Finding Wang Kelian’s treasure trove

Special show: At the screening of Wang Kelian – the Forgotten Valley documentary at Golden Screen Cinema, LaLaport in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Until recently, Wang Kelian has been in the news for the wrong reasons, but the small Perlis town that borders Thailand is actually a treasure trove of rare animals and plants, the most elusive being the Beruk Kentoi.

Even in its native habitat in the Nakawan hills that tower over the border town, the Beruk Kentoi, or stumped-tailed macaque, is rarely seen and can only be found in the area.

Residents and conservationists say the primate is reflective of the area’s natural beauty and they hope that this can help turn Wang Kelian into an ecotourism hub, which would then preserve its unique karsts and forests from exploitation and destruction.

The story of the Beruk Kentoi was captured in a 30-minute film, Wang Kelian – the Forgotten Valley, which follows Perlis Wildlife and Nature (PNW) founder Syamil Abd Rahman, who has been documenting the primates since 2016.

Curious about the macaques, Syamil, a Wang Kelian native, said he started recording sightings of these primates which are known for the pink patches around their eyes and a strong scent.

“At first, I wanted to read up about the macaques but there was not much information available. So I decided to start documenting them with my friends and posting about them online.

“Other residents and Malaysians across the country started to show interest in discovering the macaque and Wang Kelian, and I have been documenting them until today,” he said when met at the film’s screening at LaLaport on Saturday.

Tham Ngui Long, another Wang Kelian native featured in the film, has been a local guide for eight years and advocating for the preservation of Wang Kelian’s biodiversity for the next generation.

“One day, we might lose all of this beautiful heritage to development. I am all for tourism, but we need to understand and learn what must be done to preserve the environment. I always tell tourists and locals to remember that nature will always be here and it is us that will leave the world, so we must respect the places we visit,” he said.The film takes viewers on a journey through the forests and hills of Wang Kelian and nearby Kaki Bukit, showcasing the unique ecosystem that has developed around the Nakawan karsks.The film’s producer, Peter Ong, said the documentary has received positive feedback from locals.

“Since the documentary was aired in August, it has generated interest from the public for travel to Perlis,” said Ong, a wildlife photographer.

“I want people to see how beautiful our home is, and hopefully it will ignite curiosity among the locals to learn more about our nature and heritage,” he said, adding that ecotourism will benefit Wang Kelian’s local economy.The last time Wang Kelian was in the news was when 147 mass graves were discovered in the surrounding forests and sand hills, which contained the bodies of 130 Rohingya migrants who died trying to cross into Malaysia from Thailand.

A 2019 Royal Commission of Inquiry concluded that human trafficking syndicates had been smuggling migrants through the Wang Kelian area and keeping them in prison camps deep in the forests. Four Thai nationals had been extradited and charged in the Kangar court over their role in the syndicate.

Despite the negativity surrounding the town, Ong hoped that the film would spark a sense of pride about Wang Kelian and the responsibility to preserve its biodiversity.

“When I tried to capture the Kentoi macaques on film, there was hardly any information on them. I had to dig until I discovered Syamil and his findings.

“I think it is our role as citizens to give back. In Malaysia, we often rely on NGOs or the government, but we hope to show that the public can take part and become citizen scientists,” he said.

Ong has also published a 150-page dual-language book in English and Bahasa Malaysia documenting the biodiversity of Wang Kelian.

The book retails for RM120 and is available at major bookstores in Kuala Lumpur, the Gerakbudaya online store as well as directly from Roots and Shoots Malaysia or the Perlis Nature and Wildlife website.

The film is on Astro Channel 100 throughout this month.

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