How did you first get interested?
Growing up in Seremban, our family encouraged contact with the outdoors and I also grew up on TV documentaries like David Attenborough, David Bellamy. Bellamy is one of my heroes for his work and his approach, which led to my interest in this field.So TV led you into becoming a naturalist? Well, later in my teen I was waylaid by other things and eventually ended up in banking before I realised this was not my cup of tea. Then I ended up visiting Tioman and that was my turning point to get out of the cities. Since then I realised that conservation was my true calling and 15 years ago, I came to this island and decided to stay.
What is it about a rainforest office that appeals most to you?
I am an early riser and there is nothing like being in the forest early in the morning. In the cities, you have rush hour traffic and people hooking up for meetings. It’s the same in the forest and the best time is between seven and ten A.M. or at sunset to be doing my walks. Through observing the animal stories going on, I’ve come to know the neighbourhood who is going out with who, who has a new baby!
Were you concerned by the development of the island?
I came into the Datai only after the project was completed and to be honest, I was slightly apprehensive. But my role here now is to educate and I do this on nature walks and mangrove or forest trips with guests at the Datai Hotel. I have also trained others who are now resident naturalists in other hotels and I hope that I have instilled in them the same passion to educate people.
As resident naturalist at The Datai, how do you communicate to those who are afraid of nature?
I do say that movies give negative preconceptions about nature, like Arachnophobia. When a person comes from the city thinking like this I try to defuse that by showing the logical, functioning aspect of the eco system. For example, why would there be a snake waiting just to drop down and bite you? On my walks, I try to win over hearts and show that animals are no different to us. Hornbills for example, are great show offs but also monogamous and good parents. This empathy gets people to relate to nature and value its preservation. Modern man is disconnected from the natural world, but I get people to approach it with all their senses open by pointing out also the medicinal purpose, the smell and texture of plants.
What do you have in mind for the future?
I would love to see Langkawi modelled after true environmental ideals, whether in terms of development or ecotourism like Costa Rica. An alternative Langkawi can happen where visitors can have an experience that is also sensitive, with locals as expert guides. That would be an amazing way for Malaysia to show its respect for the environment at the same time as getting an income from it. All around the world, natural habitats are shrinking and yet there is a continuous demand for the experience of truly ecological tourism.