Rest in peace, Te Piek by Evelyn Teh

Te Piek - the bright-eyed and confident little langur

Te Piek - the bright-eyed and confident little langur

The many volunteers of the Langur Project Penang (LPP) have come to recognise Te Piek as an endearing male juvenile dusky leaf monkey (or langurs) who is playful and loves to explore the habitat which he finds home near the Teluk Bahang forest.

His given name, Te Piek (which means ‘unique’ in Hokkien) came from his curiosity and intelligence, and he is always seen playing with a stick, or leading the other juveniles for playtime & foraging. Although he is a bright-eyed, independent and brave little langur, Te Piek as a juvenile is still very much attached to his mother; following her closely wherever they move around in the trees.

Langurs are arboreal animals, which mean they groom, forage, play and rest on trees. However, forests today are often fragmented due to urban development such as highways - which made it difficult for wildlife to cross over from tree to tree for food and shelter. It has become a challenge for them to leap safely from one side to the other as the canopies of trees become sparse due to the fragmentation. In many cases, arboreal animals such as langurs have resorted to the electrical cables to get across, where available.

On 13th August, 7:15pm – a fellow LPP volunteer came across the lifeless body of a dusky leaf monkey by the roadside. Upon closer inspection – it was a male juvenile who had actually lost his balance on the electrical cable during a routine travel across the road to the trees opposite the road for food and rest. The juvenile had fallen onto the road and succumbed to a severe trauma when his small head hit the curb.

It was Te Piek, he didn’t make it across the road that evening.

LPP arriving at the scene where Te Peik's lifeless body was found

LPP arriving at the scene where Te Peik's lifeless body was found

The LPP team managed to arrive at scene around 10pm to retrieve Te Piek’s body. As part of the documentation, his weight and different parts of his body length were measured before he is preserved in an ice-box which would be transported to PERHILITAN for further action.

Juvenile langurs have less experience compared to adults, they risk losing their lives each time they attempt to get across the roads. Whether through the fate suffered by Te Piek or getting killed by a moving vehicle, we seldom stop to think how this happened – not realising how vulnerable the lives of these defenceless langurs are. And how everything changed for Te Piek’s close knitted family, that evening he tragically lost his balance from the electrical cable and fell to his death.

LPP stands for giving a voice to the voiceless natural inhabitants of Penang. The loss of Te Piek further strengthens our belief that there is much work to be done, words to be spread and awareness to be sown to the public. In the midst of rapid urban development, everyone of us actually have a role to play as a responsible citizen.

As a start, kindly practice caution and avoid speeding when you drive along the Batu Feringgi – Teluk Bahang roads as these areas are known to be habitat of the langurs and other wildlife. Secondly, if you come across wildlife road kills - please alert PERHILITAN through this number 1-800-88-5151 so that the body of the animals could be handled properly.

After all that has been said and done – the passing of Te Piek has broken many hearts of the volunteers of LPP. Needless to say, we will all miss him and his quiet, gleeful moments playing with the sticks he picks up from the forest he called home. We hope everyone would also come to know and appreciate the lives of the langurs by understanding how vulnerable their lives are. As the saying goes, “Tak kenal maka tak sayang”.

In the fondest memory of Te Piek (Feb 2015- 13 August 2016)

Te Piek & his mother, Ah Hoon.

Te Piek & his mother, Ah Hoon.

Pulau Gazumbo by Evelyn Teh

During the early hours at Pulau Gazumbo

Visiting this seagrass bed brings out the inner marine biologist in me again. It has been a great experience to finally step foot on the seagrass area of Gazumbo island which is still existing in Penang despite the rapid coastal development. Middle Bank is another area of seagrass bed which is slightly north of Gazumbo island - apparently the second largest intact seagrass area in the Peninsula Malaysia, after Sungai Pulai in Johor. During very low tide, the large sandbank that connects Middle Bank to Gazumbo Island will be exposed, revealing the ecosystem connectivity between these two areas. It is vital to preserve this sensitive habitat as they support a high marine biodiversity.

Seagrass beds are home to anemones, crustaceans, mollusks - aside from being important nursery ground for juvenile fishes. Seagrass beds are also significant carbon sequester and help mitigate the effects of climate change. Pulau Gazumbo and Middle Bank are undoubtedly among the very few left of Penang's marine natural heritage - which deserves our conservation priority and attention now before it is gone forever.

