With new lockdowns and closure of international borders, wildlife has been an increasingly common sight in Malaysia’s urban areas. But what does this mean? This commentary was first published on Channel News Asia and is republished here with permission.
[First posted May 27, 2021]
WHO DOESN’T like animal videos? Malaysians certainly do.
With unending COVID-19 lockdowns, a subset of these have become social media favourites: Wild animals in urban areas.
Such visuals feed into the pandemic mantra of “Look how nature recovers when we humans are out of the picture”. But how true is that?
(Photo: Visuals of cute animals in human environments have been going viral during Covid-19; this one hasn’t but registers on the cute scale ~ Pic by Nuratiqah AR )
MANTANANI native Mohd Faizul bin Madali is twiddling his thumbs waiting for the pandemic to end and tourists to return.
He is a divemaster and has been without work since lockdowns began in March 2020, relying instead on his family to support him.
“Previously, my life was diving, eating, sleeping,” says the 22-year-old. “Now, it’s eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping.”
He says virtually everyone in his village of 100 people has been dependent on tourism. The same is true of the other, larger village on Mantanani, the only inhabited island of a small group off Sabah’s northwest coast.
Back to fishing
With tourists still unable to visit, many islanders have returned to fishing as a way to make a living. As Faizul remarks, there are very few alternatives: “Where else are we going to get an income if not from the sea?”
When asked if they use fish bombs, he is quick to respond: “No, no, no! Not any more.” If fish-bombing is taking place around the islands, he is adamant the perpetrators are “outsiders, maybe from Kota Kinabalu [on the mainland]”.
Faizul has reported to the authorities the intrusion of non-local fishing boats during lockdown, incensed that they used nets in shallow waters, destroying the coral.
“I felt sad because the coral used to be alive, but they killed it. Thank goodness there are laws [to tackle this]… Tourism also depends on corals being beautiful and healthy. Who wants to look at dead corals? And Chinese tourists are very particular!”
A certified “eco-diver”, Faizul is also part of Reef Check Malaysia’s Mantanani Youth Club, a capacity-building conservation initiative, and takes an active part in the NGO’s reef surveys.
Unlike other islanders, however, he has not turned to fishing to make ends meet: “How would I know how to do that? What I can do is bring people diving and teach them how to dive.”
Forced to stay home from the Movement Control Order, Tan Win Sim reflects on his – and our – deteriorating connection with nature.
A WISPY layer of dust has settled on my binoculars. Much to my dismay, I cannot recall the last time I went out for a stroll down untrodden paths while enjoying the gentle breeze and listening to the cheerful tweets of forest birds.
The Melaka Botanical Garden, just a stone’s throw from my hometown in Jasin, has always been one of my favourite birding spots.
While the Garden’s bird diversity pales in comparison to that of Panti Bird Sanctuary or Endau Rompin National Park, it is still a bird haven in the sprawling urban landscape of Melaka.
(Photo: A Grey-bellied Bulbul taking a dip in a relatively undisturbed forest in Johor. Such a clear stream is almost impossible to find in the Malaysian urban landscape. Pic by Tan Win Sim)
Many conservation groups struggled to keep finances and operations running.
Amidst the turbulence, Malaysians continue to see our environment degrade: pollution of rivers and coasts; clear-felling and degazettement of forest reserves for economic activities; human-elephant conflicts; and poaching.
In their own words, conservationists share their their struggles during the Covid-19 pandemic. Part of Macaranga‘s Taking Stock series, these stories were written based on interviews; all interviewees approved the text.
Sabah’s beautiful islands can be managed so that tourists, nature and local livelihoods co-exist.This is the second of a two-parter on ecotourism in Macaranga’s Taking Stock series. .
FOR YEARS now, mass tourism has been impacting the environmental health of coral islands off Sabah’s west coast. Among them is the Mantanani three-island group, located off the northwestern tip of Borneo.
But there are far fewer tourists now as the pandemic stifles travel. Some islanders are using the lull to try new businesses and better manage their environment.
(Photo: Sun, sea and surf have turned Mantanani into a major tourist draw. Pic by Reef Check Malaysia)