UNIVERSITI Sains Malaysia (USM) recently had an unexpected visitor to its Durian Valley in its Penang campus — the elusive Malayan Night Heron.
USM Biological Sciences lecturer and bird specialist Mohamed Hifni Baharuddin said the sighting of the night heron (Gorsachius melanolophus) was a pleasant surprise to USM, as the nocturnal bird is a rare vagrant species.
“This bird is by nature solitary, shy, skittish and rarely seen. It roosts in dense vegetation by day and feeds on small vertebrates and invertebrates at dusk.
“The Asian Waterbirds Sensor Committee stated that sightings of this species are uncommon but the bird was last spotted in Templar Park north of Kuala Lumpur last year,” he said yesterday at USM.
The adult night heron grows to 48cm high and has a stocky appearance.
It has a short stubby bill, bright rufous neck and breast, a whitish chin with a blackish streak running down to its breast, and black wings.
The medium-size heron, also called the Tiger Bittern, is known to breed in India, Taiwan and Southern China.
It travels across South-East Asia and prefers swampy areas, streams, secondary growth, and forests.
Mohamed Hifni, who is also the school’s environmental and aquatic biology programme chairman, said the valley provided a safe and green environment that was suitable for the bird.
“USM will get this discovery included into the world map of bird sightings.
“This is important, as some bird experts had wanted ‘Malayan’ dropped from the species’s name since the bird is rarely seen in Malaysia,” he said.
Mohamed Hifni also said USM had recorded the sightings of 114 bird species at the campus since the mid-1980s.
“We had eight latest sightings. Apart from the night heron, there were the yellow-crowned Weaver, the black-beaked Little Egret, the thick-billed pigeon and the hawk cuckoo.
“The birds seen here are from different varieties that frequent forest, mangrove, coastal and garden areas. This means the Durian Valley is very popular with seasonal and non-seasonal visitors,” he said.
The Durian Valley, which is located near USM’s Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Gallery, has also been earmarked for USM’s new Eco-Park project.
Pharmacy lecturer Assoc Prof Saad Othman said the project covering about 40,000 sq m of valley land, would have a fruit orchard and a domestic vegetation corridor.
“It is our hope that in future, pharmacy students can conduct herbal medicine studies using the plants here,” he said.
The site for the park was previously neglected until a recent intensive cleanup by the university and a group of volunteers called Eco-Friends. It is currently in the rehabilitation process.
Assoc Prof Saad said the park would not materialise so soon but in the meantime, there were plans to start some environmental programmes such as fun workshops for the public in July.
“The workshops for adults and children will involve simple lessons related to the environment and plants. They can learn things such as how to use plants to make food items like syrup.
“We also want to try out the Eco-Kids programme with USM staff members and students’ children,” he said.
Earlier at a press conference at the USM Eco-Hub, vice-chancellor Tan Sri Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak said that the university, as a Garden University, had allocations for new environmental programmes.
“We are also planning to have an eco-trail, which covers the valley, the Eco-Hub and the heri-tage buildings nearby, and recover a small piece of wetlands for the park.
“Two buildings nearby will also be converted into a gallery-cum-museum for academic activities and environmental awareness programmes,” he said.
USM also received over 100 trees worth RM20,000 from the state Forestry Department for the valley.