sign in a cave in Laos

25 December 2014

Vietnam lava tubes in Dak Nong

A strange article appeared on 24 Dec 2014 in the Tuoi Tre News about the discovery of Vietnam's first lava tube cave. The title "Southeast Asia's longest volcanic cave discovered in Vietnam" is OK, but the article goes on to say that "A group of Vietnamese and Japanese scientists have announced the discovery of the first volcanic cave system in Vietnam, one part of which is considered the longest such feature in Southeast Asia. The discovery was made in Krong No District in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong by experts from the general department and the Japan Caving Association after seven years of research".

What the article really means is that they are the first lava tubes to be found in Dak Nong province, not in Vietnam. Prior to this article, the longest lava cave in Vietnam is Hang Doi 1 Km 123 at 437 m, found in 2013.  According to the article, 12 caves were found and 3 were surveyed, the longest being 1055 m.

See the above link for the full article and photos.
The next day a better article appeared in Thanh Nien News on 25 Dec, "Record volcanic cave system discovered in central Vietnam". Although it still said "The recent discovery represents the first volcanic cave system ever found in Vietnam." and "scientists have conducted detailed surveys of three caves--the largest of which measures over a kilometer in length and several thousands of meters in width." I think the width might be a mistake!

18 November 2014

Cement company blows up limestone hill and renders snail extinct - Guardian

Cement company blows up limestone hill and renders snail extinct

Malaysian snail among hundreds of species to become extinct as a result of fishing, logging, mining, agriculture and other activities to satisfy our growing appetite for resources.

Humble snails are no match for the might and indifference of the global cement industry. So it has proved for the now extinct Plectostoma sciaphilum, a rather beautiful snail that lived only on a single limestone hill in Peninsular Malaysia. A cement company blew up the entire hill and all remaining molluscs with it. All that is left of its former habitat is a big hole in the ground filled with water.

Its extinction was highlighted by the global environment network IUCN when it launched a major new study showing that 22,413 out of its 76,199 assessed species are threatened with extinction.

The neighbouring isolated hills are being quarried by Malaysian multinational YTL, owner of Wessex Water, where snails such as the bizarrely-shaped Hypselostoma elephas are in critical danger.

While attention is often drawn to iconic species threatened with extinction – the IUCN report highlights the vulnerability of the Pacific bluefin tuna among others – it also chose the demise of the tiny snail as an example of the damage being done by the extractive industry.

According to the IUCN: “The future of several other species in the region is uncertain for similar reasons. Whilst some mining companies are starting to take the necessary steps to reduce impact, IUCN is urging stronger commitment to prevent further extinctions.”

IUCN’s intervention comes just weeks after Guardian Sustainable Business revealed that another snail was at risk in Malaysia. The mollusc, recently discovered living on an isolated limestone hill called Gunung Kanthan in the northwest of Peninsular Malaysia, was named Charopa lafargei after Lafarge in a bid to prevent the global and aggregates giant from decimating it. The IUCN says this snail is critically endangered and that the “continued existence of the species will depend in large part on the actions of the company.”

Tony Whitten, Fauna & Flora International’s Asia regional director, says the humble snail should not be seen as any less important than iconic species. “Snails have a marketing problem because they are small and in general are considered joke animals because they are slow and slimy,” he says.

“But they have beautiful shapes and colours and on a personal level I abhor the idea of extinctions when it results from deliberate ignorance. A species is a species and we are morally bound to protect them. When I ask people why they think snails are less worthy, they don’t really have an answer.

“Some people may see species such as the bluefin tuna as being more important but that is only because we can identify with them because of their size and the fact we like to eat them.”

Whitten says the reason the cement industry has been able to escape scrutiny until now is because limestone is not considered a strategic mineral so regulation tends to be governed at a local level, and because the companies rarely need international financing. Cement is a basic commodity and margins are razor thin. Whitten says because companies focus on volume to maintain profits, they are unhappy to set aside protected areas within quarrying sites.

It is not only in Malaysia where snails and other species are at risk from the cement industry. “This is a global issue,” he says. “Wherever in the world limestone occurs it has a special fauna and flora but the problems are especially acute in countries such as China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the US where you get isolated limestone hills.”

A common problem among cement mining companies, according to Whitten, is that environmental impact assessments they carry out are often of a poor quality and focus on birds and mammals and don’t give enough attention to limestone-associated species. The reports are not made public and cannot be scrutinised independently.

Worse still, Whitten says the cement industry has become fixated with trumpeting the restoration of sites they destroy, rather than taking a rational, proactive landscape approach which would include sustainable management and protection.

“No cement business has ever admitted the scale of the problem,” he says. “They tout their biodiversity pages in their websites and sustainability reports with pictures of ducks and frogs and children enjoying the wetlands created from the hills they remove. They give and receive prizes for their restoration work – but do not acknowledge what is being lost.”

