Going green in Langkawi

Going green in Langkawi

Three HSBC Bank Malaysia Bhd staff members – Jennifer Leong, Leong Li Yim and Kee Thuan Lye – got the project off with help from Langkawi nature tour group Natural History Expeditions and Malaysian Nature Society (MNS). The trio were volunteers with Earthwatch Institute last year, where they joined field research teams from around the world. HSBC sponsors several employees for the Earthwatch volunteer scheme each year. Following their stints abroad, the participants must conduct a local “community care” project, using US$550 (RM1,925) which had been set aside from each of their sponsorships. Jennifer Leong, a manager in the HSBC marketing team, said they chose to plant trees in Langkawi after considering various suggestions from the MNS. Late last month, they headed to Langkawi together with three colleagues and two MNS staff membes. There, they were joined by three guides from Natural History Expeditions, who had obtained the tree saplings and chose the planting site in the north-western part of the island. The group spent a day planting some 50 seedlings along Jalan Datai, including on cleared and idle land in the area. Another 50 trees were given to Bon Ton Restaurant, Red Tomato Cafe and Casa Del Mar Resort for planting on Pantai Cenang on the western coast of the island. “The trees chosen were those which bear fruits, to be eaten by the majority of animals on the islands, so benefiting more wildlife,” said Leong, Naturalist and guide Irshad Mobarak of Natural History Expeditions hoped the planting of more trees would bring birds back to the developed areas of Pantai Cenang. The trees were chosen with care. Pokok samak (called salam in the mainland) will bear fruits two to three times a year, the Malaysian cherry tree (Muntingia calabura) would bear fruit within a year, while pokok cenderai is a local species. “These are trees which will benefit both man and wildlife as they provide shade as well as food. They feed the smallest to the biggest animals, from sunbirds to hornbills, monkeys and squirrels,” said Irshad Mobarak. The tree-planting, he explained, was part of a bigger scheme to green the island, which would include reforestation of Gunung Raya. “We have 100 school-kids collecting seedlings and growing them in a nursery. We hope to get 3,000 seedlings by next year for planting. These trees will provide food and nesting habitat for hornbills and other wildlife,” said Irshad. For Leong, the day spent planting trees under the hot sun was one of her most fulfilling island getaways. “We did not just plant trees for the sake of doing something. The trees we planted will sustain and preserve animals during their lifetime of 30 to 40 years,” she said. The HSBC staff intend to return to Langkawi a year from now to see how the trees have fared. In the meantime, Irshad's group will be keeping a close watch on the saplings. By Clarissa Chou, 27 October 2007
Nurturing young environmentalists

Nurturing young environmentalists

There were no stars that night but the children dazzled. Fully charged, 100 of them recited poems, sang songs and danced on the beach, marking the completion of an environmental programme and the start of a new chapter in their lives. As the children of Langkawi performed in front of their families, teachers and friends, they were stepping into their new roles as facilitators to many hundreds of students on the island. After spending six months to learning about the ecology of their island and working to preserve her delicate environment, they will in turn teach others about its ecosystem, its fascinating flora and fauna as well as sustainable development. It’s a tough calling for these young teens but one where they will shine in for their guru is none other than the Jungle Wallah of Langkawi, Irshad Mobarak. A resident naturalist at a resort on the island, Irshad is one of the five DiGi Amazing Malaysians 2007, selected for his tireless efforts to preserve the environment of Langkawi. Each year DiGi selects five Malaysians — one each for natural, cultural, art, built and social heritages — who stand out in their daily lives as Malaysians who are exceptional. A former banker, Irshad quit his job 16 years ago after a trip to Langkawi and what followed suit. “I had a dream. I was standing at a crossroad. There was a woman there who was very sick. She had many children,” he recalls. After much though, Irshad made the decision to save ailing Mother Nature. He has since remained on the island, learning first-hand from scientists who stopped here to do research. A popular character in Langkawi, he has undertaken many projects like educating fishermen on sustainable marine ecosystems that would eventually ensure the future of their livelihood. He has a soft spot for the Great Hornbill and spends a lot of time monitoring them and keeping an eye out for poachers. Started in June last year, the DiGi programme involved 100 children who dedicated time and energy as volunteers. Divided into three groups, they worked every other Saturday to restore and sustain the natural heritage of the island. The first group, called the Wildlife Rangers, collected soil and water samples from various locations and compared the different levels of bio-indicators such as dissolved oxygen, phosphates, nitrates and pH readings. The second group, Nature’s Scribes, documented the range of animals and plant species. Their findings will be published as brochures for tourists. Finally, the Tree Doctors collected seeds and saplings from the jungles. These have been planted in strategic stretches to create “wildlife corridors”. “Years of development have taken away much from Langkawi. About 49 per cent of wildlife has already been lost,” laments Irshad. For him, the ever-shrinking jungles of Langkawi is a major concern. Originally one verdant swathe of land, today it has been divided into five individual pockets of habitat, each cut off from the other. This means that the variety of wildlife is now confined in these five individual areas, a situation that can bring on a host of problems, some already at danger level. “The five separated habitats cause inbreeding, which weakens animals and plant species, eventually leading to extinction. The hornbill, for instance, is an indicator species. Fifty-three per cent of its diet comes from the fig tree, another 17 per cent from other types of fruit and 30 per cent from lizards, small snakes and insects. “No forest, no hornbills,” states Irshad plainly. With 5,000 trees to be planted and nurtured all over the island, it’s a big 10-year plan but one that Irshad has pinned his hopes on as these wildlife corridors will provide animals with a bigger habitat. “Langkawi is presently on the threshold. It could go any way,” he says, a glint of hope shining in his eyes. On the morning of the last day of the programme, the children arrived in three school buses at the foot of Gunung Raya, for the launch of their mobile activity centre where meetings would be held and projects carried out. The brand new Interpretive Centre is a 12m long cabin colourful, hand-painted mural of animals found on the island. The location of the activity centre is significant. At 890m, Gunung Raya is the tallest peak on the island, offering 5,000ha of pristine forest with a diverse variety of animals and plants. Currently the cabin holds a good collection of books for hardcore environmentalists, modules, magnifying glasses, binoculars and nets. The recently-cleared land before the cabin would be developed into a camping-cum-star gazing spot. The Malaysian Nature Society, which heads DiGi’s environment project, would continue planning activities for the children. From the start, its team of five people has been flying in every month to work with the children. “Developing an interest in conservation work should start at an early age. Children are naturally curious about plants, birds and animals,” says Irshad. “We should take the opportunity to teach them about why it’s important to preserve and sustain the environment.” Over the last six months, he noticed changes in the children. If, at first, they volunteered “for fun” or because somebody told them to, they now display genuine concern and a deep understanding of how nature works. “The best way to get children to love the environment is to take them out into the jungles, the hills and the mangrove swamps and show them her wonders,” Irshad says. Like all children, they had fun getting their hands dirty, walking through the mangrove swamp, planting trees, even getting a leech bite or two. They enjoyed removing plants from black plastic bags and planting them in a hole in the ground to create the wildlife corridors. But Irshad noticed in their quick steps, the alacrity displayed and the smiles on their faces, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. They were indeed doing something for this place they called home. “The children know it’s a two-way relationship. We take care of nature and she provides for us,” he says. Sunday People - News Strait Times by RACHAEL PHILIP - Feb 24, 2008.
Students Fall in Love with Wildlife