The changing landscape of Janda Baik by Evelyn Teh

An article produced from the HSBC-Wild Asia Responsible Journalists Programme held in Janda Baik, Pahang, in Oct 2010.

A view of the misty Banjaran Titiwangsa from Janda Baik in the early morning

If Janda Baik was your home, you would wake up each morning surrounded by forest. In the distance, you’d hear the clear Sungai Benus rushing against cold rocks. In the distance, the Banjaran Titiwangsa spreads before your eyes, the great shadows veiled by mists. Often, you might see a flock of hornbills flying across the horizon.

This was Janda Baik before the 1990s. It is the home of Fred Suriya, a French woman who has lived herefor the past ten years after she married a local. Fred laments that this highland is but a dim shadow of its past. Unmonitored development is rapidly taking over the place – stripping its natural heritage as the days go by. Now, you will hear the rattling of tractors as they clear the forest. The sound of rushing water  is replaced by silent ripples in a shallowed-out river. Rubbish from urban picnickers dot the roadside, filling the air with decomposing waste. And only if you are lucky would you catch the silhouette of a lone hornbill, perched on a tall but leafless tree in the unreachable distance.

Village between the rivers

A drying river

Janda Baik is a comparatively lesser-known area of Bentong in Pahang which is located about a half-hour’s drive from Bukit Tinggi. Nestled between two rivers, Sungai Sum Sum and Sungai Benus, Janda Baik consists of five villages. They are Kampung Janda Baik, Kampung Sum Sum, Kampung Hulu Lurau and Kampung Chempuruh, which is where the indigenous people, the Temuan Belanda, live.

Famed for its biodiversity, it is said that Janda Baik was home to a high diversity of birds such as the majestic hornbills; wildlife such as pangolins, deer, slow Loris, civet cats and monkeys. In the past, pristine rivers – Sungai Benus being the main tributary – teemed with fishes. The local community, consisting mostly of the Temuan Belanda and Malays, used to be self-sustainable. They derived their food from the forest, from subsistence farming or forest produce harvesting or hunting or fishing.

Land for second homes

Janda Baik was first explored in the early 1970s for farming and logging, some of which have likely been illegal. Since the 1990s, real estate has been the crowd-puller for the rich who want a home away from the city. Janda Baik is promoted as a premier location for private estates in the middle of a pristine forest. Developers, such as Tanah Rimba by Sitrac Corporation, widely promoted Janda Baik as the destination for a second home tucked away in a haven of untouched nature. The houses built by the architects at Tanah Rimba were designed to blend in with the natural environment and have won various awards.

This is not the case for land sold to private individuals. Alwin Din, who used to be a staff at Tanah Rimba, says, “What used to be virgin forests were usually cleared to the ground for construction. Then, juvenile trees would be replanted in the yard as part of the landscaping feature.” As a local of Janda Baik, Alwin is concerned about the direction of development and construction taking place in the area.

One of the pieces of land in Janda Baik that has been cleared to make way for the construction of a new home

Where draws the line?

This is not the case for Saat Awanga, 60, who has lived in Kampung Janda Baik all his life. “It is good for Janda Baik to be developed. It stimulates the economy and generates income for the locals here. We’ll also have more infrastructure,” he opines. A single man, Saat owns a fruit orchard and sells his produce to the local market or those in Bukit Tinggi and Kuala Lumpur. Although most of his relatives have moved to more developed areas like Gombak and Kuala Lumpur, he has found no reason to leave and thinks development should come to Janda Baik instead.

Local ecotourism operators, however, have a differing opinion, albeit not opposing, about development in Janda Baik. “As a local resident and an ecotourism operator, we are not against development as long as it is done in a sustainable manner. Throughout the history of Janda Baik, there has been very little display of such (sustainability) and hence, the environment has been degrading,” says Alwin. Growing up in Janda Baik, he remembers the forest and highlands of his youth when his family would hunt and fish for food. The air was crisper and the temperature lower. With depleting forest coverage, the biodiversity of birds and wildlife have also been diminishing.

If the development in Janda Baik continues without monitoring and control, the highland may be at risk from irreversible degradation. Alwin fears that the rich natural resources and the river for which Janda Baik is known for may just be something we remember from the past. Already, locals are noticing signs of a changing landscape. Will these changes be for Janda Baik’s good or detriment?