Biodiversity as well as linguistic and cultural diversities have been shown to be interlinked to each other by various researchers. Termed as biocultural diversity, this field’s proponents collaborate with local people throughout the world, studying their traditional knowledge so as to enhance the understanding of biodiversity.
To uncover the traditional knowledge on Brunei’s biodiversity, a study was conducted by the Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) researchers Merlin Franco and Misa Juliana Minggu recently.
“Brunei is often said to be the Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures. Brunei is also a place where you can get a lot of unexpected diversity,” Franco said in an interview with the Bulletin.
“There are a lot of species that are waiting to be discovered, and Brunei is also a place with linguistic and cultural diversity. This is something that very often we take for granted. We don’t realise how many species are left, how many languages people speak, because it’s not readily visible. But when we talk to people, when we go to the people, it’s quite evident to us.”
“I’m especially interested in traditional knowledge – the knowledge that people hold on elements in their ecosystem. That’s how I started developing interest in this, because when I talk to people, I realise that they have gone into the jungle and they have developed this huge knowledge of what’s there and how the different components of an ecosystem interact with each other. This body of knowledge is as important as the scientific knowledge that lies in our libraries.”
“So we wanted to show that, by talking to people, we can bring additional knowledge to science.”
In the first phase of their research, they collaborated with the Iban people of Brunei to study their traditional knowledge on hornbills. The results of their study, published in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, show that Iban people’s knowledge could be of great value to ecologists and conservationists.
They found that while the global population of hornbills has been on the decline, their numbers are growing in Brunei.
As Franco explained, “Our major finding was that in Brunei, the population of hornbills is increasing. If you look at the trend all over the world, the populations of hornbills are decreasing. Brunei is probably the only place where the population of hornbills is increasing. If you look at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)data, all these hornbills are either classified as threatened or endangered, except for Oriental Pied Hornbills.”
According to the research, the success of Brunei in conserving its forests, banning of shotguns and strict implementation of the Wild Life Act are the main reasons behind it. The research also documents people’s claim that the hornbills from the neighbouring regions of Borneo are increasingly migrating to Brunei. Thus, Brunei Darussalam is emerging as a safe refuge for important wildlife.
“The fact that the hornbill population in Brunei is increasing is a main advantage for the country, because it shows that Brunei’s conservation policies are quite successful,” said Franco.
Another remarkable finding of the project is that the people have an accurate understanding of the distribution of hornbills, their dietary behaviour, nesting regions and reproduction.
“Our people are able to give accurate descriptions of the habitats where the hornbills can be found and their ecology, their dietary preference and everything,” Franco continued. “This is of importance to ecologists and conservationists as well as tourists, because Brunei is a premium tourist destination. When people come, they’d like to see hornbills, and one easy way is to interact with the local people and they can give you additional information on what they feed and where they can be found, etc.”
The study also finds that the home gardens of Temburong play an important role in sustaining hornbill population. This is because the local people of Temburong appreciate local fruiting tree species such as kembayau (Dacryodes rostrata), durian (Durio spp), dabai (Canarium odontophyllum) and buah kara (Ficus spp). These trees, found aplenty in the home gardens of Temburong, form an important source of food for hornbills. Hence, while people in the rest of the world travel to zoos and national parks to see hornbills, people of Temburong see them right at their backyard daily.
“In the context of Temburong, the trees in the backyards of houses helped contribute to the populations of hornbills,” he said. “They sustain hornbill population.”
The researchers thanked the Iban people for collaborating with them. The research was funded by UBD through its FIC scheme. Researchers also received active support from the Institute of Asian Studies and its faculty members. Researchers of UBD undertake various projects that aim to support the nation realise its goal of Brunei Vision 2035. UBD also provides various forms of funding for research.