This third trip to Sarawak proved to be most fruitful- Betta brownorum found
and a range extension. This Betta was found, partly due to a fishmonger
- of all people! Previous data was again heeded initially, only to be
eventually disregarded due to seasonal changes in habitat. This trip
once again concentrated around Kuching.
arrived on a Saturday, to be in time for the weekend market. As usual
an eventful start, as no vehicle was available from the hire company,
although bookings had been made. At the last minute, we managed to get
help from a friend, who kindly ferried us to and from the sites on this
first day. We sampled the Matang area blackwaters again, in hope of
finding the elusive Betta brownorum.
Witte and Schmidt (1992) had reported its existence in this area. We
were quite confident of finding it there but the monsoon season
compounded our problems. The water level was high and the forest
inundated, living up to its name of swamp forest. The water was black
like Coca-Cola, with a pH of 3.7 and a peaty bottom. We managed to catch Betta cf. akarensis, Luciocephalus pulcher, Nandus nebulosus, Channa bankenensis andC.lucius. Oddities included Parakysis verrucosus and Lepidicephalichtyes pristes.
also managed to check out the weekend market at Jalan Satok. there was
much local produce on sale amongst the organised chaos. Temporary
aquarium stalls had been set up and they were selling exotics like
Texas cichlid, Blood Parrot (hybrid), Goldfish, Angelfish, Discus and Betta splendens. There was no trace of any local species, though the food fishes, Anabas testudineus and Channa striata were
present. We tried to find Sago worms but were not successful. We also
tried out other local delicacies and snacks. Unusual native fruits and
vegetables abounded. That evening, we managed to get our vehicle and
transportation was solved for the following days.
headed out toward Serian town for breakfast on Sunday morning. There
were many special goods on sale in the market - we caught glimpses of
Mouse deer, Pangolin, Civet Cat and Hill Mynah, all alive and probably
sold as food or pets. There were numerous bundles of young fern fronds
on sale. This pteridophyte is usually eaten fried with chilli and fish
paste and a very popular vegetable dish in Sarawak. Be forewarned that
excessive consumption is detrimental to one's health, because this fern
contains certain toxic alkaloids.
the wet market, we met a friendly fishmonger who sold exclusively local
produce, especially freshwater fish. These fish were caught by the
locals from around the area and were then collected by the fishmonger,
to be sold in the market. Among the species being sold, were numerous
large specimens of a blackwater clarid-Clarias nieuhofi. We then
struck up a conversation regarding the origin of these specimens and
found out that they originated from the blackwaters around Gedong, a
town not far from Serian. Other food fish included Channa bankanensis, C.lucius, C.baramensis and Hemibagrus sp.
We then headed out toward the Betta taeniata site
to collect more specimens. This time around, we went in further and
came across a village. There was a small tributary, running along the
edge of the village. The water was clear and flowing quite fast. The
lower reaches abounded with rubbish, typical of streams near villages.
The substrate was sandy and the water of pH 6.2. We only sampled the
upstream area and sure enough, Betta taeniata could
be found here in higher concentrations than at the site which we had
sampled previously. Within an hour, we had collected as many specimens
as before including a mature, mouthbrooding male.
As the priority of this trip was to collect Betta brownorum,
we decided to head toward the Matang area, where there was proof of
capture, rather than trying out a new locality. With hindsight, this
was a mistake which was realised only on our last work day. The water
level in the peat swamp forest had risen to waist depth (~1m) in
certain areas. We had previously sampled around this general area
during the drier season, when the ground underfoot was moist and with
few pools of water. This time round, these areas were fully inundated,
from 40 to 100 cm deep. In this flooded forest of blackwater (pH 4.0),
we managed to catch Rasbora axelrodi, Rasbora pauciperforata, Betta cf. akarensis, Luciocephalus pulcher andChanna bankenensis.
As the sky darkened, due to the approach of dusk and rain clouds, we
moved out, shivering, from the cold and headed back to Kuching for a
warm bath and a meal.
was one of the most miserable days as it rained cats and dogs
intermittently. We travelled to Kota Samarahan and back to Bau-Lundu
area. All the waterways were flooded and some had even burst their
banks and flooded the adjacent fields. Some of these rivers were clear
water and shallow during the dry season but they were now murky and
much deeper. The murky water surface boiled with the undercurrent and a
tremendous amount of water was washed down. It was dangerous to attempt
sampling in such conditions. Some of the rivers were so flooded that
locals were using outboard motors to travel, instead of the usual
paddles and oars. As it continued to pour, we decided to cut short our
meandering and returned to Kuching for an early dinner.
was our last sampling day and we set out with fingers crossed. We
travelled all the way to Gedong, a small coastal town with the typical
round-about in the middle of town. All the rivers near the town were
mangal (mangrove) so we headed back and sampled the most promising
site. It was a similar-looking habitat to the Matang area peat-swamp
forest, except that the water level was not so high. The ditches
parallel to the road contained fast-flowing blackwater, just like
Coca-Cola. These ditches had little life in them, being too
fast-flowing. We proceeded into the forest where it was mushy and wet
underfoot with occasional pools. We sampled at these earlier pools but
only caught juvenile Clarias nieuhofi andC.teijsmanni. At one of these deeper pools we hit pay dirt- Betta brownorum but we did not get many from these stagnant polls, they were probably just washed out.
penetrated deeper into the forest in search of the home ground of
B.brownorum, ignoring the biting midges, thorny rattans and spiky
pandans. We hit B.brownorumcountry!! At almost every dip of the net, we caught B.brownorum. In quiet pools, with dappled sunlight streaming in from the canopy, we could actually observeB.brownorum swimming
just above the substratum. When we had caught enough, we headed out
contentedly but another surprise lay ahead of us. Among the juvenile
clarids that we had caught, there was an atypical specimen with a
rounded head and a conspicuous adipose fin. It was an extremely rare Encheloclarias baculum.
This was the only known specimen, apart from the Bleeker holotype. What
a coup! We had succeeded beyond our dreams. Not only had we obtained
the last elusive Betta species to be found in south Sarawak, we had
also bagged a rare clarid. We hastily packed up and headed back to
Kuching for a celebratory dinner.
our mission accomplished, we did some shopping before flying back to
Singapore with our precious specimens. From the cumulative data of the
previous trips, there are currently four species of Bettafound
in south Sarawak (six in total from Sarawak). Of these four species,
two are new to science (see future issues for an update).
these trips, I observed that most waterways near the highway are
polluted and the surrounding forests logged and transformed into
plantations, industrial and residential areas. In some areas, the
forests are mere glimpses at the edge of the horizon. Only in the back
country areas are the waterways less polluted, with a richer fauna.
collection trips are for scientific purposes and specimens collected
deposited in the Zoological Reference Collection, Department of
Zoology, National University of Singapore, with voucher specimens in
thank the following: Dr Peter Ng, for his inspiration, Dr. Maurice
Kottelat, for his guidance, Dr. Charles Leh, for his permission to
collect in Sarawak; Daphne Chung, Ng, H.H., Tan, S.H. and Darren Yeo
for their help in the collection and transportation in Sarawak.
Brown, A and Brown, B. 1987. A survey of the freshwater fishes of the
family Belontiidae in Sarawak. Sarawak Mus. J. 37, 155-170, 3 pls.
2. Linke, H. 1990. Labyrinthfische- Farbe in Aquarium. Tetra Verlag, Melle, Germany, 140 pp.
Witte, K-E and Schmidt, J. 1992 Betta brownorum, a new species of
anabantoids (Teleostei: Belontiidae) from northwestern Borneo, with a
key to the genus. Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters 2, 305-330.