Students Fall in Love with Wildlife

Nurul Nayli Hashim, 12, from SK Kedawang said the nature programme provided her with a deep knowledge of the eco-system. “We were thought to identify the different types of trees and how to plant saplings the correct way. We also learnt about the birds and their behaviour. Mohd Afifi Rahim, 11, from SK Seri Negeri said he had acquired a passion of for the environment after his walk through the jungle.  “We learned about the jungle and how to conserve. We will spread the word around so that others too will be aware of how important it is to take care of our jungle,” he added. The two were among those selected to undergo a nature awareness programme led by Irshad, 49, who is tagged “The Jungle-Wallah of Langkawi” under DiGi’s Amazing Malaysians programme. Twenty years ago, Irshad was smitten by the island’s lush greenery after visiting it. He resigned from his bank job in Kuala Lumpur, headed for Langkawi to be become a jungle naturalist and had never regretted his move. The nature conservation children’s programme jointly launched with the Malaysia nature Society in June last year was sponsored by DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd. The students were divided into three groups-the tree doctors, wildlife rangers and nature’s scribes. The programme culminated with the launch of the Interpretive Centre in Gunung Raya by Kedah princess Datuk Seri Tunku Intan Safinaz Sultan Abdul Halim and a beach party at Pantai Cenang. By : Dasheer Noh - 20 February 2008
Junglewallah Pulihara Alam Sekitar

