Immerse In nature

Langkawi situated just off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia comprises a group of 104 tropical islands during the low tides and 99 Island during the high tides. The main island Langkawi, is 47. 848 Hectare followed by Pulau Dayang Bunting and Pulau Tuba while some of the others appear to be mere dots in the emerald green ocean when viewed from the air. In Langkawi 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 and observation of its jungles, mangroves and wildlife.

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 at Natural History Tours reckon that the edge Langkawi has over places like Bali and Phuket is its jungle and wildlife.

As such Irshad and his team have been actively involved in preserving Langkawi’s natural environment. His social-responsible company provides real ecotourism experiences such as nature walks, birdwatching, jungle-trekking and mangrove tours in kayaks or motorized boats without the gimmicks activities involve.

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.

Not only is Irshad fully acquainted with information on the wildlife in Langkawi, he is also great at handling children. His young explorer club is a hit for student’s summer program in Malaysia and tourists traveling with their 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, who’s especially love birds, said Langkawi has recorded 200 species of birds, including brown winged kingfisher, black hooded oriole and mountain hawk eagle. The mountain hawk eagle which can be identified by its very pronounced crest with two feathers can only be found in Langkawi and Irshad has recorded 3 different individual here.

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. But it also possessed a danger of Habitat-fragmentations. One of Irshad ongoing project is planting figs 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. This is one way to counter the negative effects of habitat fragmentations and we hope to see the results in 10 years, Irshad said. Visitors can also get involved in this program by purchasing trees and plant it during their visit to Langkawi (

Who is the Jungle-Wallah of Langkawi?

In the 80s, the Negri Sembilan-born Irshad was a decathlete and rugby player employed by a major bank institution. 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 realized that what he really wanted was to be closer to nature. So I quit my job, traveled and bummed around for a couple of years, said Irshad, 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 Resident-naturalist. And today, after 19 years, he is so well-versed in the subject, he is considered an expert. He has trained many individual who is now employed by other hotels as their own Resident-naturalist and some of them work as independent nature guides.

Irshad considered 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 steward of the Earth. He is recently won DiGi Amazing Malaysians Award 2007, an award for Malaysians who were nominated by the public for their passion and dedication in heritage conservation.
by Peter R Stewart