Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gunung Mulu National Park


Gunung Mulu National Park near Miri, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses incredible caves and karst formations in a mountainous equatorial rainforest setting. The park is famous for its caves and the expeditions that have been mounted to explore them and their surrounding rainforest, most notably the Royal Geographical Society Expedition of 1977 - 1978, which saw over 100 scientists in the field for 15 months.

The national park is named after Mount Mulu, the second highest mountain in Sarawak.

Geology and landforms
Gunung Mulu National Park is famous for its limestone karst formations. Features include enormous caves, vast cave networks, rock pinnacles, cliffs and gorges.


Gunung Mulu National Park has the largest known natural chamber or room - Sarawak chamber, found in Gua Nasib Bagus. It is 2,300 feet (700 m) long, 1,300 feet (396 m) wide and at least 230 feet (70 m) high; according to the guides it is big enough to fit St. Peter's Basilica or several jumbojets inside. Other notable caves are Benarat Cavern, Deer Cave, Wind Cave, and Clearwater Cave, which exposes parts of a long underground river going through the park.


In April 2009, a newly-discovered cave in Vietnam overtook Deer Cave as the largest cave passage. The Son Doong Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province, Vietnam was found by British cave scientists of the British Cave Research Association, it is now regarded as the largest cave passage in the world. The biggest passage of Son Doong is over five kilometers in length, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide.
Mulu's limestones belong to the Melinau Formation and their age is between 17 and 40 million years (Late Eocene to Early Miocene).


Stratigraphically below the limestones, and forming the highest peaks in the south east sector of the Park including Gunung Mulu, lies the Mulu Formation (shales and sandstones). The age of these rocks is between 40 and 90 million years (Late Cretaceous to Late Eocene).

Fauna


Eight species of hornbill have been spotted in Mulu including the Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros which features on Sarawak state emblem, the White-crowned Hornbill Berenicornis/Aceros comatus and the Helmeted Hornbill Buceros vigil with its large solid casque (bill).

Twenty seven species of bat have been recorded in Mulu. Deer Cave in the southern limestone hills of the park is home to an enormous colony of Wrinkle-lipped bats Tadarida plicata. The bats exit the cave almost every evening in search of food in a spectacular exodus. A huge mound of guano in the cave is evidence of the size of the bat colony that roosts in the cave's high ceilings.


Mulu's mammals also include the Bearded pig Sus barbatus, the moonrat Echinosorex gymnurus, shrews, the Bornean Tarsier Tarsius bancanus, the long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis, gibbons, squirrels, and three types of deer including the small barking deer and mouse deer. The small Malaysian sun bear Helarctos malayanus, which is the only bear known in South-East Asia, has also been identified in Gunung Mulu National Park.

Flora


Gunung Mulu National Park contains a large number of plant species, including flowering plants, trees, and fungi. Geology, soil types and topography have given rise to a rich tapestry of plant zones and types. On Gunung Mulu itself these include lowland mixed dipterocarp forest, lower montane forest, mossy or upper montane forest and summit zone vegetation on the highest peaks. On the limestones there is lowland limestone forest, lower and upper montane limestone forest. Other plant communities dominate the alluvial plains, including kerangas (tropical heath forest) and peatswamp forest.

Access

Mulu is a very inaccessible area; the only practical way of getting to and from it is by air, mainly from Miri airport. It is possible to travel to the area by riverboat, but it requires a chartered long boat for the last part - and the whole trip by river would take around 12 hours to complete from Miri, while the flight takes only 30 minutes. Prior to the opening of the airport, and the opening of a helipad in 1991, this was the only way to reach the national park.

Excursions to Mulu continues to retain the sense of adventure associated with its original exploration through the provision of adventure caving and other adventure activities. The primary focus however has shifted to the promotion of an awareness of the significance of the park and its environment through the provision of ecotourism activities that foster understanding and appreciation of the parks values. Accommodation is available at the five star luxury resort Royal Mulu Resort, the tropical-style boutique hotel The Matumau Lodge, or there are cheaper lodgings across the river. The park HQ also has limited accommodation.