As urban dwellers we often forget that we are so close to the incredible flora and fauna of Malaysia – something that most people experience only through books and nature documentaries. Here are some trips worth taking, interesting nature conservation initiatives and other ideas that can help the kids to learn about the Malaysian nature and animals.
Environmental consciousness and conservation are a lot easier to grasp if you have actually seen the natural habitats – and sometimes the inhabitants as well – and I keep on reminding myself to make an effort to provide the kids with these nature encounters.
1. Visit Taman Negara
Reportedly the oldest rain forest in the world, 130 million years, Taman Negara should be a must on everyone’s to-do list. You can truly appreciate the rainforest with all its creepy crawlies and noises here. We love the outdoors while enjoying the creature comforts, so Taman Negara ticked all of our boxes. Taman Negara is open all year around but does have a higher rainfall from November until February, and the canopy walk is closed during this time.
2. Mangrove tours
Mangroves don’t seem that interesting but in fact they have super powers! The strong roots protect the coastal areas and are home to lots of wildlife. One of the best place to do a mangrove tour is Langkawi, where you can also visit caves and learn about the rocks, bats, crabs and mud skippers. You can read more about the trip here.
Another great spot to go on an informative boat ride is Cherating, where Hafiz runs tours that are educational and you get to see the fireflies, too!
3. A morning walk in the forest
You don’t need to leave KL to get kids into the nature. A short drive will take you to FRIM, Templer’s park or TTDI park where the kids can throw away their shoes and play in the stream. Pack a picnic, fishing nets and spades and buckets and enjoy the nature at our doorstep! Or head out to somewhere like Kota Damansara Community Forest for a little hike. The photo below is from Templer’s Park, where this perfect natural playground with abundant sticks and leaves is just a short walk from the car park.
4. Diving or snorkeling
Snorkeling is possibly one of the best ways to teach kids about appreciation to nature. When they are a bit older, they can start with the diving courses specifically designed for young ones, offered in many dive centres in Malaysia. You can read more about diving and kids here.
Teenagers interested in diving should check out Reef Check, that was established in the USA in 1996 to raise awareness on the importance of, and threats to, coral reefs. Their local chapter, Reef Check Malaysia works with local communities to protect, restore and revive coral reefs in Malaysia. RCM partners with a global network of trained and certified EcoDiver volunteers to conduct annual Reef Check surveys to assess the health of reefs around the islands of Malaysia, conducts education and awareness programmes and coral reef rehabilitation programmes. Read more about the Reef check Malaysia’s Eco diver training here.
The Cintai Tioman Program aims to improve the ecological and social resilience of the Tioman island. The programme’s goal is to reduce the impact of human activities on coral reefs around Tioman Island, and empower the local communities to get involved in the management and conservation of the island’s natural resources. Youths are encouraged to join in social media campaigning and join as interns, read more here.
5. MYCAT Tiger walks
Those over 18 and keen to get in the thick of it can look into doing a CAT walk. Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) is a multi-party effort to save the Malayan tiger. Their volunteering programme Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT) takes volunteers on guided hikes – CAT Walks – to protect wildlife from poaching. Volunteers look out for signs of poachers, snares, as well as tigers, elephants, sambar deer and other wildlife. Snares and traps found are recorded, deactivated and reported to the authorities. Walks are usually conducted over a weekend. Check their Facebook page on updates about the next CAT walk.
6. Adopt a tiger through WWF
WWF runs their own tiger conservation programme, where you can choose to become a monthly donor or do a one-off donation and receive a goody bag in return.
7. Raptor Watch and other activities with MNS
Malaysian Nature Society has events throughout the year at their Nature Education Centre at FRIM specifically designed for kids. One of the most impressive annual events is the Raptor Watch, a festival to celebrate the return of the migratory raptor birds of prey on their journey back to their breeding grounds in the Northern hemisphere. This annual event aims to raise awareness on the conservation of raptors and their habitats. Raptor Watch is held on the first weekend of March in Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve near Melaka. The spring raptor migration begins already in mid February and lasts till mid April – the birds can be seen during this period even if you can’t make it to the event.
8. Take part in a beach cleanup
Big annual cleanup takes place September nationwide, but smaller events take place throughout the year. You can join this Facebook group for more information. Also check out SOS or Save Our Seahorses, a non-profit group committed to saving the seahorse and its habitats. Their mission is conserving not only the seahorse, but the ecosystem they are dependent on, such as seagrass, mangrove and coral reef. Their popular seahorse tagging programme has been discontinued, but they continue to look for volunteers for awareness raising events.
9. Get to know turtles
There are seven species of marine turtles worldwide, and all of them are listed as either endangered or critically endangered species by the World Conservation Union. Four species of marine turtles can be found in Malaysian waters: Leatherback, Olive Ridley’s, Green Turtle and Hawksbill. Many of the freshwater turtle species are equally endangered.
Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia organises turtle and mangrove trips from Cherating and release terrapins into the wild in Kemaman. There is also the small turtle sanctuary in Cherating, next to the Club Med, where you can release the hatchlings during the season. Even in other times the small information centre is a good stop, and there are always some turtles on site. Universiti Malaysia Terangganu conducts research and runs a volunteer programme (for this you need to be 18 years old).
Some top end resorts run their own turtle conservation projects, such as Tanjung Jara and Batu Batu. I’m hoping one day I can take the kids to the Selingan Turtle Island in Sabah for a total turtle exprience!
10. Visit the orangutans in Borneo
And a list like this could not leave out these magnificent creatures that can be met at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre or Semenggoh near Kuching. At Sepilok you can also visit the nearby Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. A wonderful trip to do when we can safely travel to Kuching again!
In addition to these 10 top things, there are many, many more amazing places around Malaysia to get the kids up close and personal with nature and wildlife. What is the best nature encounter your family has had?
Please note that this post was originally written two year ago. Do check with the venues and organisers for current updates!