“HOLD it firmly but gently, and don’t make any sudden movements.” That was the advice I received when I posed for a photo with an Oriental vine snake.
Pretty good advice I would say as I had never held a snake before in my life. I don’t have a phobia of snakes, but that doesn’t mean I’m fond of them. So, it came as a complete surprise to me that I handled a snake (OK, it was a small one) on a recent night hike.
And I have a confession to make. I hadn’t heard of the term herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) before I went on the night hike in Taman Rimba Kiara last week.
The three-and-a-half hour nature walk, organised by the Malaysian Nature Society and HELP Academy, was a real eye-opener to me and I now have a better understanding of snakes and frogs.
The majority of the participants were in their early twenties. This surprised me somewhat and it also did show that millennials do care for the environment.
The sheer diversity of plant and animal life in the park is amazing. I have been hiking in Bukit Kiara for the last three years, but always in the daytime, and I’ve only ever seen the occasional squirrel and long-tailed macaque, but the night hike showed us the incredible flora and fauna that exists in this oasis of green near Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur.
Other than the aforementioned Oriental vine snake, we saw the brown whip snake and three types of frogs: the four-lined tree frog, ornate narrow-mouthed frog and rhinoceros fog. In addition, we also observed three lizard species: the spiny-tailed gecko, marbled gecko and garden fence lizard.
Steven Wong, a volunteer with the MNS Selangor Branch and part of its Herpetofauna special interest group, said it was surprising that Taman Rimba Kiara had so much plant and animal life because it is an isolated hill surrounded by development.
Even so, Steven, who has a degree in environment management, noticed a steady decline in the number of frog species during regular night walks.
“I’ve been hiking Bukit Kiara at night since 2014 and from the eight to 10 species that we usually could spot, this has now averaged out to only three to four types of frogs on our hikes at present.”
Steven, who conducts night walks in various parts of the Klang Valley on a monthly basis, attributes this to development surrounding Bukit Kiara that has impacted the environment.
“There is an increased sedimentation of dirt and soil in the river and this has taken a toll on the diversity in the park,” he said.
Still, our 30-strong group was lucky enough to spot a few fireflies during our night walk. Yes, fireflies, usually found in mangrove areas, have a home in Bukit Kiara too.
MNS Wetlands programme manager Sonny Wong, who has been leading residents up to Bukit Kiara to observe fireflies, said that hill contained at least six different species, including the world’s largest firefly, the Lamprigera genus.
Sonny, an advocate of a more frequent appreciation of nature, led a group of around 500 people in July last year on the first-ever firefly walk organised by the MNS.
“We want to educate and create an awareness in Taman Tun residents that more can be done to protect the environment.
“We are hoping to equip residents with the ability to monitor and observe the actual number of fireflies in Bukit Kiara.”
Even so, Sonny believes that the additional development projects in the area may ultimately affect the firefly’s habitat and other wildlife.
“From what I’ve read, there are plans to build eight high-rise condominiums at the site of the present longhouses.
“This will mean that there will be no buffer or reserve land at the bottom of the hill, and if you factor in high-intensity lighting from the condo units and additional traffic and new roads that will have to be built, I fear that the fireflies and other wildlife in the area may suffer, so too the residents,” he said.
Taman Tun residents and public advocacy groups have been at the forefront of a battle to preserve the 189ha Taman Rimba Kiara for at least 10 years now, and despite their constant vigilance, the authorities have once again accepted a development proposal that could have far-reaching consequences for the future of this much-loved park.
The latest encroachment threat comes from a proposed development by Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan in Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad, which includes eight blocks of apartments ranging from 42 to 54 storeys.
After failing to get the project halted, residents filed a judicial review application with the High Court to quash the conditional planning permission and a development order granted by Kuala Lumpur City Hall earlier last year.
Parties involved in the case have about six weeks to exchange affidavits prior to the case management on April 18, when the date of the case hearing is expected to be fixed.
Having caught the night walk buzz, this writer will be joining Steven Wong on another hike, this time at the Ampang Impounding Reservoir at Bukit Kembara.