Junglewallah Pulihara Alam Sekitar

Begitulah rumusan yang dibuat 100 pelajar sebaik selesai menjayakan Program Memulihara Alam Sekitar Alam Sekitar selama dua hari di Jungle-Wallah Of Langkawi (Jungle-Wallah), berhampiran Hutan Simpan Gunung Machinchang, di sini, bau-baru ini. Daripada jumlah itu, 20 pelajar masing-masing mewakili Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Mahsuri dan SMK Tunku Putra, manakala bakinya pelajar Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Seri Negeri, SK Kedawang dan SK Ladang Sungai Raya. Diketuai penerima anugerah Rakyat Malaysia Terhebat DiGi 2007, Irshad Mobarak, 48, dan dibantu 10 fasilitator Persatuan Pencinta Alam (MNS), pelajar terbabit dibawa meneroka khazanah hutan tertua di pulau ini. Melakukan aktiviti lasak yang turut disertai 10 kakitangan DiGi, pelajar berkenaan berpeluang menikmati keindahan flora dan fauna serta batu-batan dianggarkan berusia lebih 500 juta tahun. Malah, kesukaran meredah hutan pada hari pertama dalam hujan renyai-renyai tidak begitu dirasai walaupun memaksa peserta lebih berhati-hati kerana bimbang tergelincir selain terpaksa ‘berperang’ dengan pacat dan nyamuk. Sepanjang perjalanan menyusuri denai pada ketingian 600 meter dari aras laut, peserta nyata tersenyum puas selepas menghayati keindahan alam sekitar sambil mengenali tumbuhan hutan termasuk keruing, nibong dan tongkat Ali. Program julung kali itu dianjurkan DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd (DiGi) sempena pelancaran Jungle-Wallah di Berjaya Beach & Spa Resort oleh Ketua Pegawai Kewangan DiGi, Stefan Carlsson. Irshad ketika ditemui berkata, program itu mendedahkan peserta mengenai kepentingan menjaga alam semulajadi, merangsang pelajar meneroka serta mengalami sendiri menggunakan kaedah penemuan melalui bimbingan dan pembelajaran melalui pengalaman Selain itu, ia diharap dapat mendorong peserta yang kebanyakannya pelajar berusia antara 11 dan 16 tahun menghargai alam sekitar bagi menjamin ia dapat dinikmati generasi akan datang. Sepanjang program itu peserta dibimbing dalam kelompok kecil untuk menjalani aktiviti berjalan malam, ekosistem hutan, kajian habitat, pemburu alam dan jom jalan-jalan yang memberi pengalaman baru kepada mereka,” katanya. Selain itu, Irshad yang berjinak dengan hutan simpan di Langkawi lebih 16 tahun lalu berkata, peserta turut berpeluang meneropong burung dan mendapat penjelasan lanjut mengenai habitat unggas itu sebelum menjalankan kajian. Nur Ezzaty Hasuari Hussin, 16, pelajar Tingkatan Empat SMK Tunku Putra, berkata pelbagai pengalaman pahit dan manis dilalui selama dua hari menikmati keindahan alam semulajadi di Jungle-Wallah. Memang seronok apabila berada dalam hutan yang redup, tidak tercemar dengan asap dan bunyi, suasananya cukup berlainan seolah-olah kita berada dalam dunia lain yang tenang.” Saya turut kagum dan terhibur dengan kicauan pelbagai spesis burung dan bunyi serangga hutan yang jarang didengar,” katanya yang bercta-cita menjadi pensyarah dalam bidang verterinar. Zuraidah Din, 16, pelajar SMK Mahsuri pula berpendapat dalam keadaan yang serba kekurangan dan hutan yang tebalpelajar dapat mempelajari kaedah mendapatkan sifat ‘survival’ dan menjaga diri dalam apa juga keadaan. Oleh : Hamzah Osman - 02 July 2007
Tropensatte Tage

Tropensatte Tage

Hannah Glaser Keine Bettenburgen, keine Partymeile, keine Strandpromenade. Stattdessen staksen Reiher über den weißen Sand, und hinter dem Hotel beginnt der 400 Jahre alte Regenwald. Die malaysische Insel Langkawi hat sich dem Ökotourismus verschrieben. Der Mann ist nicht nur höllisch attraktiv, er hat auch einen sechsten Sinn. Jedenfalls sieht er ständig etwas, was wir nicht sehen. Irshad Mobarak ist Regenwaldexperte und weiß, wie raffiniert sich die tropische Tierwelt tarnt. Das reglose, angefaulte Wurzelholz neben seinem Fuß? Er tippt es kurz an, und es entfaltet sich zu einer tellergroßen Tarantel, die blitzartig in einer Erdhöhle verschwindet. Ein paar Schritte weiter bleibt unser Dschungelführer vor einem mächtigen Baum stehen. Was ist hier das Besondere? Rollt sich eine grüne Viper um den Ast? Schaut irgendwo ein Kauz aus seinem Loch? Wir können beim besten Willen nichts entdecken. Bis Irshad Mobarak auf zwei kleine, mattgelbe Augen deutet. Tatsächlich: Ein Riesengleiter hat Arme und Beine um den Stamm geschlungen, nur mühsam kann man die Konturen seines Kopfs ausmachen, obwohl er kaum einen Meter von uns entfernt ist. Der Rest des Lemurs ist dunkel genarbter Pelz, der sich von der Rinde so wenig abhebt wie Schnittlauch von einer Rasenfläche.

