Saturday, September 24, 2011

Murder at the Datai

Case: Murder of a Female Great Hornbill.

"Twenty years ago at the Datai Bay Resort. The staffs were sitting outside along the pavement waiting for their transport home. They heard the loud crack of the bullet which tore the sky and watched in horror as a female hornbill was shot and hurtled to the ground just a distance away from them. A motorcyclist sped past, stopping only to sweep up the hornbill and went on his way. And this. I promise you. From my heart I promise you, the male hornbill flew back to its position where it perched next to its mate just before it was shot, everyday for four months. Just calling, crying out for her. It was only after a year and 6 months on before it finally moved on and found itself another mate."

If Nature is nothing more than a mystery to you, meet Irshad Mobarak. His physique of an American footballer automatically commands your attention. His ebullience when speaking on the subject of nature, explaining the intricacies of the web of life in which we have a part in, enthralls his audience. He lives up to his namesake. Irshad. Meaning direction, guidance. He speaks the language of the jungle and translates it for anyone who stops long enough to listen. 

We make a stop at the side of the road to take a closer look at the playful dusky langur monkeys and Irshad takes the opportunity to educate us on the medicinal properties of this nondescript invasive plant species that are frequently found at the side of expressways. Even ECP. Yes. East Coast Park Expressway back here in Singapore. Keep a look out for it in future.

Travelling up Gunung Raya was a leisurely ride. I had the luxury of taking the front seat with Shaaban Arshad, an equally knowledgeable team member of Junglewalla. Windows are wound down to allow the cool mountain breeze to refresh the senses and we hear the crystal clear sounds of nature echo all around us on Gunung Raya- the highest peak at 881m on the island of Langkawi.

Initially reserved, I was surprised to see Shaaban suddenly reach out to point to the dusky langur monkeys in the camouflage of the forest. He drives along quietly only for the sole reason of listening intently to the sounds he has well become accustomed to but picking them out for the untrained ears of tourists like me. He gestures towards the sounds of the tree frog and cicadas to share more as he continues driving towards the bottom of the mountain. I wish I had more time in the mountains. 

I lean myself further out of the window hoping to get that much closer to these amazing sights and sounds of nature.

Then Irshad has used words to do just that and more. He breathes life into these pages of colorful birds in a well used bird watching book kept in his slingbag. There is a world of difference between reading the guide book and listening to his explanations and anecdotes. Speaking animatedly with expansive body language, I was momentarily amused by his mimic of the red-wattled lapwing "Peeteetitdooweet" and drawn into his bitesized anecdotes of the ways in which this bird fakes injuries to waylay potential predators from their pursuit of its mottled eggs laid at ground level. "This bird deserves an Emmy!"

So does this man who speaks with a genuine love of nature and its kind in hopes to educate in order to protect.

It's pretty obvious which are the birds I actually caught on camera. The drawbacks of a point and shoot. I think we've done pretty well with our birds of prey though. :) 

Langkawi is resplendent with turquoise seas and sandy beaches. About 80% of the island's economy invariably linked to tourism which makes it hard to keep out the increasing destruction man consequentially causes to life. This ecological gem of an island needs more eco-minded people to drive its tourism industry. For the richness of the flora and fauna that attract people to its shores are also the ones being cleared out at an alarming rate for purposes cited as an economic necessity.

For Irshad and his team, they have worked hard to make this statement, "Cleared forests equate to cleared hotel rooms." A simple truth laid bare for many including the relevant authorities to think about. While I have no doubt in the ability of nature to remain resilient to the increasing threats it faces but this allowance to be abused by mankind is but only to a certain extent. I look on as Irshad plucks a leaf from here, crushes another leaf from there. This is the fine balance where he manages an access to nature and its wonders, taking just a little to illustrate and explain it so that people would come to appreciate its inherent value and beauty. Otherwise, how can we protect what we don't understand?

These men are living legends on this mythical island of legends and I leave their nature walk with a fuelled passion to learn more and try to help in ways in which I can live a better life in tandem with nature. And hey, I did better than just finding Tarzan. ;)

I'm starting by paying it forward with this blogpost.

Feel the love, share the knowledge, save the Earth.

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