatively controlled and can be transported relatively easily. Some 450 elephants have been translocated by this means. However, as the forests continue to shrink, the remaining wild havens are probably beginning to over-crowd and another solution to the elephant problem should be thought of.

If you visit Kuala Gandah in the afternoon, you can get right up and personal with some of the smaller and friendlier elephants. Watch them feed, touch them and pose for photos with them. You can even ride on their backs. After spending the afternoon obliging tourists and visitors and the elephants trundle down to the river and they hope that visitors will return the favor and pamper them as they bathe. The trainers will tell you what to do. “You, wash behind the ears.” “You can scrub his toenails.”

A great activity for the whole family in nice surroundings. Nearby there is an Orang Asli (aboriginal people) village with some houses still built from tree bark which is their traditional building material. Come, see, learn, enjoy and leave smelling like elephants.


Friendly Thoughts

“The Bestest of Friends”
Today I got an email from my longtime friend, Helen. We’ve known each other for over 20 years but due to distance and the distractions of living, we have been in contact less than ten times in the last 15 years. The last time we met in person, she was still single and obsessively worried that she’d be left on the shelf; something those of us who knew her were sure would not happen. Now she’s been happily married for years and a mother of three.

Anyway, I have been working very hard and very late and was feeling rather tired, when with the perfect timing that lifelong friends have, she sends me this uplifting slideshow by email. The slideshow has some fantastic pictures but it was the words and the message that stand out.

First it challenged the viewer to name the 5 richest men in the world, the last 5 Miss Universe winners, the last 10 winners of the Nobel Prize and the last 10 winners of Best Actor Oscar. I am sure that most of us would find it difficult to give all those answers.

Next it asked the viewer to name 3 teachers that helped direct your life, 3 friends who helped you in your times of need, think of a few people who made you feel special and 5 friends you would like to spend time with. I found this far simpler to answer.

The slideshow suggests that the people who really matter most to us are not those proclaimed the “best”, or those who won prizes or even those with the most money. Rather, they are the ones who cared for us, were there for us and those who stuck by us through thick and thin.

It then asked if we belonged to the first group or the second group. Finally, a message from Helen who said, “Let me give you a hand. You’re not in the rich or famous group but you belong amongst those I would remember to send this message to.”

Thanks Helen for remembering me and for making me feel special.

It reminded me once again that “googles” of money cannot buy happiness but just a better class of enemies. However, friends who do not grow cold and distant despite separation in time and space are precious jewels that adorn our lives and gives our lives sparkle. I know not why I have been so blessed. I don’t know if I deserve it but I do value them.

Fuzzy-Wuzzy Anglo-Egyptian, Greek Goddess, Julie H., Professor Debra, Juliet Nightingale and the Bickley Sisters, Brother It, God of Immunology, H. Lion Baht and the rest. You know who you are. I am thinking of you and saying a prayer for you tonight. God bless you, wherever you are.

A Wasted Education

I was doing my doctorate studies round about the time the two inventors of Google were also in University. I have often regretted that I wasted my time studying and suffering for exams when I should have followed their example and used the time to hone my computer skills by playing computer games. If I have done that, today I might be a famous and rich like them.

But this new discovery that I could have had fun with squirrels and still have gotten a degree is almost too much to bear. I would have been perfect for the job. Alas, I did not see it in any graduate school prospectus. Perhaps the world was not yet ready for such groundbreaking studies then. If you want to know more about this sad discovery, follow the link below.

“You can be a nut on squirrels and still get a degree!”

Thanks Josie for alerting me to this post.

Culinary Misadventures – the Fowl Years

I fancy myself today to be a decent cook albeit a bit out of practice of late. However, that was not always the case and in fact, until I was at University, I had never really cooked an entire, edible meal. I stress both words “entire” and “edible”. This was despite the fact that I had always enjoyed food and therefore I think not surprisingly, was always interested in learning to master the culinary skills in the kitchen.

As even the best of us blame our parents for something, my culinary aspirations was actively thwarted by my mother who felt strongly in the traditionalist conservative maxim that boys should not be in the kitchen. In this she was doubly frustrated by the fact that my older sister showed very little inclination to be found in the kitchen and to learn the recipes pass down from mother to daughter for generations.

I was finally rescued from the wilderness of ‘101 Ways to Cook an Egg for Idiots” by of all people, an impish Irishman who answers to the name of Collum. It was Collum who taught me how to cut and prepare vegetables and meat and how to mix the spices for a nice curry. As curry is so much part of Malaysian life and culture, it is embarrassing that I had to learn it from a “Kwai Lo”. Collum was also a bit of a practical joker which made life a little difficult while understudying his cooking. There was a time when he passed a red-hot bird’s eye chili pepper to an unsuspecting victim as an extremely sweet Chinese Dwarf Carrot, ideal for munching on while dinner was still cooking. I have long since realized that I can take out the Guinness component from most of Collum’s recipes.

