Filled with Natural Wonders

Saturday January 1, 2011

LANGKAWI is the only place in the country to spot the Mountain Hawk Eagle and Brown Winged Kingfisher and it is the easiest place in Malaysia to see the Wreathed Hornbill, Great Hornbill and Oriental Pied Hornbill.

Naturist and birding enthusiast Irshad Mobarak said that on Gunung Raya, avid bird watchers were guaranteed to catch a glimpse of the hornbills on any given day.

“There are 10 hornbill species in Kedah,” he said, adding that five years ago, an astonishing 142 Great Hornbills were seen at one location, creating a national record for Langkawi.

He said Langkawi boasted more than 226 species of birds and in the last decade, was popular among bird watchers from Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, England and Scandinavia.

Of the world’s 54 hornbill species, some 20% can be found in Malaysia

“In Langkawi, you can find low-land forests, mangrove swamps and wetlands within minutes of each other,” he said.

“Because of the diverse landscape, you have myriad birds and creatures.

“That is why it is important for us to conserve Langkawi’s nature — our full tourism potential has yet to be realised.”

Irshad, who has been conducting birding and nature tours for the last 20 years, said mangrove river tours at the Kilim Geo-Forest Park is a “must-do” for nature lovers.

“Two decades ago, I was among the pioneer group who started bird watching tours here. Then, there was only one long tail boat to ferry passengers but now there are more than 100 fibreglass ones zooming past.”

He cited speeding boats as a major threat to the ecology as they caused soil erosion.

There are about 55 mangrove tree species in the world and more than 26 species can be found in Langkawi.

“It’s heartbreaking when the tide is low and you can see how much of the mangrove roots are exposed due to erosion. The carrying capacity for tourists aboard boats must be regulated,” Irshad said.

He said regulations were needed to ensure that boat and tour operators were respectful of nature and mindful of the destruction they could cause.

Irshad said the mangrove river where the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Anna and The King’ was filmed was “the most beautiful coastal river in Malaysia”.

“This is an unbeatable world-class attraction but we need to make it sustainable so the locals will continue to benefit for generations to come,” he said.

“Nowhere else have I seen such a scenic landscape of 450-year-old limestone forests and many diverse plants along one river ride.”

Otters and water monitors are common sightings.

“The Bryde’s Whale and Pink Dolphins in the open sea were sometimes seen back in the day but with the many boats now, they have rarely been spotted,” he said, adding that Langkawi had more than 500 butterflies species.

“We will lose all of these precious attractions if we fail to protect our natural habitat,” he warned.