Jenderak Seladang Sanctuary - Krau Reserve , Pahang Malaysia
Krau Reserve - a reserve set aside mainly for wildlife research only. Will the captive seladangs be set free eventually into this tiny reserve or will poaching render such an important move, futile?
There are plenty of articles featuring the wonders and abundance of wildlife in our tropical rainforest jungles. No doubt the animals are there but few actually realise how difficult it is to spot large animals while out on a stroll in the jungle. Unlike wild, open plains of African lands often shown in documentaries; the rainforest jungle is compact, enclosed, stifling and confusing. However, if we were to stop to observe, there are definitely lots to see. Wild animals have a keen sense of smell and they have acute sense of hearing. More often than not, they are able to sense our presence long before we can theirs. An animal even as large as the elephant or a seladang can 'disappear' behind the curtain of thick, almost impenetrable foliage and you wouldn't even know they are there. Just a few steps away from you!
The other alternative for animal spotting is to visit the zoo. But that would be a little too convenient wouldn't it?
In Malaysia, there are wildlife sanctuaries set up around the country with the sole intention of increasing the number of endangered species such as elephants, sumatran rhinos, the seladang, deer, river terrapins, sea turtles etc. and hopefully release them back into their natural habitats when the time comes for them to return.
There was a time, not too long ago when jungle covered most of the lowlands and highlands of the Peninsular. Animals had large tracks of land to roam freely without fear of man and his activities; for he lived far away in towns and villages. Then came a time when the sounds of chainsaws resonated through the jungle. Dull thuds of giant trees falling to the ground filled the jungle with commotion and fear. The animals sensing danger but from unknown directions, ran deeper into the forests to escape from the strange contraptions that screeched, roared, belched volumes of black smoke and did unmentionable damage to their homes.
However, a number of the animals that hadn't escaped in time were trapped in tiny pockets of forest cover. The larger animals were shot and disposed of, for they were a nuisance and a danger to the loggers. Others were taken for food. Then in 1972, all that stopped when the wildlife protection act came into effect. Well, all except for poaching activities and a few ' man-eating' tigers with a price on their heads.
Things are beginning to change for the better. At least for the larger animals. On the edge of the 55,000hectare grounds of the Krau Forest Reserve(Pahang) lies a little plot of land where much is being done to ensure that the dwindling population of the Seladang and Sambar deer in the Peninsular get a fair stab at the survival game.
What is a Seladang?
The seladang or gaur or wild ox is the second largest land mammal found in Malaysia after the elephant. To locals, it is the most formidable animal in the jungle. Even tigers fear them and would always stay clear away from the beast unless they have calves with them. Hungry tigers would often attempt to steal a calf or two from the watchful herd, putting themselves open to a great possibility of being gored by the powerful bull if escape was unsuccessful. It is estimated that there are only 350 to 500 individuals left in Peninsular Malaysia. The seladang has been classified under the wildlife protection act 1972 as a vulnerable species and without arresting the many problems pertinent to the survival of the species, the Seladang's days are definitely numbered. Their distribution ranges from India, Indo-China, and from there down to Peninsular Malaysia. They, like the tigers, are not found in Borneo. Perhaps when Borneo broke off from the main mass of land, these creatures had not transmigrated that far south and hence were left behind.
Seladangs generally live in herds of about 30 individuals and are creatures of habit, just like the rhinos. They live in fixed territories. During the day, the herd retreats into the safety of the forest cover to rest and come out during the night, moving into open areas in the forest and river valleys to feed on the tall grass, herbs, climbers, shrubs and other tender grass or shoots that they can find. With such scheduled routines, the poachers have an easy time locating them. Although the bull may put up a good fight but not much can be done against firepower.
Another unfortunate beast taken for a few dollars. courtesy of Arkib Negara Malaysia
On our way to the Jenderak Breeding centre, we stopped by for coffee at a local 'café' where we met a Chinese gentleman who was relating a story about a large 'kenduri' or banquet prepared to celebrate a happy occasion at a village nearby. The village men had gone into the jungle to pick up a few 'pounds of meat' for the banquet and along the way; they came across a lone bull (seladang). With no hesitation, they shot the bull, cut him up into pieces and carried it back for the celebration. According to the gentleman, such activities are still rampant but how accurate is the report, we cannot determine. Perhaps heresy, perhaps not.
The most exciting part about taking time off to travel without tight schedules is that one can always travel off the beaten tracks and explore the beauty of lesser-known places without hesitation. Jenderak Seladang Sanctuary is not easy to get to without a car. Ample time is required. One has to make a trip to Pahang, taking the old roads that were once laden with cars, lorries and bullock carts that has now diverted to the larger trunk roads and highways. Traffic on these roads these days has trickled to a few trucks and the odd car or so. (Bullock carts are now virtually a thing of the past). But these roads are still a delight to travel on if you're not rushing to get somewhere.