Und was ist mit unseren Ohren? Können wir auch ihnen nicht mehr trauen? Im Kino hört sich der Urwald meist an wie ein tropisches Tollhaus, in dem es fortwährend kreischt und krächzt, zirpt und heult. Hier auf der Insel Langkawi dagegen ist er leise, oft herrscht sogar tiefe Stille. Haben wir also auch ein Hörproblem? Irshad Mobarak lacht: Im Dschungel machen die Tiere nie grundlos Krawall, jeder Laut ist absichtsvolle Kommunikation. Und er dolmetscht die Geräusche simultan. Da – die Warnschreie der Eichhörnchen, sie bedeuten „Achtung Raubvogel“. Und was soll der plötzlich einsetzende, nervig-sirrende Dauerton, der sich anhört, als würde eine elektrische Leitung durchschmoren? Eine Zikade verursacht diesen Lärm. Sie hat 16 lange Jahre verpuppt unter der Erde verbracht und darf nun für ein paar Tage leben. Jetzt sucht sie dringend eine Partnerin und hat also guten Grund, etwas laut zu werden. Allmählich begreifen wir, dass man kein heiliger Franziskus sein muss, um die Sprache der Tiere zu verstehen. Deshalb möchten wir uns am liebsten gleich für einen zweiten „Nature Walk“ aus Irshad Mobaraks Programm anmelden. Leider vergeblich: Der Meister ist für die nächsten Tage komplett ausgebucht. Er nimmt nie mehr als sechs Gäste mit, „es muss Zeit genug sein, um jedem in die Augen zu schauen“. Dieser Mann hat seine Passion, seine Lebensaufgabe gefunden. Und deshalb konnte er auch Politiker und Planer davon überzeugen, dass ein geschützter Regenwald auf Dauer mehr Geld einbringt als einer, der abgeholzt wird. Denn für Langkawi gab es früher ganz andere Visionen. Malaysias einstiger Regierungschef Mahathir bin Mohammed wollte aus dem vergessenen Idyll in der Andamanensee ein Touristenzentrum formen nach dem Vorbild der thailändischen Nachbarinsel Phuket: mit Bars, Bierkneipen und Betonburgen. 1987 wurde die Insel zur Freihandelszone erklärt und mit Flug- und Fährhafen sowie einer vierspurigen Schnellstraße ausgestattet. Hundert Millionen Dollar ergossen sich über Langkawi, es entstanden ein halbes Dutzend Hotels, ein Meeresmuseum, eine Gondelbahn auf den höchsten Berg, zwei Golfplätze und drei klimatisierte Shoppingmalls, voll mit Duty-free-Waren. Als Zeichen des Aufbruchs wuchs im Hafen eine zwölf Meter hohe Skulptur empor. Sie stellt eine Brahminenweihe dar, den Symbolvogel der Insel, um den sich viele Mythen ranken. Doch die neue Regierung, die 2003 an die Macht kam, stoppte die Entwicklung zum durchgestylten Touristenziel. Stattdessen setzt sie auf die grüne Karte, auf gebildete und naturverbundene Besucher. „Wer Bargirls sucht, der ist hier falsch“, sagt Megat Shahrul, Chef der Entwicklungsbehörde Langkawi Development Authority (Lada). „Die Infrastruktur ist hervorragend, die politische Lage stabil, Tropenkrankheiten gibt es keine, die Gäste treten aus dem Hotel und stehen gleich im 400 Jahre alten Regenwald“, erklärt auch Johnny Cordier. Der gebürtige Hamburger war im früheren Leben Airbusmanager in Toulouse. Inzwischen lebt er seit 20 Jahren auf Langkawi und führt das Lighthouse, ein Restaurant, dessen Tische direkt am Strand stehen. Im Juni 2007 deklarierte die Unesco die 99 Inseln des Langkawi-Archipels (von denen 98 unbewohnt sind) zum ersten Geopark Südostasiens – ein ökologischer Ritterschlag für die malaysische Insel. Die Gesteinsschichten, die hier an die Erdoberfläche treten, gehören zu den ältesten der Erde. Die Hotels unterliegen nun strengen Auflagen, ökologisches Wirtschaften soll gefördert werden, ebenso die traditionelle Kultur. Zum Beispiel der Nachtmarkt, der in wechselnden Inselorten jeden Abend zum Sonnenuntergang als buntes Straßenfest beginnt. Touristen kann man hier an einer Hand abzählen, noch sind die Einheimischen unter sich. Männer schaffen Obst, Gemüse und frische Fische auf knatternden Mopeds herbei, scharfe Nudelgerichte dampfen in gewaltigen Pfannen, winzige Omeletts mit Kokosfüllung brutzeln auf heißen Platten, gebratene Garnelen werden in heiße Erdnusscreme getunkt. Ziel der neuen, grünen Politik ist es aber