Discover the Biodiverse World of Langkawi with a Passionate Conservationist
Langkawi is a well-known destination in Malaysia with five star resorts in all corners of the island. One of the reasons it is such a popular destination is the sheer beauty of its nature. You will find everything from stunning beaches to ancient rainforests.
Nestled among these tropical beaches and crucial rainforests lies a true gem of conservation and preservation efforts. Meet Muhammad Firdaus Dev, the Nature Centre Manager at The Datai Langkawi who embodies the spirit of protection and care for the island’s rich and diverse ecosystem.
Dev, who dubs himself a “nature guide, conservationist, tree planter, nursery person, and tree hugger,” is more than just a title-holder. He is a passionate advocate for Langkawi’s natural beauty, dedicating his life to preserving the island’s diverse flora and fauna for future generations. His knowledge of the island’s natural world is deep and his enthusiasm infectious. This modern-day Lord of the Jungle is a man on a mission.
We had the privilege of a private tour of ‘his’ jungle to gain a unique insight into his work, his love for Langkawi, and his vision for a greener future. Deborah Henry managed to asked a few questions and he showed the guests of the latest Enrich Luxe Retreats the sheer beauty and importance of this unique rainforest.
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This island is pretty special right?
Ooh, this island is just amazing. It’s just magnetic, this place is breath-taking. The beaches are breath-taking, the jungle, Oh My God, the insects, and the birdlife is just amazing. Just walking around with a pair of binoculars, there is just so much to see. You might get hornbills flying by. You walk into the bush and you see a Colugo for example. A Colugo has been called a ‘Flying Lemur’. It’s not a Lemur, it is a mammal that lives up in trees. It’s got wings, or skin flaps from its forearms to its legs including the tail, and it glides from tree to tree.
The main reason as to why we have so many gliding animals is because the canopy has all the bush on top and then the floor in between there’s nothing much. So animals have decided the only way to hop from one tree to another is to just glide. So we have the Big-5. Flying Snakes, Flying Lizards, Flying Squirrels, Flying Lemurs, and the Colugo, so there you go. They all decided climbing up and down trees is just too much trouble, they decided to glide from tree to tree. Of course scientist they like to glamourise a little bit; instead of calling them just gliding lizards, they call them “flying lizards”.
And then there are the flowers. Take the orchids, for instance, they are very versatile. Whenever I go into the bush and I see a broken branch lying with an orchid attached to it, I take it off, bring them home, and help it survive. Some orchids I’ve managed to propagate to six pots. These here are the Paphiopedilum Niveum, this is one of the most special orchids found in Langkawi. It’s a slipper orchid. And do you know how much this particular orchid is worth in England? Up to 50 pounds.
Why I’m telling you about orchids is because orchids are versatile. If I were to split a plant into 4 and plant on either ends of the island – north, south, east, west – in due time, that particular plant would change to accommodate the insects found in that area and in due time they will become a sub-species. This is a such a versatile plant.
Langkawi is extremely biodiverse! There are 535 species of butterflies on the island, which tells you how biodiverse it is. That is almost double the amount of butterfly species you have in the whole of Australia, just in Langkawi alone. That’s why Langkawi has to be managed extremely well.
What would you say is one thing that all people should know about. Something that is really important, something that can really change how people live their lives?
The amount of oxygen these trees produce! These trees produce such a high amount of oxygen, it allows you to breathe proper air, there is no taint of any smoke. Everything is just so blissful. The benefits of walking in the jungle are amazing. If you spend just 5 minutes in the bush, your stress levels will drop. The Japanese have a term for that: Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, which is the art of spending time in nature and connecting with your environment through all your senses.
There is a lot of things going on in the sea as well. Could you share what you are doing to protect the coral reefs and the marine life?
We’ve got something called the Datai pledge and under this pledge we have “Wildlife for the Future”, which concentrates on terrestrial management and then we have “Fish for the Future”, which manages the marine bay. This is important because if one is not in a good form it may affect the other one. Imagine if these trees were not looked after, that would play a detrimental role for its environment.
So “Fish for the Future”, I can drag on this interview for another 1 hour. Let me show you, this is a model of an artificial reef. Try and imagine this artificial reef as big as this room. And the Datai has placed 5 in the Bay. The idea was to put it in there and allow it to take its natural course where coral would eventually amass and that would invite fish. And… it has succeeded. In a recent dive that Najwa and Mukhris did, my colleagues who are marine biologists, they found an estimated 5 tons of fish in there, which in 3 years is just out of this world. Now locals can come and just fish and take as much as possible and that saves it from having locals actually dropping anchors on natural reefs.
You also have a youth programme. Tell me about that.
Yeah we see it is an investment in the future, hence the “Youth for the Future” programme. We are involved with schools and their students. We get them to come over here and show them what we’re doing, so that they can comprehend that we’re trying to create something that we can give or leave behind. So Youth for the Future spends a huge amount of time with young children. We’re getting volunteers to come here and spend a few weeks with us. It may be rough work for them, but they are hands-on. Putting up a camera trap in the bush, for example. Walking with our Naturalists, setting it up. That gives you an idea that we are actually interested in the wildlife that’s going on around here. And those reports are actually important for Wildlife for the Future, and that completes the whole picture.
Here at The Datai we have also something called Ocean’s Drifters. It is a little program that we run where young people go to the sea, pull nets that channel plankton into a special bottle and that bottle is then brought over here. We place the contents into petri dishes and then we use a special microscope to look at it. The microscope is displayed onto a desktop TV which helps to explain this lifeform to young people. The reaction we get from these kids is just unbelievable, when they see micro-plankton just growing inside the water and swimming and looking really big. Some even used terms like monsters. And some of them have said Oh My God we didn’t know there were so much in the sea.
With this sort of educational programs, they go back with different thoughts in their mind about nature and how they should live. And of course they say, the next time you want to drop something into the sea, think again. So we have our specialists, Marine Biologists, running this activity. And kids seem to like it. Let me show you something. This is an origami frog, made by an 8-year-old girl who came here months ago. Her name is Ashley. She just came back here yesterday, and she gave me this. “This is for you, I made this for you”. That’s the sense of appreciation we get. That’s good enough for me you know.
Enrich Luxe Retreats Langkawi
Dev took the guests of the latest Enrich Luxe Retreats experience on a tour of the jungle. Watch the video below and get a sense of both his enthusiasm and the beauty of Langkawi.