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Jimmy and Juliet: Love Sparks at Piasau Nature Reserve

Back in the ‘60s, Piasau Camp was once a housing estate for expatriate staff and senior Malaysian employees of Sarawak Shell Berhad. Surrounded by casuarinas and other major secondary forest vegetations, Piasau Camp harbours a viable biodiversity of small mammal species, and herpetofauna.

By 2008, a small interest group began to work closely with Sarawak Forestry to monitor a small population of Oriental-pied hornbills. The sightings of the species have since then been vigilantly documented by nature lovers which took a serious turn in 2012. Impactful interest by the public had driven the living estate into Miri city’s very own green lung, Piasau Nature Reserve.

We, the citizens of Miri owe a lot to Jimmy and his family of 19 (and counting) for making Piasau Nature Reserve a reality. Jimmy is a handsome male Oriental-pied hornbill. Currently in his tender age of adulthood, he has been the leader of this community for the past couple of years even before Piasau Nature Reserve’s gazettement in 2013.

Like any hero in big screen movies, Jimmy himself fared well in the looks department with a solid cylinder-shaped casque above its bill, looks worth salivating for if you’re a female hornbill.

At the time, however, Jimmy only had his eyes fixed on long–time partner Faridah. Hornbills are meant to mate for life and they took the oath “till death do us part” earnestly. Together, this dynamic couple produced approximately 56 offspring since 2005 till the day Faridah’s life was brutally taken by a group of delinquents in September 2013.

Jimmy was greatly distressed by Faridah’s passing. With his beloved partner out of sight, he was seen roaming around the reserve calling and yelping helplessly, constantly searching for her. This appearance of ‘mourning’ continued for a couple of months.

Faridah’s death however was not in vain.

In the wake of her death, the camp was finally gazetted as a Nature Reserve on 31st December 2013. Her remains which had been preserved by the Museum Department was returned to Sarawak Forestry and is now kept safely at SFC’s Ranger Post, H58 at the reserve.

With Faridah’s remains on display by the window of H58, Jimmy would actually come by and perch on the window ledge from the outside. Not only did he perch, he also pecked at the window screen perhaps believing that she was still alive and hoping that Faridah could come back to life and fly away with him again.

His act of desperation shows how deep and strong the bond between these lovebirds was, and how it seemed impossible to break.

For those of us at Piasau Nature Reserve, it broke our hearts to see Jimmy in a state of depression ever since Faridah died. Our worries for him, however, were not long as Jimmy seemed took on a new love interest not too long after the gazettement of Piasau Nature Reserve.

We wondered which lovely female had taken Jimmy’s heart. With her mesmerizing brown irises, Juliet, a juvenile Oriental-pied Hornbill is prettier than most females in the neighbourhood. After several attempts of courtship and mating, Juliet finally produced a pair of offspring, Musa and Cecelia. The young offspring fledged their nest in March 2015.

Since then, Jimmy, Juliet, Musa and Cecelia were always seen flying, roosting together in a family of four around the reserve. Where there is Jimmy perching, there will always be Juliet and their young nearby.

Jimmy remains a very protective partner and parent and never leaves his small family out of sight. Whenever he senses potential danger, he makes evasive maneuvers and yelps loudly in defense of his family. Constantly ‘rubbing shoulders’ with the brahminy kite communities in the park, Jimmy can be quite a gangster himself.

Occasionally, this little family can be seen roosting on top of our cars and playing around with pebbles at the compound of H58. On certain days, when the weather is fine, Jimmy and his family would come by H58, perching on the window ledge and take a peek into the office. Not disturbed by our movements within the house, they tend to stay in that spot momentarily before flying off to the dead Acacia tree behind H58.

It is a very amazing sight indeed to be able to watch these birds very closely compared to others who can only admire their beauty in zoos or enclosures.

Feeding on leban, ficus and palm fruits, Musa and Cecelia grew up well and progressively. The young are still under close supervision of both parents and are learning to find their own food. Frequently observed perching on the rooftop of H58, Musa will always peck on the roof probably in search for bugs and insects to eat. Cecilia too was observed to display the same behavior.

We also noticed that Musa’s casque has recently begun to grow. Although not yet prominent, he will soon grow into a healthy male adult. Knowing how territorial Jimmy can get, his time in Piasau Nature Reserve may be numbered.

We know what their activities are in the daytime, however where they are and what they do at night remains a mystery. As of now, we have little information of what happens when night falls. Hopefully, through further surveys, we will be able to find out soon not only what they do and where they are and if possible, what we can do to keep Jimmy and Musa in the same territory in peace, keeping the family as one as it is now.

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