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Wildlife in the Suburbs

Updated: Jan 25

Often, when we search for wildlife in the city, the first thing that comes up on Google is zoos and manicured parks situated in the heart of the metropolitan area. Unbeknownst to many, the true wilderness, the soft paws and slit eyes, has quietly infiltrated our concrete jungle, seeking solace in unexpected corners. An illustration of this phenomenon can be found in Ampang Jaya, a town situated approximately 13 km east of Kuala Lumpur. Here, a different kind of urban ecosystem is offered as the weary edge of the town meets the lush green expanse of the Ampang Forest Reserve.


Ampang Jaya
Map of Ampang Jaya.

The Ampang Forest Reserve alone is home to a rich biodiversity, hosting inhabitants such as long-tailed macaques, black magpies, and small mammalians like fruit bats. It also serves as a water catchment area for its surroundings. However, positioned at the periphery of residential zones, this wildlife haven faces a constant threat - the encroaching tide of urban development. 


Ampang Jaya wasn't always the jam-packed town it is today. Earliest to open for tin mining, it started as a small Chinese Settlement. Then, as prosperity spread through the valley, the population swelled, resulting in land use change, rural encroachment, and eventually environmental degradation, challenging the delicate balance between man’s insatiable needs and nature.


Now, the scars of that imbalance are ever-present, etched not only in the receding forest line but also in the asphalt veins snaking through the town. One such vein is the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE). As part of the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road (KLORR) that serves as a network of highways around greater KL areas, this particular roadway starts from Sg Long at SILK Highway and spans through Bandar Mahkota Cheras and Hulu Langat before eventually terminating at Ukay Perdana. Designed to be an alternative route to MRR2, it offers bypasses to north-southbound traffic without having to enter KL City Centre.


Map of EKVE route.

From a bird’s-eye view, the construction of this expressway literally cuts through the edge of Ampang Forest Reserve. This development is claimed to be of ease for commuting but to what extent will it provide convenience if the achievement is at the cost of ecological destruction? The construction of EKVE was delayed and questioned many times before and even had to be on hold due to legal issues, logistical delays, and rising construction costs. However, it is still announced to open in stages by this year. Thankfully, the phase 2 of the project has not been approved. The Ukay Perdana link to the Kuala Lumpur-Karak Expressway would have cut through the Ulu Gombak Forest Reserve.


In reality, indeed, achievement often demands sacrifice, and urban development is no exception. It not only bulldozes land but, more grievously, results in the obliteration and destruction of natural habitats - a process we could straightforwardly term as deforestation.


As trees are cut down in the process, the insects, fruits, and seeds that once formed the diet of many wildlife species become scarcer, leading to an imbalance in the food chain. The loss of producers not only triggered cascading effects on vulnerable animals that seek nourishment and refuge from their shade but also on predators and scavengers who rely on a steady supply of prey. The declining resources and increased competition force these creatures out of their natural range to find sustenance and survive, which in turn results in wildlife inevitably arriving at our doorstep.


Having called Ampang home for 25 years, I have personally witnessed the wilderness weaving itself into the fabric of the town. During my morning walks, I have been granted glimpses of various unidentified yet rare species of birds, perching on the rooftops and wires throughout my neighbourhood, or soaring above the local park before foraging for the day. One extraordinary sighting involved a Striated Heron, spotted in the alleyway behind my house. Being the wildlife enthusiast that I am, I immediately recorded a video of it on my phone while the heron casually strutted on the tiled floors. 


Striated Heron
Striated Heron strutting across the floor.

One time during lunch hours, another captivating moment unfolded as a gang of White-thighed surili made a special appearance on my neighbour’s mango tree. Nervously surveying its surroundings, they perched atop the branches and indulged in the green yet yellow-fleshed mangoes. I observed in awe from my discreet vantage point behind a car. However, the scene was abruptly interrupted as my neighbour’s children, armed with brooms, mercilessly shooed them away for raiding their tree.


monkey
White-thighed surili caught red-handed.

A more eerie event occurred as the neighbourhood’s hero, a local street cat spotted a reticulated python hiding between the shadows of flower pots. The cat, seemingly growling at nothingness, caught the attention of its owner who investigated the concealed space before stumbling upon the unwelcome guest. A crowd quickly gathered to witness the fire department’s efforts in capturing the 3-metre python. Videos, pictures and stories of the incident were excitedly shared and exchanged among families, including mine, as such an occurrence was truly once in a blue moon.


The neighbourhood's hero.

While these encounters with wildlife can be thrilling, especially in our humdrum existence, it is still heartbreaking to know that these creatures find themselves here out of necessity, driven by the scarcity of resources and the destruction of their own home. So what can we do to help? 


First and foremost, we must continually educate ourselves. By staying informed on our local environmental issues, we equip ourselves to make informed decisions and, in turn, educate others. Understanding your impact on the ecosystem is crucial.


Respecting wild animals is preeminent. Maintain a safe distance away and refrain from removing them from their environment or attempting to handle them independently. In the event of animals found within your premises, avoid unnecessary brutality; instead, contact your local fire department or state wildlife agency for assistance. As beloved magizoologist Newt Scamander fittingly puts it, “They are currently in alien terrain surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet, humans.


Next, make your home wildlife friendly. Start right at home by installing bird feeders or houses, offering necessary shelter and sustenance to our feathered friends while providing enjoyable moments for your family. Contribute by planting native species of trees and plants, especially those that blossom and can serve as a food source or a shade. However, proceed with caution and tailor your actions accordingly as this might attract other potentially dangerous species.


Moreover, engage in or organise a neighbourhood rubbish clean-up to support the preservation of wildlife and the habitats of endangered species. For those wanting to go the extra mile, consider participating in volunteering efforts by your local organisation to restore natural forests and coastal ecosystems in your area. Additionally, donating to a trusted animal rights organisation is also a meaningful way to take action. Learn about bills to support, petitions to sign, and letters to write to state representatives. Through these proactive measures, you’ll lend a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. 


There is an obvious need for enhanced wildlife management and thoughtful urban development. Therefore, it is only through all our collective efforts and informed decisions that we can contribute to the well-being of our wildlife neighbours. Earth and its present and future inhabitants will undoubtedly benefit from such conscientious actions.



By,

Marsya Mahfis,

Journalist,

Charisma Movement 23/24.

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