Duo bring jungle experience to life
Published on: Sunday, November 03, 2019
By: Lorena Binisol
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PROVIDING the jungle experience to guests is what resident naturalist Andy Justus Mansagam and his manager Tony Muni love doing from dawn to dusk at Rasa Ria Resort in Tuaran.

Andy lists the “what-to-do” and “what-not-to-do” before every trek.

Tony and Andy both said nothing excites them more than guarding and guiding visitors for a tour into the deep forest.


“Everything is ‘alive’ here in the forest. The trees, wildlife, insects, fallen leaves, branches, creepers, sounds of the cicada – everything has its role to play to make the environment soothing and welcoming to people.

First and foremost we must have high respect towards whatever is grown inside the jungle.  Never disturb or simply pluck anything that you see.  They are all meant to be viewed and enjoyed,” said Andy.

“Grabbing snakes with my bare hand is no big deal,” said Andy, who was trained to handle his work professionally. He developed fondness and interest in flora, fauna and animals in the wild when he started working as a resident naturalist at the resort three years ago.

He said he would be the first one to handle if they encountered any reptiles while trekking, he gave his assurance.

“By the way, they (snakes) become tame now,” he assured.

He said to pay attention to the smallest things and not only the big ones. There is a smell of rotten vegetables that is the undergrowth, rotting leaves, broken twigs, and dead insect.  This is the cycle of life, he viewed.

The trip to Rasa Ria Resort brought eagerness to young guests who came with their family for an overnight stay, taking advantage of the promotion rate given to local Sabahans, saying they must try all the “exotic activities” or else they would miss all the real fun.

Charlene Tan, communication executive, confided that there are a number of activities that test one’s physical endurance apart from the jungle trekking such as kayaking by the sea.

“We have quite a number of activities that you can take up such as swimming, cycling, kayaking, golfing apart from trekking into our reserve. These are all fun activities, it is really relaxing and enjoyable. I am sure there are some educational parts we all can learn from this,” said Charlene.

Tony, from Kg Pogunon, Penampang, with his more than 20 years of service to the resort, knew very well and understands how the forest works.  His explanation is apt and everything is within his fingertips.

He said many corporate companies and even individuals had done their CSR projects by planting trees within the reserve area.

“It is quite encouraging to see the awareness of people on conserving the environment getting higher. Planting a tree each is commendable as it gives us a sense of belonging or ownership to the forest when we participate in ‘beautifying’ our nature accordingly,” said Tony.

Even General Manager Fiona Hagan greatly encouraged visitors to participate in any outdoor activities while enjoying other facilities as that is the actual fun part when checking-in at the resort, she confided.

She welcomed the writer and her family into their 64 acres tropical jungle, saying there is so much to discover into the gem of Borneo.

Fiona had recently treated meals to 1,000 primary six school children undergoing a camp on UPSR preparation somewhere in Tuaran.

“YB Jenifer Lasimbang called up asking for assistance for the camp.  It was my pleasure doing it for the children,” said Fiona.  As a gesture of appreciation, Fiona was gifted with two loaves of Lihing fruit cakes, a signature item from Jenifer herself.

Tony talked about the Nibung tree which the Kadazan call ‘Tonibung’.  A hard branch full of thorns, it was once used as flooring or walls for houses in the olden days.

“It is a very useful tree.  Long ago people used it as house flooring.  Some even used it to erect small bridges.  The trunk is thorny so you have to be careful with it.

There is a soft part inside the trunk which is edible.  It is called, ‘Tivak’,” said Tony while pointing out the Nibung trees to his young guests, Adam and Brian.

He said the ‘Tivak’ is a good source of protein and is eaten just like any other wild vegetables. If eaten raw, the soft white flesh has a bit of sweetness and it was a delicacy of the people in the early days, however, it was usually cooked as a dish.

He said the Nibung grows naturally and it multiplies by itself with the help of birds who help with germinating process.

As they walked further in, there is a 60-metre long canopy walk, another good idea for attractions into the jungle.

Andy said it is a good platform to do team building activities where visitors are tested with all kinds of physical-challenging experience including holding some insects with their bare hands.

He emphasised that nature is the best thing that could make a person relaxed, stress-free and calmed.  Therefore, he urged visitors to be vigilant on anything that is visible in the forest.

They also made effort to make artificial test to attract a type of hornbill to nest and breed so that they could reproduce more.

Tony had seen a number of times, a very attractive type of hornbill that always came to visit the area.  He said it is a rare bird hence, they tried to increase its population with using the artificial nest.  

“The jungle is part of my life, I would protect it to the extent that I will feel hurt when I see misappropriation in handling the nature in this reserve.

“It gives us so much pleasure, why must we not care it in return.  We must!” Tony insisted.

On the canopy walk, guest could experience viewing the sights above and below the reserve area.  It is always a breath-taking experience where they can view all types of bird flying above them in search for food and below they could see plants and fauna that they have not seen elsewhere.

Andy said while walking on the canopy, visitors must view everywhere attentively, some are lucky to see deer, squirrels, slow loris, birds, monkeys and many other wildlife some might not have seen before.

“You can sometimes see monkeys hopping from one tree to another, birds flocking at other nook of trees and squirrels munching fig fruits and so on.  They make the jungle beautiful and scenic,” praised Andy and Tony.

“Through my experience guiding guests on day tours, I spotted long tailed macaque monkey, squirrel, mouse deer and different species of birds, while during the night tour, we could spot many nocturnal species such as bear cat, slow loris and many types of bugs and beetles,” Andy confided.

However, Andy said most tourists who come from United Kingdom are the most concerned with wildlife and spent greatly on the little things about nature.

“These tourists from the UK always show their concern over our wildlife.  They said our jungle is one of the amazing things in the world, which they refer to as the wildlife of Borneo.”

“We also conserve herbal plants such as Tongkat Ali, Tavavo, Serai and many others that contain high medicinal values.  These are all our tropical herbs and need to be protected before they go extinct,” Tony said.

They went further up to view weird looking rainforest trees, tall and fertile, beautifully standing still under the brightness of the sun, it was spectacular in the eyes of the hikers.  Many took photographs of the glimpse of the different sceneries depending on the time of the day.

Towards the end, hikers were satisfied with what they discovered.  Indeed, everything they saw was priceless and need to be protected.

Before they left the area, Tony brought them to another part where some bee hives available to be shown to curious visitors.

Started the project some 6 months ago, Tony said bee hive was one of the latest products to be enjoyed by guests, and they can even taste the freshly produced honey from its comb. 

Leaving the gate of the jungle trekking towards the reception area, the visitors looked forward to another challenging ‘game’, kayaking - only the daring ones would want to venture.


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