catwalk: 1 a step-by-step approach to saving the tiger; 2 a platform extending into an auditorium along which models strut.


I grew up in the north of England and did a fair amount of trekking in the Lake District; an area of outstanding natural beauty where the poet Wordsworth famously ‘wandered, lonely as a cloud‘.  These days, however,  you are unlikely to be lonely for long in the Lake District; the hills are strewn with long, snaking lines of fellow trekkers also out to enjoy the landscape.  During the school holidays there are so many walkers on the hills that the path of the trail can often be seen from miles away, outlined by the garish colours of their waterproofs.

I used to wish that all these other walkers would spontaneously self combust and leave me to enjoy the Lake District in cloud-like peace and, just for moment at least, give me the feeling that I had escaped from the rest of the world and entered a real wilderness.  It was a feeling amplified each time I came across litter strewn on the ground, or when I was stuck behind a line of slow walkers on a narrow path… aggravating.

But there is an upside to the irritation of having to share the outdoors with others – it means that there are more people who value these areas and thus more voices that will be raised in protest if governments or developers try to bulldoze over them.

Coming to Malaysia I was gratified to find that the forests are generally free of other trekkers and my wish for solitude in the wilderness had finally come true.  It is perhaps unfair to compare the Lake District to the staggering biodiversity of the rain forests of Malaysia, but to see a leopard cross your trail in the early evening, or hear a siamang ‘whooping’ at dawn, or watch troupes of dusky leaf monkeys sweep through the trees just hands-down-beat the sight of a cold and miserable looking sheep on a wet English mountainside. I genuinely found it astonishing that more Malaysians weren’t spending every possible free moment enjoying the forests they’d been blessed with.

Over time I began to see the downside of this – many Malaysians don’t value the forests because they’ve never had the opportunity to really enjoy them or see for themselves the beauty that lies within.  As a result these majestic forests were (and are) being cut down to make way for oil palm plantations and a seemingly endless tide of concrete without the public outcry that I would have expected.  The rain forests, a national heritage that belongs to future generations as much as this one, seen more as a resource to be exploited in the short-term rather than a jewel to be guarded.

Talking to Malaysian friends over the years began to shed some light on why so few venture into the forest – scared from a young age by stories of spirits and ghosts that, for some inexplicable reason, are believed to be found in greater numbers in the forest (surely there’d be more in the cities, right? after all that’s where most people die),  tigers waiting to pounce, venomous snakes with deadly intent… the jungle nothing but a dangerous place waiting for the unwary to step inside.

But, above all, what had put most of them off the jungle was that they’d had a bad first experience (often on some sort of school outward bound type course) that had convinced them from an early age that the jungle was a nasty, leech filled, wet and uncomfortable place that they had no wish to revisit… ever!

The truth is that the jungle can be a hostile environment for the unprepared – but with the right attitude and gear it can be as comfortable as home.  This, for me, is the key to junglecraft – not learning hard-core survival techniques, or roughing it rambo-style –  but simply learning how to get comfortable in the jungle and enjoy your time there.

For those Malaysians wishing to take a first, tentative step into the jungle there is no better place to start than on one of MyCat’s catwalks.  These two days walks at the Sg Yu wildlife corridor near Taman Negara will give you the chance to see if you like the jungle or not – led by experienced guides and volunteers you don’t need to worry about getting lost or what to do in an emergency and, if you don’t feel up to camping just yet, you can always stay the night in one of the dormitories at the Ranger Station.

Even better, these Catwalks are free, open to anyone in Malaysia (including visiting tourists) and, as they run over weekends, don’t require you to take time off work.  The pace of these walks is very gentle and the distance covered no more than a few kilometers a day; so you don’t need to be a super-fit, gym freak to go on one.

Although you don’t have to camp, I would encourage you to do so as it is a great experience (even when it rains!) just make sure you are familiar with how to set up your tarp/hammock or tent before you get there (and make sure your tarp is leak proof!)

Most importantly, however, you will be doing a service to the wildlife in Malaysia….the Catwalks visit easily accessible areas at the outskirts of the park that are ‘soft’ target areas for poachers.  A lot of poaching and snaring is opportunistic, done by poachers who want easy access to animal trails and often don’t have the time (or energy) to trek deeper into the forest.  More often than not they have full time jobs and use poaching as an easy way of supplementing their income.  Such people are easily put off if it becomes difficult for them to operate and having groups of Catwalkers in the area is a good way to deter this type of illegal activity.

With members of the public acting as the eyes-and-ears in these easily accessible areas at the borders of the national park, the wildlife rangers are freed up to patrol deeper into the forest where the criminally organised gangs of hard-core poachers hunt for tigers and elephants.

Time is quickly running out for wild tigers and yet we only need to ensure three things to reverse the trend: enough habitat, enough prey and effective protection from poachers.  The hope is that if populations can reach healthy levels in Taman Negara National Park this will lead to tigers dispersing through the Sungai Yu Wildlife Corridor and into the Main Range.

Is this happening?  It is difficult to say as tiger numbers in Taman Negara are only estimates, however, one thing is for sure; in Taman Negara  tigers have the ‘habitat‘ and they have enough ‘prey‘ so if, as some believe, their numbers are actually falling, then the reason can only be that the poachers are gaining the upper hand…and if the number of tigers drops below a critical level their populations will become unsustainable and they will become extinct.

It would be a sad story indeed if the tiger, one of the national symbols of Malaysia, were allowed to become extinct because we stood by and did nothing while a selfish few hunted them down for their own gains.

On a positive note, it seems to me that the younger generation here in Malaysia are genuinely concerned about protecting their environment and more-and-more are revisiting the forest and questioning the handed-down belief that a trip to the shopping mall is more fun that a swim beneath a waterfall in the middle of an emerald forest.

We can only hope that they have time and opportunity to make a change…

If you want to join a Catwalk, click on the Mycat logo:

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“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”

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If you come across any illegal trade or snaring of wildlife, report it to the Wildlife Crime Hotline: 019 356 4194