Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 20, 2009

Malaysia Road Notes: Ethical Issues in the Mangrove

2007-12-20 14:36:01 Add your comment.

Langkawi, Malaysia

Today was the Sungai Kilim Mangrove safari. The Kilim Nature Park is one of the world’s most important mangrove swamps. Whereas the mountains of the interior of Penang Island were the “lungs of that island,” the 100-square kilometre Kilim mangrove swamps are the filtration plant for Langkawi … and beyond. That is how a mangrove swamp works.

Mangrove trees are the miracle trees of estuaries … thriving in the constantly changing salt water-fresh water tidal zones … creating enormous ecosystems in their tendril-like root systems. And being good arboreal citizens they take the water that is sent their way, cleanse it, and … like gigantic filter tips on Players Exports cigarettes … who was that sailor anyway? … they pass the water through their sponge-like bodies until … voilà! … Natural Hosannah Water …and Oxygen-rich Langkawi … all brought to you by The Friends of Photosynthesis and Mangrove Benevolent Society. The Kilim Mangrove Swamps are home to once-in-a-lifetime flora and fauna experiences: Brown Eagles, Mud Skippers (who like Mr. Darwin’s descendants are still emerging from the primal sludge), Multicoloured Tree Crabs, and my favourite … the Monitor Lizard. There are two basic types of the latter … kinda like Protestants and Catholics only less ornery. However, don’t be fooled; they are carnivores and can clean up a dead water buffalo in just a couple of weeks. They are also the Molly Maids of the Mangrove. The Mud Skipper is a species that is going somewhere; it is upperwardly mobile. However, given a few million years, it could turn into mindless tourists if it doesn’t get a good non-faith-based education. But in the meantime, the Mud Skippers are doing an excellent job of making the transition from water to land … like Esther Williams only in reverse. BUT … here’s our ethical dilemma. Like the bears in Banff, Alberta, Canada eh, these born-to-be-wild creatures … especially the eagles … are not your backyard pets. They should not be fed … because if they are, they change their behaviour and become the Malaysian equivalent of couch potatoes just waiting for the next bunch of water-borne mindless tourists to come along and feed them. AND YET … as we righteous eco-friendly travel journalists drifted by the stupid tourists who were throwing chicken parts to the eagles so that they swooped down to show their raptor skills, we snapped digital images like crazy … all the while tut tutting and harrumphing over the major breach of environmental etiquette. AND YET … there we were … not exactly sitting quietly on the shore waiting for Mr. and Ms. Eagle to fly by. We were complicit in the feeding frenzy… kinda like sneaking into Walmart to buy just a cheap thing or too, and mumbling a mea culpa consumerata on the way to the parking lot. FURTHERMORE … Last night when the Dusky Leaf Monkeys paid us a visit at the hotel, one stupid Russian tourist ran and got some peanuts to feed them (despite the signs saying “Don’t feed the monkeys you stupid tourist!”). Result, Mr. Bucko the Alpha Male becomes even more alpha and starts to look like George W. Bush. Now would you wish that on any primate? No? Right! OK then, don’t feed the monkeys! You can give to the homeless and the Sally Ann but don’t feed the monkeys! Anyway, to make a long international incident short, I told Ms. Boomskaya to knock it off with the peanuts. Wagging my finger at her I said in my best Russian, “Bad Tourist! Bad Russian! Good Monkey!” She was, as they say in Russian, severely pissed. The things I do for international peace and harmony!

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