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Only after the last tree has been cut down;
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Only after the last river has been poisoned;
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- Cree Indian Prophecy

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Cheated By Baska

� by Forest Ang

.....Waking up at 12.10am in the wee hour was what we asked for ....

Waking up at 12.10am in the wee hour was what we asked for (cari susah sendiri meaning find your own problem). We had signed up for a volunteer task of patrolling the beach of Dungun River, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the state of Trengganu, Malaysia.

It was our third night. My shift was at 6.00am. I was not supposed to wake up but I had given instruction to Pipit Tai that I would like to join him if there is a landing. Sure enough, I was abruptly awoken by him regarding a just landed river terrapin on the beach.

It was a night with almost full moon. When we reached the site, we could see the fainting silhouette of the terrapin. She was digging and splashing the sand, splashing and digging the sand, and occasionally pausing to rest (or perhaps looking at us?). Her pointed head seemed like a cannon in position to fire. Our crew, Zaini whispered to me that this was the position when the terrapin was digging the well. There are two types of hole. One that is bigger which is good for the whole terrapin (about 2-3 feet wide and 1 foot deep). The second hole is the well which is a deep hole of 1.5 foot deep and 8-12 inch in diameter. This is where the terrapin lays her eggs.

After laying her eggs, she covered the well with sand. Then the stomping starts. Not a wise decision by the terrapin as this indicated to us that the eggs were underneath. It was at this moment that Zaini creeped to the terrapin and stuck a stick into the stomping area (rear end of terrapin) to mark the hole.

Sensing our present, the terrapin made exceptionally long stomping. She uses her two hind legs lifting up her body and letting off her legs for a free falling on her hard rear abdomen landing on the disturbed soft sand. This up (lifting up her body) and down (flanging her legs away from the body) simulating piling work get on for a long time. It could easily be half an hour. My previous night, I only heard 5 minutes of stomping. Well, this could be the beginning of the cheat.

After the stomping, the terrapin crawled up to a spot 2 feet away and started to dig. Zaini mentioned that this is the second hole. You see, terrapin lays up to 3 holes per landing. This could be to maximize the chances of survival from predators.

To continue the story, the terrapin dig, and digging continuously on the same patch in a circular digging. Sand dug out will be patched back onto the same hole. In this continuous digging, we were hopefully distracted away from the original hole.

The hole was never being deep and the well was never being dug. It was about 4.10am that my friends decided to call off the wait. However, I insisted on waiting to see till the last. After a minute or so of my friends departure, the terrapin stopped. Looked around and paddled up from the hole and headed toward the river. There were no stomping and therefore there were no eggs being laid. I knew I was cheated. Hoodwinked into thinking that she will lay more eggs.

The waiting game of baska ended but survival of the fittest continue. Throughout the centuries, animals had learnt to adapt to changing environment. I can imagine that this famous Dungun River was once a waterway from the Chinese immigrants traveling into the interior of Trengganu. Artifacts from china were found deep in the upper reaches of Dungun River to justify this story. River was deep then. Terrapin have more space to roam. Then came the logging, then the silting, then the flooding and now the terrapin in danger of extinction.

Everything is interrelated. The recent flooding in February, 2006 was unheard of at that time of the year but it did happened. Now, Chinese junk (if there is one) could not sail up this river because of heavy silting. Food for the terrapin which include water weed and fishes would have been covered or polluted with silt and sand. The fishing activities along the river were alarming. Nets were cast and among the victims were terrapins. The population of the terrapins will be numbered.

The noble cause for the conservation of the terrapin was well timed. Collecting data and releasing the young back into the wild will not be of any significant if fishing activities continues and if poachers continue to dig for eggs without intervention from the authorities.

You, could make a different. Join the volunteer program and learn about the conservation. Publicize your experience and let the world know about it. Perhaps and that means perhaps, one day the terrapin will be able to live a better live. Until then they have to cheat for their survival. Have you got cheated yet?

BTW, Batagor baska is the scientific name for River Terrapin. To be a volunteer, pls check this website:- Click Here!


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All photographs by Forest Ang unless mentioned.
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