auch, den Gästen authentische Naturerlebnisse zu vermitteln. Dazu gehören Bootstouren durch die Mangrovensümpfe im wasserreichen Nordosten der Insel. Bisher verschlägt es täglich nur ein paar Dutzend Neugierige in das malerische Zwischenreich, wo das Süßwasser des Flusses Kilim und das Salzwasser der Andamanensee ineinander übergehen. Im kleinen Hafen laden Fischer wie seit Jahrhunderten ihren Fang aus, bunte Holzboote liegen bereit für eine Fahrt auf dem trägen Sungai Kilim. Wir besteigen eines der Boote und tuckern mutterseelenallein durch die schattigen Kanäle des Mangrovenlabyrinths. Um uns herum wachsen zerklüftete, grüne Sandsteinkegel in den Himmel. In den Luftwurzeln der Stelzenbäume turnen rothaarige Makaken. Schlammspringer, die auf den Vorderflossen balancieren, malen mit ihren Körpern feine Linien in den nassen Schlick, die bizarren, stiläugigen Fische können sich auch an Land bewegen. Wenn das Boot anlegt, kommen Affen bis auf Armnähe an uns heran, neugierig, aber immer fluchtbereit, die Jungen krallen sich bei ihren Müttern fest ins Fell. Einmal gleitet ein meterlanger Leguan neben uns ins Wasser, weiße Reiher stehen einbeinig im Unterholz. Nur aus Bambuspfählen und einem Palmendach besteht das Restaurant, das wir zur Mittagspause anlaufen, in einer malerischen Felsenbucht schwimmt es auf dem Wasser. Speisekarten gibt es nicht, der Fang des Tages kommt, in Bananenblätter gewickelt, vom Holzkohlegrill direkt auf den Tisch. Nachmittags wandern wir durch eine Höhle, die nur vom Fluss aus zu erreichen ist. Im Licht der Taschenlampe tauchen an der steinernen Decke Tausende winzige Fledermäuse auf. Unsere Rückfahrt führt übers offene Meer, wir sitzen auf dem hölzernen Bug und lassen die Beine ins türkisfarbene Wasser baumeln. Der Skipper gibt Gas, und in der Bugwelle springen minutenlang Delfine. Und dann gibt es die tropensatten Tage,an denen die Inselträgheit in alle Poren kriecht, Tage, die zwischen Pool, Spa und Strand vergehen. Langkawis Strände sind postkartenschön. Die zwei populärsten, Cenang und Tengah, liegen im Südwesten, knapp zehn Autominuten vom Flughafen entfernt. Chinesische, thailändische und malaiische Restaurants ziehen sich dort die Straße entlang, nachts blinken ein paar Lichterketten in den Bäumen. Wenn man überhaupt von Remmidemmi reden will, dann hier. Mit ihren sauberen und billigen Herbergen zählen beide Strände zu den Lieblingsadressen der Rucksacktouristen. Die Preise sind für Europäer märchenhaft niedrig. Umgerechnet zwei Euro reichen aus, um sich in einem lokalen Restaurant satt zu essen, handbemalte Seidentücher im Riesenformat sind für 15 Euro zu haben. Für zehn Euro schläft man im blitzsauberen Zimmer, für 300 Euro gibt es ein Appartement mit Küche und mehreren Schlafzimmern – und zwar nicht für eine Nacht, sondern für vier Wochen. Wirklich teuer sind nur die vier Luxushotels, die an der einsamen und touristisch unerschlossenen Nordküste liegen. Die Schwesterhotels Datai und Andaman, unter britischer und kanadischer Leitung, teilen sich dort die wohl schönste Bucht der Insel: eineinhalb Kilometer weißer Sand, der sich halbmondförmig an den dunklen Urwald schmiegt. Und egal wo man auf Langkawi wohnt, eine abendliche Stunde in der magischen Atmosphäre des Datai-Hotels sollte sich jeder gönnen. Das Luxusresort im Kolonialstil ist fast ein Teil des Regenwalds, nach Einbruch der Dunkelheit herrscht in der nach allen Seiten offenen Lobby die weltferne, heiter-melancholische Atmosphäre einer Hemingway- Erzählung. Samtweich weht der Tropenwind, lautlos rotieren die Ventilatoren an der hohen Kassettendecke. Die Gäste liegen in Korbsesseln, nippen an ihren Cocktails, lauschen dem Pianisten am Flügel und den Fröschen im Seerosenteich. Humphrey Bogart und Lauren Bacall sucht man vergebens, aber manchmal kommt Irshad Mobarak vorbei. Allerdings nur, um die Taschenlampe aufzuladen. Denn direkt vor dem Hoteleingang beginnt wieder sein dreistündiger Nightwalk durch den Dschungel. By: Sonntag Aktuellm - 08 June 2008

A true-blue naturalist

A true-blue naturalist

The crowd of primary and secondary school children gathered on a recent weekend at the Berjaya Resort and Spa Langkawi for a nature adventure had a true-blue naturalist as their guide. New Strait Times. Langkawi’s wildlife is now in danger of extinction due to habitat segmentation and in-breeding. A man dubbed ‘The Jungle-Wallah’ by DiGi’s Amazing Malaysian 2007 project is helping to arrest this problem. THE crowd of primary and secondary school children gathered on a recent weekend at the Berjaya Resort and Spa Langkawi for a nature adventure had a true-blue naturalist as their guide. The guide’s name is Irshad Mobarak. Dubbed the Jungle-wallah (Jungle-fellow) of Langkawi, he is perfect for the job as he possesses vast knowledge about Langkawi’s wildlife, gleaned from years of trekking through its jungles and mangroves. That day, the walking wildlife encyclopaedia was showing the children a tokay gecko which, at up to 40cm in length, is one of the largest geckos in the world. He was explaining to them how it is able to stick to surfaces despite its heft. “In the field of bio-engineering, because we now have better microscopes, scientists know better how the geckos attach to surfaces,” Irshad said. “No longer is it believed that suction pads or minimum electrostatic impulses between two bodies is involved. Instead, they have discovered that each gecko foot has 500,000 microscopic bristles and each of these bristles is further divided into another 100 to 150 even smaller bristles measured at two nanometers. “At the end of each 2nm bristle is a spatula shaped tip, so minute that the gecko is believed to be attaching at a molecular level,” he added. Irshad had clearly succeeded in grabbing the children’s attention. A good start for his project: a six month-long environmental awareness effort involving some 100 children from five schools on the island. This is one of five projects selected by DiGi this year under its Amazing Malaysians project. The children have been divided into three groups and each group has been given different tasks to perform from now until the end of the year. They will be performing their assigned tasks on weekends. One group will be wildlife rangers, performing tasks like tree planting, collecting seeds and looking at birds. Another group will be doing an environmental audit of hotels and built-up establishments and the natural environment. The last group will be in charge of documenting the range of animal and plant species found in Langkawi and publishing the information they obtain in brochures to be distributed to tourists and other visitors. Not only is Irshad fully acquainted with information on the wildlife in Langkawi, he is also great at handling children. “The trick is not to bore them to death. You can be much more informative with adults, but with children, you need to make it more experiential. They need to touch and smell and conduct experiments.” Irshad will be assisted in the project by three local volunteers and two staff of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) who will come from Kuala Lumpur every one or two weeks. And what better place to launch this project than at the Berjaya resort, where jungle meets white sandy beach and mangrove swamp. The children received their first introduction to the rainforest during the launch. They walked down a nature trail where they collected seeds from the jungle for their tree planting. They also carried out an environmental audit of the water and soil to determine the impact that development has had on the jungle. They even interviewed hotel staff about the kind of litter the staff had to clean up from the premises. And at night, they were led on a walk through the rainforest to study its nocturnal wildlife. An interesting nocturnal creature they encountered was a colugo. Something like a cross between a lemur and a bat, the colugo is about the size of a house cat and is able to glide from tree to tree like a kung fu warrior. Some people think the beauty of Langkawi lies in its pristine beaches. Others like the duty-free shopping. But Irshad and his team of naturalists reckon that the edge Langkawi has over places like Bali and Phuket is its jungle and wildlife. The relatively small and cut-off habitat of an island like Langkawi allows for many of its flora and fauna to evolve into unique species over thousands of years. Irshad, whose specialty is birds, said Langkawi has recorded 190 species of birds and during the children’s stay at the resort, they managed to spot many birds, including brown winged kingfisher, black hooded oriole and mountain hawk eagle which are all native to Langkawi. In Malaysia, the mountain hawk eagle which can be identified by its very pronounced crest with two feathers can only be found in Langkawi and it is estimated there are only three of them, he said. But the same conditions that give rise to this uniqueness also lend to greater possibility of extinction. What was once one large, uninterrupted natural habitat in Langkawi has shrunk into five or six isolated zones due to urbanisation, agriculture and road insfrastructure. This, in turn, has led to in-breeding among the animal and plant species and will result in shrinking of their gene pool. “Already there are signs of gene pool relaxation in Langkawi. In the last five to seven years, we have discovered cases of albinoism, one each in the macaque monkey and mousedeer.” One way to counter the negative effects of habitat segmentation, said Irshad, is by constructing wildlife corridors. Wildlife corridors are either above-ground or underground passages linking two or more habitats, offering a safe passage for wildlife to move freely from one area to another. “The cheapest way is by bringing trees closer to the road so the canopy on either side of the road will meet and become close enough for animals to cross over.” Which is one of the things the children in the project are doing. The trees they are planting are mostly figs. “We hope to see the results in 10 years,” Irshad said. He says Langkawi is also lucky not to have large animals like elephants or rhinoceros. “That means we can build underpasses for small animals like boars.” The animals, he said, also need to be protected from getting run over by cars using signs at the start of the corridors. “Perhaps those signs can say ‘Slow down. Wildlife corridor’.” “We also hope to produce maps identifying the corridors and better driving tips,” he says, adding that he has identified 10 potential places in Langkawi for these corridors. But this is just one of his many long-term plans. For now, Irshad is happy to share his passion for preserving Langkawi’s natural habitat with children from the archipelago, and hopefully influence the way they understand and relate to their natural environment. “If we can win people’s hearts, then we can win their minds and have a friend of Nature for life. And when they leave for home I hope to have inspired them to make positive adjustments to help Nature,” he said. ________________________________________ Who is the Jungle-Wallah of Langkawi? IRSHAD Mobarak is a former athlete who has found his true calling in nature conservation. Now working as resident naturalist at The Datai which is Langkawi’s most exclusive hotel overlooking the Andaman Sea, he considers himself very lucky because his work, his hobby and his passion are all fused into one. He also believes that taking care of the natural environment is an integral part of being a khalifatul ardh (steward of the Earth) as espoused in Islamic teachings. In the 80s, the Negri Sembilan-born Irshad was a decathlete and rugby player employed by a bank. He worked for five years with the bank in Kuala Lumpur, only to discover the corporate world was simply not his cup of tea. The turning point in his life came during a vacation in Tioman Island between 1981 and 1982. He realised that what he really wanted was to be closer to nature. “So I quit my job, travelled and bummed around for a couple of years,” said Irshad, whose brother is former national hurdler Ishtiaq Mobarak. And then he found Langkawi. The island’s beauty and mystique inspired him to embark on his own study of its ecosystems. “I saw the potential for nature-related work. I got a job as recreation manager at Datai and at the same time was involved in conservation work,” he said. Soon, a new position was created for him, that of a naturalist. And today, after 19 years, he is so well-versed in the subject, he is considered an expert. As resident naturalist at The Datai, Irshad takes guests of the resort on what he calls “interpretative nature tours” — early morning and night-time walks in the rainforest. Irshad enthralls the guests with scientific facts and dramatic stories about each of the animals and plants they encounter. He specialises in bird-watching and carries a pictorial guide to the birds of Southeast Asia almost all the time — handy when guests have trouble identifying the birds he’s trying to show them. Irshad also does mangrove tours in kayaks or motorised boats. His pet peeve is the eagle-feeding sessions at the mangrove swamps of the Kilim River. While it is quite a sight to see dozens of white-bellied sea eagles and brahminy kites circling in the sky and swooping down on their food, Irshad feels it’s bad for the birds. “What you’re doing is habituating the eagles to take food from humans when they usually feed on fish. Now they are given chicken guts, and these are from farm-bred chickens fed with antibiotics and hormones, making it unhealthy. It may affect their bone development and the integrity of the shells of their eggs.” Irshad said contaminated feed could kill a lot of birds, as each feeding attracts between 50 to 100 birds. He predicts that someday such a tragedy would occur. 08 July, 2007 by Ridzwan A Rahim
Malaysian eco warrior