The snail at Lafarge’s quarry was named after the company to make it pay attention to inconspicuous animals. “They would never have taken note of the snail unless the scientists had named it after them,” Whitten says. “Lafarge did not like it ... But the reality is I had been talking with them for 15 years and you get to the point where that discussion gets nowhere. This led Fauna & Flora International to resign from their international biodiversity panel. We are, though, having positive discussions with the local senior management.”

The IUCN’s Red List, the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant, animal and fungi species, shows that Plectostoma sciaphilum is one of 901 species of the 76,199 assessed to have become extinct through fishing, logging, mining and agriculture.


Malaysian endangered limestone snails in The Guardian

The Guardian (UK) 17 Nov 2014 featured some of the world's most threatened species on the IUCN Red List report. Two of these are snails, found on limestone hills in Malaysia, which may be quarried to extinction.

The first is Charopa lafargei , which has Critically Endangered status, and is found at Gunung Kanthan in Perak. This hill is being quarried by Lafarge, after whom the snail was named. I have already posted many blogs about the quarrying of the hill and our fight to save the hill, caves, flora and fauna from destruction/extinction.

The second snail featured is Plectostoma sciaphilum. This is already thought to be extinct. It was known on Bukit Panching, near Kuantan in Pahang. This hill was totally destroyed some years ago, all that remains now is a lake.

See the 2 reports in The Guardian -

IUCNred list of endangered species. Red List: the world's most threatened species –interactive. 

More than 22,000 species feature in conservationists’ ‘under threat’ list. 

The Star on 22 Nov 2014 did a similar piece to The Guardian, "A Malaysian snail goes extinct with 22,000+ other species on the brink".


See more on endangered snails at Bukit Sagu and Bukit Tenggek.


28 October 2014

Phra Nang Cave cleared of sex toys

Apparently the sex toys have been removed from Tham Phra Nang, at Railay beach near Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand. See this report from 27 Oct 2014 'Krabi Cave Cleared of Sex Toys'. It says "clear the cave of hundreds of phallic-shaped wood carvings and sex toys".

However the Phuket Gazette - 'Hardwood only: sex toy found lodged in sacred cave' - suggests that only the silicone sex toys will be removed and the wooden phalluses will stay. 

I blogged about the cave in 2008. I was back in Krabi in early Oct 2014 but I didn't go to the cave on that visit.

17 October 2014

Blue hair Buddha in cave temples

In recent years, I've seen statues of Buddha with blue hair in cave temples around Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.

I've searched the internet to try and learn about the blue haired Buddha, but have found nothing factual.

Some reports say it represents the medicine Buddha. Another report says Tibetan Buddha statues have blue hair as the color of the vairocana jewel is blue.

Da Seng Ngan at Gunung Lanno has an upstairs room dedicated to the blue hair Buddha.



There is also a single statue with blue hair in the group of Buddhas in the main entrance area -

 More photos of the upstairs Buddhas in 2014 -

Nam Loong Ngam at Gunung Layang Layang also has the blue haired Buddha :

Can anyone tell me the real meaning of the blue haired Buddha?

See my 2016 blog on Da Seng Ngan and the blue hair

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

12 October 2014

Mulu article by Hanbury Tenison in Daily Telegraph

A very nice article on Mulu by Robin HANBURY-TENISON was published in the Daily Telegraph, 11 Oct,2014.

Malaysia's Gunung Mulu national park: revisiting one of the most spectacular rainforests on earth.

Robin Hanbury-Tenison was on the first Mulu expedition in 1977, organised by the RGS and lasting 15 months. He published a book, "Mulu, the rain forest".

9 October 2014

Sulawesi cave paintings now older than first thought

Exciting news about the age of the cave paintings at Maros in Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are now said to be older than first thought.

I saw some of these paintings in 1994. My blog on Cave of Hands and an article I wrote for The Star.

The paintings at Leang Burung 2 were originally dated by Glover to between c.31,000-20,000 BP. The paintings are quite well known and include red ochre hand stencils and paintings of animals such as babirusa - an endemic wild suid [Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science, 2004].

Now Dr Maxime Aubert of Griffith University, Queensland, Australia has redated the paintings. The oldest is at least 40,000 years old. The minimum age for the hand stencil is 39,999 years old, which makes it the oldest hand stencil in the world. The babirusa or pig has a minimum age of 35,400 years. Other paintings are 27,000 years old, which means the inhabitants were painting for at least 13,000 years.

Until now, paintings this age have only been known from caves in Western Europe.

These new dates for the Sulawesi caves mean that ideas about our evolution will have to be revised. Maybe art came out of Africa, not from Europe.