I digress as usual. Today, I wanted to relate three stories of culinary shame from my rich history of disasters. They all relate to poultry and poultry products which is why even today, I have a preference for anything other than that meat group.

The Egg Bomb. My sister-in-law was kind enough to teach me how to make a three minute egg and a hard boiled egg. If successful, I was to progress to the “egg sandwich”. She had such high hopes. Well, I thought I did it very well. In fact, I was offering to boil eggs for everyone and at all times. Alas, it was pride before the fall. How could I possibly mess this up? I chose to take an ambitious order of almost a dozen hard-boiled eggs. The occasion was the live telecast of the World Cup finals (soccer, that is). Family and friends were gathered around the television and hungry. At halftime, I promptly offered to make the eggs, ran to the kitchen, got a big pot of water boiling before adding the eggs. As there were so many eggs, the pot was quite a big one. Distracted by the restart of the game and a period of exciting soccer, I completely forgot about the boiling pot. All of a sudden there was a loud explosion from the kitchen. Upon investigation, we learned that I had let the water boil off completely and had charred the eggs until they were hard as stone and everything just flew off the stove. I had to clean up the mess of burnt egg fragments and a chipped tile where the heavy pan had hit the floor. Oh, yes, I also missed the game winning goal.

The Delicious Marinade. In our early teens, a group of guys with high hormonal levels plotted a way to meet girls. Someone suggested a dance party. Someone offered his home – parents were away. Another suggested to save money, we could cook the food ourselves. It seemed like a great idea despite none of us having done it before. Someone’s dad could supply frozen chicken at very low prices. Another knew where we could get a recipe for roast chicken. He said he had seen his aunt do it a number of times and repeated her gems of wisdom, “The secret’s all in the marinade.” and he had the marinade recipe. Just marinade, place in the oven and after one hour, roast chicken perfection. We loved it when a plan came together.

Oh, the memory still brings tears to the eyes. On the day of the party, the cooking team met at noon and planned the strategy but it all went wrong. The chicken arrived frozen solid and we had to try to thaw them in warm water but we never really did. This shortened the time in the wonderful marinade (which I was in charge of making) and lengthened the time needed in the oven to cook. We were running out of time. Then there was the question about all this fat and grease that was dripping off the chicken as it roasted and onto the bottom of the oven and out on to the floor. The recipe book made no mention of this!!!!! By the time we figured that there was a grease pan we could use, the entire kitchen and most of us were well oiled. Oh, and the cleaning up afterwards. Sob.

Three girls showed up for our great dance party surrounded by twenty guys. The decoration and music team held the girls attention while the cooking detailed drowned their sorrows in punch and tried not to smell of chicken fat. As for the food, everyone politely said that the meat was tough as rubber but the marinade was very nice and so the party fizzled out with people sucking on their chickens.

Chicken with Extras. Having erased the previous memory for the sake of sanity, I happily ended up on the cooking team at University in London for the Department Christmas Dinner and Dance. Once again I was facing my nemesis, chicken. However, things did not seem to go to badly. We had at least one experienced female in the team. She did all the recipes and did all the shopping and told us precisely what to do and when. It was a snap. Her team got the chicken from the butchers, gave me and my team of four final instructions and then left to supervise the salad team and the dessert team. Again, the chickens were not cooking fast enough on account of their size but we applied our superior minds and came out with a relay system where we microwaved the chickens first for half an hour before crisping them in the oven. This seemed to go quite well. We were about half way completed when our supervisor returned. She seemed pleased with our efforts but before leaving she asked what we had done with the spare parts. “Hmmmm? “ we asked. “Spare parts. Gizzards and stuff.” She answered.

We then learnt that it was the practice of butchers in England to place these extras into a small plastic bag and to stuff it inside the chicken. Sure enough a close examination of our bronzed birds revealed melted, bubbly plastic inside …..and there was the smell of burnt plastic. There was a long moment silence. We then cleaned the chicken and removed the offensive parts, washed them in water and re-heated them in the oven. We then swore a pact of silence. As I share this now, I feel that the time limitations on that is long over. I never eat much chicken normally anyway, so nobody really wondered why I stayed away from the chicken at the Dinner and Dance.

Bugs for Kat

I promised a certain Kat (will squirrels never be free from cat tyranny?) to send some bugs her way,
To brighten up what may otherwise be a dreary, pale winter day.

The first two bugs, their names I hold,
But am hoping Kat, the others you know.

We challenge others too, to take the test,
And put the mystery of their names to rest.

For no other reason but to pass the time,
And give me a chance to try my rhyme.

If a clue is needed to break the code,
Be aware that Malaysia is their abode.

Another Music Video Because I Can

I am so happy to have stumbled over this site that allows you to post videos on your blog. So in line with my pre-programmed male faults, I am going to play with this new toy. So may I present to you one of my all time favourite videos, its a great song and a funny video. I also identify with it because I have two left feet – another common male genetic disposition.

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels