Adventure into Nature. Borneo Bulletin. Sat/Sun 24/25 January 1998 . Irshad Mobarak speaks to Maria. A rapidly growing aspect of tourism is nature. Dubbed ecotourism, it is a timely effort towards preserving the natural heritage and environment of tourist destinations. It is also a smart move as more and more major tourist destinations are losing their appeal along with the attractions they advertise.
This is due in part to the ‘material’ travellers who are insensitive to the impact they make on the places they visit. But unlimited developments in these tourist destinations would be a major factor should there be a decline in tourist arrivals to South East Asian destinations. But these tourist destinations hopefully will allot plenty of space for their natural charm, instead of trying to improve on what’s already perfect. Nature is perfectly beautiful as it is.
Irshad Mobarak, a naturalist residing in Langkawi believes that the natural heritage of the island, if managed well, makes it a very competitive eco tourist destination. “You see 55% of the island is under natural cover. Many interesting flora and fauna are to be found here. For example, we have 2 endemic Cycads that you can’t find anywhere else on earth, one endemic palm you can’t find even in mainland Malaysia. When I say endemic here it is to Langkawi, one orchid endemic to Langkawi, one butterfly endemic to us, 8 endemic amphibians, freshwater crabs. Unique because of the nature of the island providing different habitats,” he said.
The Cycads of Langkawi, the Symensis and Langkawensis are found in Tanjung Ring, (Casuarina Bay) and are about 800 years old and just 1 metre long. It takes 200 years to grow these palm like plants. Cycad is the common name for a phylum of slow growing palm like plants and for its representative genus. They were the dominant plant life during the age of the Dinosaurs, the Jurassic Period some 200 million years ago. Today only 11 genera and 150 species of arcade remain and are in danger of extinction because of indiscriminate collectors. “Then you have the normal dipterocarp forest with different types of trees. On the Northeast coast is an expansive range of mangrove forest, collectively you have lots of birds and animals that are quite interesting. Most interesting perhaps are the hornbills. We have 1 big and 2 moderate size species which you can observe closely up at Gunung Raya. There is a nice track up the mountain by car,” he added.
Irshad, who also leads tourists for nature walks and jungle treks also agrees that nature is becoming a major part of travel. He clearly loves the island but although he is keen on promoting its highly competitive ecotourism aspects, he is also realistic about the problems that arise from short term developments which he addresses. “You can’t lose in ecotourism, especially the rainforest because they are disappearing everywhere at such an incredible rate.
This commodity is going to be more sought after. More animals are disappearing and people will rush to see them before they’re gone. There used to be turtles landing here on this very beach, Pantai Cenang. It was the best turtle beach, especially the green turtles. But you see the development has destroyed their natural habitat. In my early days here, the baby turtles would be distracted by the lights and they head for the pools. They were fishing out at least 10 baby turtles in the swimming pool at one of the resorts. These creatures we must remember have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and if you want to compare human beings, if the earth is 4 billion years old, we’ve been here about 4.8 minutes, if you put it down to one year.
“If Langkawi or any other place for that matter, wants to go long term then it’s got to think of the eco traveller. It’s a natural process; more people are just heading towards it. The amusement park, you’ve done it. It’s not a thrill anymore. But if you come here and look for nature and you haven’t completely seen all the birds, it would be just like secrets opening to you and you want to come back. I’ve seen people come back four times, bird watching.
“The long term is this traveller. He’s more con¬scious on what impact he’s going to have on the community. He will not be the one that disrupts the social structure of the villages. I mean, he’s a more conscious, soft traveller, kinder to the planet, kinder to the places he visits and definitely longer room rates in the economic aspect of it.”
The challenge, he says, is to develop the island without losing its natural heritage. There will al¬ways be the material traveller and we have to provide an area for them, but control the onset of too many short term developments. “People try to make as much money as they can. But that’s human nature. We only think of the now and for ourselves. We don’t even think as far as our grandchild. The planet wouldn’t be in the state it’s in if we all just thought of our grandchild we’re leaving behind. We, our generation would be blamed. We are the generation that can help to change it because we are at the breaking point, at the turning point. We must change. But there’s something missing in humans now. We all look at this haze problem, and we are looking at the small picture. The true picture is there’s something missing in the hu¬man spirit, an emptiness in us that we are blind to. We’ve lost that spiritual side, that kinder side of us. We’re just gaining. We’re seeing it many places. Unimpeded unlimited developing against the law of nature. Of course you can develop but sometimes we just go too far in excess. I think that’s the wrong criteria of success”.
Irshad has led a completely different life before Langkawi. He was in the banking line in Kuala Lumpur until he faced a turning point in his life. Restless, he travelled, worked in a few places on recreational aspects and went to Tioman Island. “When I came back from Tioman, I knew I had to do something with nature. And I had a couple of dreams in my life that was important. That was sort of like a sign post in your life. I have been on Langkawi Island for 9 years now doing a little bit of what I do now and I only went full time for the last 5 years. There’s a lot of lessons from nature. You see lessons from nature. “In Taoism, a philosophy that transcends many faiths, the criteria of success is how well you have duplicated your life on the principles of the forest, on nature, how much nature you have adopted in your life.
For example: Nothing dies in the rainforest. A seed grows into a tree. The tree grows full then mature till it drops and is recycled. It becomes something else. It didn’t truly die in that sense Why destroy a forest to build another forest? In other words we destroy it and then we plant. You already have it there, no investment needed, no money needed. God made it. Nature, the best investor, made the investment. Millions of years the system is there. We’ve been here only 4.8 min¬utes and we’re really messing things up.” Major tourist destinations in South East Asia have been using nature, wildlife, white sandy beaches and such to attract travellers the world over. Sadly, what you find in most of these places now are concrete jungles and muddy beaches because of excessive developments. And the wildlife ? Soon there will be more homeless orang utans and elephants, etc. because ‘modern developments’ have no use for them. If this goes on, there will be thousands of empty luxury resorts in SE Asia.