In northern Spain, cave paintings at El Castillo have been dated at 37,300 years old (41K). They are similiar to the ones at Bone, which is 100 km north of Maros. The famous paintings of animals at Chauvet Cave in France are about 37,000 years old. Some Australian rock art is thought to be of a similiar age but the dates are not confirmed. The oldest confirmed Australian rock painting is 27,000 years old at the Arnhem Land site of Nawarla.

The Maros ages were determined by measuring ratios of isotopes of uranium and thorium in tiny stalactites that had formed on top of the paintings.

The paintings at Bone could not be dated because the stalactite growths do not occur.

The scientific paper was published in Nature 514, 9 Oct 2014.

Other refs :


BBC    (it is worth watching the video on this link)

 Australian Geographic

The Guardian 

National Geographic

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

25 August 2014

Kanthan's lafargei snail in international news

End of August saw a flurry of pieces in the international media about the newly described Gunung Kanthan snail that is named after the quarry company Lafaarge who are destroying the hill. The snail is called Charopa lafargei, and is endemic to Gunung Kanthan. The scientific paper was published in Basteria, (2014) 78(1-3).

Mongabay on 24 August 2014 had this piece, "Scientists name new endangered species after the company that will decide its fate".

The Guardian in the UK published this piece on 25 August 2014, "A tiny, rare snail in Malaysia has big consequences for global cement giant".

The Epoch Times, 26 Aug, "Tiny Endangered Snail Named for Company". 27 Aug, "New species of snail discovered in Lafarge Malaysia limestone quarry".

Global Cement on 28 Aug, "Future of Charopa lafargei snail in hands of Lafarge Malaysia".

Espandar Cement News , "Future of Charopa lafargei snail in hands of Lafarge Malaysia".

Novataxa BlogSpot on 24 Aug, "[Mollusca • 2014] ‘Charopa’ lafargei • A New, presumed narrowly Endemic Species (Gastropoda, Pulmonata, Charopidae) from Peninsular Malaysia".

Then the Malaysian papers :
The Star 30 Aug published "New snail species found".

Malay Mail, 2 Sept
In Ipoh, rare snail named after cement giant is safe, says French quarry company

Ipoh Echo, No 197, 16-30 Sept
New Snail Species Discovered In Kinta Valley

20 August 2014

Crystal removal from caves - highlighted in Descent

The removal of crystals from caves in Malaysia is a continuing problem. I have blogged about it earlier in 2014 and also in 2011. I also wrote a small piece in the international caving magazine Descent, published in England, issue 223.

Now I have had another piece published in Descent 239, Aug/Sept 2014 :

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

13 August 2014

Quarrying of Bukit Sagu & Bukit Tenggek, Pahang

Bukit Sagu in Pahang is being quarried by Pahang Cement / YTL. The neighbouring Bukit Tenggek is also being quarried. These 2 hills are among a group of 4 limestone hills located west of Kuantan, the others being Bukit Charas and Bukit Panching - the latter has been totally removed by quarrying. This is a GE image of the 4 hills in 2003, from south to north = Panching, Charas, Sagu, Tenggek -

Pahang Cement was established in 1995 as a 50:50 joint venture between the State Government of Pahang Darul Makmur and YTL Cement. The purpose of the joint venture was to build and operate the proposed integrated cement plant to be located in Bukit Sagu, Kuantan. The plant, the first of its kind in the Eastern Corridor, became operational in May 1998. YTL Cement acquired the remaining 50% of Pahang Cement in 2003. Pahang Cement Sdn Bhd (Pahang Cement) operates a state-of-the-art integrated cement plant in Bukit Sagu with the capacity to produce over 1.2 million tonnes of ordinary portland cement per annum. See more on YTL.

General view of the west side Bukit Sagu, with a large vertical opening on the left side -

View of Sagu from YTL plant -
and the YTL cement trucks waiting to take away the hill
View from the north end


 2003 GE -

The untouched southern end -

Bukit Tenggek in 2003 & 2011 -

2014 from west side -

 and 1997 view -


Both hills have caves and are home to endemic flora and fauna. Of special interest, Bukit Tenggek is home to a snail, Hypselostoma elephas, listed on IUCN Red List as critically endangered. Another critically endangered endemic snail is Plectostoma tenggekensis. More on the snails on Red Orbit and Washington Post.
The hill is also home to Calciphilopteris alleniae, a fern known from only 5 limestone hills in the peninsula. Paraboea bakeri is an endemic species, it can be found only in small shaded populations on the limestone hills in two localities; Bukit Sagu and Bukit Tenggek, see FRIM report.
See more on Siputkuning blog.

These 2 hills are also archaeological sites. Gua Sagu was investigated briefly by Tweedie in 1935, he found pottery and stone implements. Then more recently in 1990 and 1991, staff from the Centre for Archaeological Research, USM and the Department of Museums and Antiquities, made excavations in Gua Sagu and Gua Tenggek. They found a lot of stone tools and some pottery/earthernware and food remains in Gua Sagu. Gua Tenggek revealed similar finds. They concluded that the sites were occupied during the Pleistocene around 14,000 years ago by a Palaeolithic group of people. See ref.


UPDATE May 2015
IUCN published a report on global species and the snail Plectostoma sciaphilum that was found on Bukit Panching was mentioned. This hill has been completely quarried.

My photo of Bukit Panching taken 1993




By 2019 both hills were almost completely destroyed and apparently by 2020 were gone. See Twitter .
So it looks like the endemic snail could be no more.


© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

9 August 2014

Pigeons at Gunung Kanthan

There are a lot of pigeons on the southeast end of Gunung Kanthan, especially in the area by the fish ponds and the Chinese temple. And the numbers of pigeons seem to be increasing.

Gunung Kanthan is the northernmost limestone hill in the Kinta Valley, Perak, Malaysia and is being quarried by Lafarge, (see the various blogs by searching the labels).

The floor around the base of the hill near the Zhi Nan Gong (red) temple is covered with pigeon guano and the stench is quite strong. There are also lots of feathers and eggs on the floor. Apart from the numerous pigeons here, there are also a lot roosting in and around the entrance to Gua Kanthan. The entrance slope into the cave is also covered with eggs and feathers and guano,


Pigeons, aka rock pigeons, roost on cliffs and rock ledges, so Gunung Kanthan is a natural home for them. I don't know why they are especially abundant on this hill.

On 8 August 2014 there was an interesting article in the Daily Mail (UK) about pigeons at a cave in Gibraltar, "Neanderthals loved roast pigeon! 70,000-year-old charred bones reveal barbecue bird was a favourite caveman delicacy".

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

3 July 2014

Sinkhole in centre of KL

Much of KL is built on limestone and there are many cavities underground. One estimate is that a third of Kuala Lumpur is built on limestone bedrock. Sinkholes tend to occur with such a geological formation.

One sinkhole occurred on the morning of 2 July 2014, at the junction of Jalan Pudu - Jalan Imbi - Jalan Hang Tuah. This is the junction of the old Pudu prison, Police HQ and Times Square. According to the Malay Mail the sinkhole was said to be 20 m deep.

The cause was said to be a burst water pipe. It happened mid morning so it was lucky there were no casualties. The collapse covers a 19 m stretch and is just 20 m from the elevated monorail.

Photos taken from Malay Mail

The hole was filled with sand, The Star 4 July ; Malay Mail 4 July 'Sinkholes repair at Jalan Imbi almost completed'.

There was a smaller sinkhole earlier in the year at Bukit Bintang on 26 April 2014, on  Jalan Bukit Bintang between Chulan Square and the Jalan Tun Razak intersection. Yahoo report.

12 June 2014

Cement giants Lafarge and Holcim

Cement giants Lafarge and Holcim

There have been press reports earlier in 2014 that Holcim and Lafarge will merge. These are two of the world's cement giants. On April 7 2014 Holcim of Switzerland unveiled a deal to buy France's Lafarge, which would create the world's biggest cement maker, with $44 billion (26 billion pounds) of annual sales, and launch asset sales worldwide to steer it over antitrust hurdles. It will be known as LafargeHolcim.

Both these companies operate in southeast Asia. Both are destroying limestone hills.

Holcim is active in southwest Vietnam, in the controversial Ha Tien / Hon Chong area. I say controversial as this area is important for its biodiversity. One important document (in English) is "Beleaguered Hills: managing the biodiversity of the remaining karst hills of Kien Giang, Vietnam , (various authors / sponsors) 2008.

See my blog on Hon Chong.and FFI blog on Holcim

Lafarge are of course in Malaysia, currently quarrying Gunung Kanthan in Perak. See labels on right column of this blog, also the 2014 press reports.

Lafarge recently merged its British operations with those of Anglo American to form LafargeTarmac. Holcim runs Britain's Aggregate Industries.

Surprisingly the LafargeHolcim merger is already on Wikipedia.

11 June 2014

More lime kilns in Perak, Malaysia

In 2012 I blogged about lime kilns near Bercham in Perak. Apparently they are no longer working, the place was closed down some time in 2013.

In May 2014 I was able to visit some abandoned lime kilns near Gopeng, south of Ipoh, in Perak. They are at Gunung Panjang. On the other side of the hill is an active quarry and lime kilns (RCI lime).

I was unable to find any history of these forgotten kilns. The area is quite overgrown now.

Some of the number plaques above the door can still be read

One or two of the kilns have trees growing inside -

 and there are big tree roots climbing up the limestone cliff

The brickwork of the kilns still seems to be in good condition

We wanted to get up to the top so forced our way through undergrowth and creepers. Having reached the top, we later found the old concrete road that would have been used by the lorries.

Looking down into the kiln from the top

Nice aroid

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission