KOTA KINABALU: For several years, the Walai Penyu Conservation Park in Libaran, Sandakan has been engaging and involving villagers in many of its activities and initiatives.
They started from getting villagers to be part of turtle conservation, beach clean-ups, recycling programmes and have now ventured further into mat weaving and bird watching.
Traditional mat weaving is a dying trade in Sabah which is fortunately still being practised by a handful of older people including a family in Libaran.
Seeing the potential of this activity, park general manager Alexander Yee roped in these villagers to be part of the Walai Penyu Conservation Park community programme.
He said it is also part of their village walk programme for visitors, where they visit the village homes, interact with locals, learn about their food and cultures, and other activities such as mat weaving.
“They can have hands-on learning and try to weave their own mat,” he said, adding the mat is made using rattan, among other natural materials.
Yee said with such initiatives, both villagers and visitors benefit economically, culturally and socially.
He said the main purpose is for locals to understand and realise the potential of sustainable economic development and tourism activities at the island.
As for bird watching, he said this is also a very new product they recently incorporated into their programmes for visitors.
“We have a fisherman whom we know only as Eddick, who owns budgies (common parakeet).The budgie is a native to Australia,” said Yee.
“Eddick has a nice bird house for his pets and the idea of monetising this hobby of his came from his son,” he said.
He said it was one way to generate extra income where people pay to check out his cool bird house and his pets.
Yee said this is because his income as a fisherman is never fixed and sometimes, not enough to feed his family’s needs.