Lost in a forest in search of a golden vale and black magic

The short walk with my parents in Irish woods last month now ranks in my mind alongside long expeditions through dense rainforests.

We were in Ireland’s County Limerick, in whose green hills and fields my Dad roamed as a child. He used to ramble up the flank of the Seefin mountain and look down into the Golden Vale, a wide stretch of fertile farmland that reaches across three Irish counties. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, this part of it was his playground. He forged the greatest gift he could ever give me in this crucible.

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The near empty forest that proves conservation is failing

Boleh makan… Boleh… Boleh.” As I turned the pages of my copy of Mammals of Borneo to reveal more images of wildlife, Siba anak Aji said the same thing each time. “Can eat… Can… Can.”

It was 1998 and I was doing ecological research in Lambir Hills National Park in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Siba, my research assistant, was explaining which of the wild species his Iban community would consider eating. The list was long.

The only animal off the menu was the moonrat. Little wonder — this weird white creature, which is not a rat but a cousin of the hedgehog, stinks of ammonia. Everything else, said Siba, was fair game.

Hunting was of course banned in Lambir Hills and for Siba and many other members of his community the park was a source of jobs not meat.

But for others the forest was a larder. Continue reading