The season of love

Dusky Leaf Monkey

LOVE is literally in the air in the beautiful island of Langkawi. According to my nature guide, the dry season is the time for courtship and mating for several animals. This is because when their young arrive, it will be in time for when the plants bear fruit, the flowers blossom, and the rainforest thrives. It's now the season of plenty with lots of food for the animals in the island!

I thought it was apt that I travelled to Langkawi for a Valentine’s weekend getaway during this “season of love”. And I had the most memorable experience taking part in an evening nature walk conducted by a banker-turned-nature guide Irshad Mobarak.

So as the sun set and nocturnal animals came out to play, Langkawi’s rainforest transformed into a whole new playground for its wildlife and Irshad helped to guide us into the world of the unseen and translate the chorus of sounds in the enigmatic rainforest.

I started my walk on a high note, with a lovely sight of a Great Hornbill perched on a tree in the distance. According to Irshad, the Great Hornbill is the largest bird on the island and measures a staggering 1.2m from the tip of its beak till the end of its tail. He said that it was the time when female hornbills were looking after their chick in their nest while the male foraged for food for mum and chick.

Irshad is a self-taught nature buff and now conducts nature tours around Langkawi

I was told if they’re lucky, early risers might have the privilege of observing the male hornbills out on their “morning errands” looking for food, and it also might be possible to see the female emerge from her nest to help feed her chick. I, however, did not have that unique pleasure during my stay.

“Hornbills, like many other birds are monogamous, and will stay with their mate until their death,” Irshad said.

“I always ask the men on my tour whether they are hornbills or chickens. Cockerels have many hens around them, while hornbills have one mate for life,” said the self-taught nature buff.

“Many will answer that they’re hornbills, but the occasional few will softly whisper ‘chicken’ in my ear as they walk away,” joked Irshad.

Another nesting bird is the White Bellied Sea Eagle, which I saw numerous times during my stay on the island. Irshad revealed how these monogamous birds have a very unique courtship display where the male will chase a potential mate and try to catch her. If he manages to get close to her, he will try to get directly above her and bring his talons down towards her.

“She will attempt to fight him off but will eventually relent and give her talons to him. Unable to flap their wings, the pair will spin-fall in a most beautiful slow spiral dance, and just before they reach the top of the trees, they let go and fly off together,” said Irshad.

Irshad also told us how several monkeys have their young ones tagging along with them during this time of year. We were shown pictures of one of the cutest monkeys I’ve seen - the Dusky Langur and their beautiful orange coloured babies.

Why orange you wonder? Doesn’t that make the baby monkey more noticeable? You may be surprised that orange is, in fact, a great camouflage colour in nature because many birds of prey don’t register the colour orange, making it easier for the Dusky Langurs to conceal their young from predators. The Dusky Langur babies will gradually turn black in colour in a couple of months.

However, the other species of monkey - the macaque monkey - isn’t as cute. And their babies are born jet-black and later turn to a reddish-brown colour. You have to watch out for these monkeys, though, as they are very cheeky and mischievous. These intelligent creatures are known to open your hotel room doors, and steal your fruit and nuts. We were also told that these monkeys have learnt to knock on your door so you will open it for them (not so sure how true that rumour is though!).

Langkawi’s Great Hornbill

Later on during my tour, Irshad pointed out a curious animal I’ve never seen before, a Flying Lemur or Colugo. The shy creature was quietly huddled on a tree, blending into its surroundings expertly. Irshad told us that this rare animal has attracted several scientists to Langkawi to study the Colugo, which is only found in few countries.

We were also told that this species has unfortunately been misnamed, and is unrelated to the Lemurs of Madagascar, and it also glides rather than fly!

Irshad also showed us a Flying Squirrel climbing up the trees in the dark. However, we didn’t manage to see it fly across the trees (stage fright maybe?). Irshad revealed that this creature could glide a distance of 200 feet!

Our trusty guide also explained the various flora and fauna in the rainforest. He explained how the several vines found hanging by the trees, and also the ones Tarzan swings on, are actually rooted on the ground.

“So Tarzan would actually have a hard time swinging on these,” he said with a laugh.

He also pointed to some sharp thorny palm trees, which were actually rattan, used to make furniture, baskets, and canes.

“Luckily, they take the thorns out before we sit on the furniture,” joked Irshad.

Another interesting plant was the Strangler Fig, where the plant shows a “strangling” growth habit. These plants begin life when their seeds are dropped in crevices on top of trees - the plant grows with the roots growing downwards and enveloping the host tree while also growing upward to reach the sunlight.

However, Irshad says that this plant is not as evil as it sounds.

“Most of the trees it grows on are already dying because they have “open wounds” for the seeds to grow in,” he said.

So instead of the tree rotting and tumbling down on other trees, the Strangler Fig takes over. The original tree can sometimes die, leaving the Strangler Fig as a columnar tree with a hollow centre. It is also an important food source to the wildlife on the island.

There were so many new sights and sounds I experienced during this tour and I am blessed to hear the personal stories of Irshad about his experiences and knowledge about this amazing island.

Irshad’s love for nature is infectious and you can’t help but be pulled into his charismatic stories about the animals and plants in the rainforest. It was truly an unforgettable experience!

Irshad conducts nature tours for The Andaman and The Datai hotel, and he also offers private tours under Junglewalla Tours.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own. 


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