Malaysian eco warrior

London Evening Standard – Friday, 5th February 1999 PAUL MANSFEELD awards five Stars to a Malaysian eco warrior. The Malaysian island of Langkawi needs all the eco help it can get, as new hotels spring up along the coastline and the mass tourism descends. Enter Irshad Mobarak, 39 a sort of one man band in the cause of conservation on Langkawi. His small company leads guided rainforest tours. Good humoured and articulate. Irshad first function, he says is damage limitation. “We can’t stop new hotels going up. But if we can keep them on the coast, we can save the interior”. His methods are traditionally Malaysian. “Its important to show respect to elders, and not be rude. You try to persuade people not alienate them”. Irshad persuasiveness and his popularity can be judged by his number of clients. On the day I met him at the posh Datai resort, no fewer than 16 guests had risen from their beds before dawn to accompany him into the rainforest. One of Irshad’s cleverest ideas is a tree and mangrove planting scheme, but he also plans to introduce electricity powers boats on his tours, and to press the government to crack down illegal foresters. All this might seem noble but naïve. Amazingly though, its working. Doctor Mahathir Mohammed, Malaysia’s prime minister, has announce that development in Langkawi should slow down and what Dr. Mahathir wants, he usually gets. “With the Prime minister on your side”, says Irshad, “anything is possible”. From: Highbeam
Bond with Nature

Bond with Nature

Sunday Style. 20 March 1994. Bond With Nature. Irshad Mubarak doesn't look quite like what an “evangelist" should. Tall, tanned and hunky, he would probably be more at home in a Steven Seagal type movie than waxing lyrical about the lush greenery which surrounds The Datai. But evangelize he does, telling people who will listen about how they should tread softly on the earth and be gentle with the nature that he so loves. In charge of the recreational activities at the resort, Irshad has a deep and obvious devotion for the greenery and wildlife that surround him. "There, see the swift flying," he interrupts softly, pointing to a speck in the sapphire blue sky. I see nothing except the delight which lights up the gentle brown eyes. (A storehouse of information, in less than a couple of minutes he has furnished me with characteristics and figures about the bird, including the fact that the swift is capable of sustained flying for two years, being able to feed, sleep and bathe on the wing. Living in Langkawi for the last 6 years, Irshad has discovered a paradise that very few people know about. The Datai, surrounded by virgin jungle, is like a dream come true for the young man. A trained physical therapist, Irshad works with the resort's Health Club offering aromatherapy, reflexology and holistic therapy to its guests. When not clad in the pristine whites that he dons for the occasion, you will see him in his "jungle fatigued" khaki shorts and white tee shirt, taking guests on early morning walks or late evening strolls through the jungle. It is during these trips, conducted three times a week, that he imparts both his knowledge and passion for the wildlife that surrounds the area. In the cool, salt aired morning, surrounded by the delicate golden rays of a newly awakened sun, Irshad points out flowers, plants, birds and insects which his trained eyes spot almost immediately. Conscientious as always, he sticks to existing roads, reluctant to allow new paths to be trampled in the unspoilt undergrowth of the jungle. "I can go for these walks all the time and I still never cease to be amazed by what we find.”Every day is a new discovery ... there are a wealth of plants and herbs which surround this area, eaves which can be used to stop bleeding, keep bugs away, those which stop diarrhea and which have antiseptic qualities ... " At dusk, under a night time of stars, the experience becomes a sensual one. Ears strain to hear strange cries of birds or try to identify the screech of insects; feet pick their way slowly through foreign paths while the heady scent of wild jasmine sweetly fills the night air. The wonderment is contagious and simply listening to Irshad speaks, gesturing frequently with large capable hands, makes me want to run out and bond with nature! When pressed to confess what he misses, Irshad reluctantly does. It is not the bright lights or the fast pace; instead it is the intellectual stimulation which he finds during trips to the library at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang once a month. Otherwise long solitary walks, with carpets of dry leaf litter that rustle and crunch underfoot, keep Irshad happy and help him understand further the role of each species within the earth's eco system. It is on these wanderings that Irshad discovered the spot where the wind blows against the wood and produces a thin wailing noise and the mountain top which provides a breathtaking view of the island and many other little secrets. "The ecology here is so bizarre and wonderful” There was one night when I discovered a place where there were stars in the sky, stars m the air (the fireflies) and stars in the water ( the luminous plankton) so fabulous”. Simply seeing these things through his eyes is wonderment enough, and you can readily believe Irshad when he tells you how receptive the hotel guests are to these little excursions. As we speak, two specks come into the air, joined by two more and two more until six Brahminy Kites are flying in gorgeous swoops and arcs in the diamond blue sky. "They've come out to see you," he says with a smile.
Langkawi Geopark

