Author: Anastasha Junigo & Julius Miajim; Published Date: 11th September 2023

“An ecosystem that provides” was this year’s Heart of Borneo (HoB) International conference theme, emphasizing the conservation of nature and humanity’s relationship with its resources. The HoB is an annual conference and exhibition event hosted by the forestry department, initiated by the countries of Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They aim to unite in promoting sustainable development and enhancing conservation and environmental protection efforts to benefit all Borneo inhabitants.

At first, the Sapulut team struggled to grasp the theme’s significance, particularly when determining the content and information to feature at the Sabah International Convention Center (SICC). With only two months until the event, one thing remained certain: the team was prepared to go the extra mile to stand out and leave a lasting impression this year.

Various departments collaborated in the days leading up to the event, with staff members braving dense vegetation and adverse weather conditions to collect samples for display. They gathered rare fruits, nuts, and leaves, and captured captivating images of wildlife, plants, and water features.

UMS interns helping with the insect collections: the bugs are trickier than they seem!
Gathering moss under the belly of the open hall.

Drones were deployed to capture bird’s-eye views of the rivers and limestone hills. In addition, our artisans at camp skillfully crafted desks and sculptures from salvaged hardwood and materials gathered from the woods. Staff members, including Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) interns, ventured into the bushes and crawled through tight spaces to gather materials. Fortunately, these preparations coincided with the mass blooming of dipterocarp trees, allowing us to collect a variety of Shorea sp. seeds. Despite their camp duties, preparations were completed.

If only we could ask the specimens themselves what species they were

The day of the exhibition witnessed an impressive gathering of companies and organizations from various fields. Each booth had something captivating to offer, with decorations ranging from minimalist to incorporating as many live plants as possible.

Outstanding booth by our neighbor, Bornion Timber!
“They have the aesthetic aura,” whispered a passerby

The convention hall radiated the energy of a concert, with large screens hanging above the stage and cameras focused on speakers presenting their research findings on wildlife protection, community involvement in forestry, biodiversity conservation, ecotourism, sustainable agriculture, and climate change.

During the inauguration ceremony, the event was graced by the presence of the Deputy Chief Minister II of Sabah, YB Datuk Seri Panglima Dr. Jeffery G. Kitingan, and the Chief Conservator of Forests, Datuk Frederick Kugan.

The stage for the opening ceremony.

Following the launch of the book “The Red List of Sabah Endemic Trees,” published by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the signing of the Memoranda of Understanding, the honoured guests toured each exhibition booth outside the convention hall.

YB Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Jeffry giving a speech.
Book launch and signing of memoranda.

Throughout the exhibition, it became evident that Sapulut’s booth’s most striking attraction was its vibrant display of insects. Visitors flocked to see the astonishing array of butterflies, beetles, and moths. One notable visitor was entomologist Dr. Arthur Chung, who was eager to meet the enthusiastic Joruni Ambus. Joruni greatly admired Dr. Arthur’s work, which had been tremendously helpful in identifying the collected insects. Dr. Arthur’s meeting with Joruni left both parties elated, and he even gifted two of his autographed books to Joruni.

The Deputy Chief Minister and Chief Conservator of Forests observed articles at Sapulut’s booth.
Thumbs up! Dr.Arthur Chung and Joruni Ambus.
Dr.Stephen Bosuang is next to Mr.Norman Wong.

The booth continued to attract esteemed visitors, including another entomologist, Dr. Stephen Bosuang, who had discovered the new beetle species in Sapulut, Theodosia Normanwongi, named after our managing director.

Renowned wildlife guidebook author Quentin Phillipps and his wife, Honor Phillipps, also visited the booth and marvelled at the displays. As Honor Phillipps touched the sculptures and dipterocarp seeds, she commented, “It’s wonderful that you can preserve interesting displays that people can feel and touch.”

Quentin and Honor Phillipps.

The team was pleasantly surprised when Quentin Phillipps noticed a framed newspaper article on vegetarian pitcher plants and exclaimed, “That’s my sister!” He was referring to the article’s author, Anthea Phillipps, who had visited Sapulut in 2016 and observed the Nepenthes Ampullaria in one of our Kerangas Forests. The next day, Anthea Phillipps visited the booth and was thrilled to see her article displayed alongside actual samples of the pitcher plants. On the same day, Quentin Phillipps revisited the booth and generously gifted two of his books to Sapulut, greatly delighting the team.

Ms. Anthea Phillipps.
We’re so delighted. Thank you, Mr.Quentin Phillips.

We were honoured to welcome visitors from diverse backgrounds, states, and countries. Many expressed how their passion for nature’s diversity had been rekindled after seeing some insects and fruits for the first time. The images of Batu Saap and the Sansiang River piqued their interest in visiting Sapulut, and they were pleased to discover that there are still unexplored parts of the heart of Borneo. The encouragement we received reinforced the importance of preserving Sapulut’s ecosystems for future research and exploration.

Thank you for visiting our vibrant booth!

The team also shared feelings of excitement and curiosity as they explored other booths. In addition to captivating displays, some booths offered engaging quiz games designed to educate visitors about their organization’s mission, roles, and initiatives.

Captivating display from other booths.

Being a part of the Heart of Borneo (HoB) conference has been an unforgettable experience, and our team successfully embraced this year’s theme, conveying the message that ecosystems can be preserved while promoting sustainable forest development practices. Sapulut’s ecosystems will continue to provide ecological, economic, social, and educational benefits to people now and in the future. Through our team’s dedicated efforts in spotlighting Sapulut’s ecosystems and showcasing tangible items sourced from our backyard, we aimed to instil in others one of Sapulut’s core values: “love and respect for oneself, fellow humans, and nature.”

Chief Conservator of Forest Datuk Frederick Kugan presenting Sapulut with the HoB certificate.

We were deeply honoured to receive a HoB certificate as a token of appreciation from the Chief Conservator. The team thanks Mr. Norman, Mr Bryant, Mr Matthew Wong, and Mr Carlo Garces for visiting our booth with their family members. Our gratitude also goes out to all our friends and colleagues, both at the camp and Kota Kinabalu HQ, for your invaluable assistance and unwavering support.

We eagerly anticipate the next HoB conference!

We look forward to the next HoB!