Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (ICAA) in Borneo, Malaysia is a 30,000 hectare virgin rainforest reserve teeming with biodiversity unparalleled to anywhere else in the world.  Located in the heart of Borneo, the third largest island in the world, ICAA is  one of the five conservation areas managed by Yayasan Sabah, in addition to Danum Valley, Maliau Basin, Silam Coast and Taliwas River.

Imbak Canyon Studies Centre is an education facility for rainforest research

As part of my company's Management Trainee programme, (Sime Darby, a Malaysian conglomerate in the plantation, property, heavy machinery & motors industry) 20 young executives were sent to Imbak Canyon for a sustainability training. By training the future leaders to be more aware of environmental sustainability, they will grow to become decision makers with the a conscience.

Sime Darby's Management Trainees with our trainers

The Journey to the Middle of Nowhere

Such pristine nature protected from the messy hands of modernization is bound to be hard to reach. From the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, it took two hour-long flights - first to Kota Kinabalu, and the next to Sandakan. A four hour journey on a 4WD ensued, passing through hundreds of kilometres of palm oil plantations, reminding me that palm oil is indeed one of the main players towards Malaysia's economic rise.

Propeller plane from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

Everywhere you look was palm oil plantations

Passing through these rickety bridges is bound to make anyone nervous

Brown rivers from soil leach

Stopping by for some supplies at the last town before entering the deep jungles

A bumpy hour-long ride on dirt road tracks

We finally made it!

Imbak Canyon Studies Centre

The Imbak Canyon Studies Centre (ICSC) is a world-class rainforest biodiversity research centre, a collaboration between Yayasan Sabah and Petronas (Malaysia's national oil & gas company). Petronas has reportedly committed RM83 million (USD20 million) towards the conservation of Imbak Canyon through establishment of the facility, operational maintenance and research grants.

The 27-hectare facility boasts modern amenities to ensure the comfort of researchers and visitors, in their home away from home. A "research village" with laboratories, training halls, accommodation, canteen, football field, badminton courts - one could definitely live here for extended periods of time!

Bungalows for researchers

Training Hall Facilities

Two bed visitor rooms with ensuite bathrooms complete with air-conditioning

The Young Sustainability Executive Programme

Sime Darby partnered with Malaysia-based South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) and UK-based Tropical Biology Association (TBA)  for the month-long environmental crash course. With world-class thought leaders in the field of rainforest research as our trainers, the course content has been carefully selected to supplement our roles as corporate executives.

Glenn Reynolds from SEARRP has been living in Malaysia for the past twenty years and speaks fluent Sabahan

Rosie Trevelyan, the director of TBA is a passionate scientist cum educator

Kevin Wallace from TBA has trained conservation leaders from Africa to Asia

The course content consisted of an overview of tropical rainforests, biodiversity, climate change, environmental and social sustainability - wrapped up in a rich dose of practical training. We would learn measurement tools for carbon sequestration in the classroom, and head over to the jungle to start using those tools to measure carbon content of a 15m2 plot. Thank heavens for the local Research Assistants (RA) who would guide us in identifying the tree species - otherwise we would be at a total loss!

"We must be real scientists now with our clipboards..."

"Does this tree look like 10metres of 15metres?"

What A Normal Day Looks Like in The Jungle

Days start bright and early in the jungle, as your body attunes to the sunlight as a natural alarm. The early risers are rewarded with a wealth of birds, crickets and cicadas singing their favourite tune forming nature's very own musical orchestra. You then have a multitude of options to start your day, my favourite being bird-watching, hiking or sunrise yoga.

Learning how to identify birds through their physical features, habitats or sounds

Plenty of hiking trails to choose fromThousand year old Belian Tree!

Pitcher plant galore

Imbak Falls is a short hiking distance from ICSC, making it good day trip destination

The jungle transforms at night, with the emergence of nocturnal animal species. Our ventures into the jungle at night to spot nocturnals proved to be a lot harder than it seems. The darkness of the night hid them well from our prying eyes. However, the best night activity, in my opinion, is to stargaze. Hundreds of kilometres away from the closest human activity or light pollution, it is the perfect opportunity to observe the splendour of starry gems in the skies.

UV light revealing tiny glowing scorpions on a tree bark

Can you spot the sleeping bird?

Up close and personal with a sleeping blue headed pippa

Beautiful starry night in the absence of light pollution

The milky way - a sight to behold

What Did I learn?

An awfully a lot about ants! Haha... Let me explain.

As part of our journey to become "real scientists", we were assigned to conduct research utilizing real scientific methodology. We could pick any topic that appeals to our curiousity - so we picked ant behaviour! Even as a child, it has always astounded me how ants communicate and move in such a structured manner. So here I was, twenty years later, reliving my childhood curiosities.

Spent three days conducting experiments on ant communication behaviour

The Ant-3-cipate team...Geddit??

Overall, the Sustainability Trip has given me a sense of renewed appreciation towards Mother Nature herself. Living in the city, we are so connected with the internet and 24-hour access to information, yet we are disconnected from nature, an in turn, from ourselves. But once you take away all those distractions, you start to connect to a deeper part of yourself and the people around you. It was, to say the least, one of the most refreshing experiences of my life.

A connection to mother nature is an innate human desire

My experience in this programme has also been featured in Zafigo, a women's traveling site in Malaysia. Click here to read it.

This article was written in memory of my beloved friend Nurul. May you rest in peace.

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Amalina Davis

Amalina Davis

Malaysian by birth, English-Australian + Malay by heritage, and world citizen by heart. I’m a full-time corporate girl & social advocate, who still manages to fit in cultural-immersive traveling in her hectic life.

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