Ahad, The oldest bull in the pen was separated from the rest of the herd. Taken to pasture...
It was a hot and blistering Sunday afternoon as we turned into a little lane leading to the sanctuary. Sunday was not the best of days to visit, for the centre was closed. So we strolled around the grounds instead. We met a few researchers busy making preparations for a trek into the jungle to replace camera traps placed weeks earlier to capture pictures of passing animals. With these camera traps, the researchers are able to record the movements of wildlife in the forest reserve. They were specifically tracking for tiger activity in the area and have found positive results.However, it is realised that the reserve may not be big enough for a healthy number of tigers to live in and danger of illegal encroachment poses another threat to the already restricted plot of land.
Walking towards the enclosures, the ranger ran through a brief history of the breeding centre and the future projects planned. The centre occupies about 20hectares of land and has 27 animal enclosures. The first enclosure houses one solitary bull called AHAD (Sunday). Ahad was captured on a Sunday about 17years ago and is the oldest tenant at the centre. We noticed that his built was not as robust and structured as the younger bulls and he was less aggressive than the others. Nonetheless, Ahad can still manage a few punches and is more than capable of protecting himself if threatened. But in such a large enclosure with no other seladang to share with, we half felt a little sorry for him - can't help feeling that he has already been put to pasture before his prime. However, in his younger days, Ahad was definitely the star of the show! Captured and translocated to the centre, he was put into a breeding programme and was allocated a few young cows. The breeding programme has been successful ever since- from the growing breeding pool of 10 adult males and 17 adult females, produces two calves on average, every year.
seladangs are reknown for their temperaments. This one is obviously not a great fan of musk scented perfume!
We left Ahad to continue his daydreams and moved on. All the other enclosures housed small families of about 3 to 6 individuals. We came to one enclosure, which had a young adult bull. These beasts grow to an incredible size..they stand at about 1.8m ( 6feet) tall and can weigh over 1,300kg (2860lbs)! Imagine a bulk of that stature charging at you without warning! His nostrils flaring, eyes glaring, hoofs kicking clouds of dust into the air, head down and pointed horns directed at us - and before we knew it, he rammed into the steel bars - the only barrier separating us. Our nerves slightly rattled, but determined to shoot a footage on our videocam, we foolishly stood our ground, for we thought we were safe with the steel barriers and all. Until we were advised to move on; another ram at the bars could well give way and there would be no telling how much damage the bull could do! The keeper suspected that the unprecedented move was provoked by the strong scent of perfume, which neither of us was wearing. Deodorant perhaps then?
In the same enclosure, a little calf stood close to its mother. The little one looked nothing like the adults. In fact, if left with a herd of domestic calves, it would have fit right in. It was covered in soft brown fur rather than the glossy, dark fur worn by adults.
The seladang's feed consists of natural vegetation collected from the nearby jungle. Their daily feed also includes salt and mineral supplement pellets so that they grow up strong and healthy. As many of the seladang adults at the centre are results of the captive breeding, providing them with vegetation easily found in the jungle will prepare them for their eventual release into the wild. There are a number of empty enclosures built by the edge of the jungle where selected seladang individuals will be housed in. These individuals will have fewer chances of contact with their keepers and other humans as they get closer to their time of release. This method, hopefully, will teach them to be more wary of humans and to fend for themselves in the wild. To date, the centre has not released any of their captives but hope to do so in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Sambar deer population is doing very well at the other end of the compound. There are about 40 deer divided into small herds of one male and several females. The survival of these docile animals has been greatly threatened due to the extensive poaching for meat and skin. Deer meat or venison has become a common dish in many Chinese restaurants, there are deer farms that supply to them. But there are a few restaurants in obscure locations that still serve 'exotic' meat; and deer, wild boar and pangolin has become quite a delicacy. (even wild cats!).
The male and female adults in the first deer enclosure are a favourite pair amongst the visitors. They recognise the keeper's call and love the attention of their audience, particularly the male.
The Jenderak Seladang and Sambar Deer Breeding Centre gives a good overview of the Wildlife Department's objectives. There is so much to do for these beasts, and there is at least a good gene pool at the centre for their future continuance. We are hopeful that one day, the seladang will be back in numbers like the bisons have in the U.S. And with a lot of help and management from the communities, who live alongside with the animals, and the authorities for the well being of our natural habitats, there will be a little light at the end of this story.
best time to go
Every day between 9.00am and 4.00pm. Sunday closed.
Best to call the ranger's office just to inform them that you would like to visit the sanctuary.
Site Ranger Contact:
Jenderak Seladang Breeding Centre
Kuala Krau, 28000 Pahang. Tel : +6 09-276 2593