Langkawi Geopark

May 2007. For over 35 years, academicians and naturalist have studied the Langkawi archipelago, which is part of the Gondwana Range, Ample data and information have been gathered on its biodiversity (flora and fauna) from both land and sea, Its geological information has been vast and comprehensive arising from 90 geological research sites or geosites registered. Geologists have proclaimed that Langkawi's geology isunique and transcend with very high heritage value. In recent years Langkawi has experience rapid urban expansion which resulting 40% lost of habitat and in turn threatens the success of tourism industry. In April 2003,  the first scientific and heritage expeditions to Langkawi organized by  Malaysia Nature Society, LADA and University Kebangsaan Malaysia to assess the biodiversity, natural resources and associated socio economic activity. On 19th Sept. 2006, LADA and the National University of Malaysia (UKM) jointly presented the concept papers on Langkawi Geopark at the 2nd UNESCO Conference on Geoparks in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Following this, a UNESCO evaluation delegation visited Langkawi within the year and the islands' UNESCO listing would be accorded by the 1st half of 2007 Under UNESCO a geopark will include the conservations of the heritage sites and the involvement of community especially in relation to tourism. Any development in Geopark areas are permitted so long as it is done in a controlled and planned manner. Involvement of local community is encouraged especially in tourist related industry. Geosites that have been developed as a recreational sites include Seven Wells waterfall, Temurun Waterfall, Kisap-Kilim area and Dayang bunting Lake. Pictures by Madi
Enjoying the Wild

Enjoying the Wild

ENJOYING THE WILD: ECO-TOURISM IN LANGKAWI By ROWENA. FORBES - 05  July 2007 One of Malaysia’s most accessible and beautiful tropical islands, Pulau Langkawi’s sun-drenched tropical climate, white powdered and black volcanic beaches, and welcoming people make it a popular tourist destination. However, there’s more to Langkawi life than beach-bumming, as Rowena Forbes discovered... As the peaceful surface of the river started to shudder, I moved out from under the boat’s shelter to feel the refreshing burst of large, warm raindrops on my skin. The air shifted, filling our nostrils with humid, lush aromas from the tropical undergrowth, and an undertone of sea salt. “It will soon pass,” our guide Irshad said calmly; and, sure enough, the deluge was over within minutes, while the resuming combination of hot sun and warm breeze speedily dried my white shirt as if nothing had happened. While the boat chugged slowly past leafy mangroves and majestic limestone outcrops, Irshad pointed out details that our slower senses would otherwise have missed: the colourful splash of a kingfisher skimming over green-tinged water; the slow, implacable blink of a sunbathing monitor lizard; the twisted knot of a slender snake, tied around a perilously high tree branch, and the heavy rustle of leaves that heralded the arrival of a long-tailed macaque monkey as it swung into view. Formerly a banker in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, Irshad Mobarak fell in love with Langkawi on his first visit several years ago, and was inspired by its beautiful, diverse and vulnerable ecology to become the area’s first naturalist. Now employed by the Datai Bay Resort, he leads boat tours through mangrove swamps, fishing villages and bat caves, and nature walks through tropical forests. The rest of his time is devoted to conservation, fighting to preserve Langkawi’s fragile, fragmented ecosystem in the face of increasing development. An intelligent, charismatic man, with gentle brown eyes and a warm, steady voice, Irshad has an engaging and infectious passion for his surroundings. Every sighting is accompanied by a wealth of background detail, from the flying habits of swifts (which can apparently feed, mate and sleep on the wing), to the physical and financial struggles of loggers, who harvest wood from the mangroves to support their families. The trip is an entertaining, thought-provoking insight into a side of Langkawi that could easily be overlooked in favour of the more obvious pleasures of this tropical getaway: luxurious resorts with private beaches; cheap shopping; watersport activities, and delectable Malaysian cuisine. As Irshad is quick to point out, tourism has boosted the local economy and brought development and many positive opportunities to this little agricultural community. Yet the damaging effects all too often associated with the industry need to be tackled carefully. Responsible eco-tourism can help. Rounding into an open bay, we were greeted by the spectacular vision of numerous magnificent birds of prey performing shooting swoops and dives as they circled overhead. An awesome display, it was nonetheless tinged with sadness, as Irshad explained that the birds were attracted by chicken pieces thrown from the boats of other tourist operators. This practice not only upsets the birds’ natural diet and feeding habits, but also increases the likelihood of disease spreading from contaminated meat: a possibility that Irshad is convinced will one day become a reality, when the birds will disappear from the skies as swiftly as the rains do. “With more education, tourists will hopefully stop this practice, and the birds will be safe again,” he sighed, his warm eyes riveted to the skies as the kites and eagles cried above us. Both the sight and sentiment are inspiring, given to us by someone who is so obviously in love with one of the region’s most beautiful islands, and so happy to share his hidden treasures with us – Langkawi’s lucky guests.