We trudged up a wide open paved road for a few short minutes before going off-path into the shadows of looming trees. Residents who flock to Bukit Kiara would usually carry out their routines on the brick road instead of splitting out into the dark forest. But today, it was different. We were deliberately putting ourselves off the well-lit beaten path in order to forage through the dense greenery to search (of all things) for snakes and other nocturnal wildlife.
With Steven Wong at the helm, we followed closely behind.
“When I was a lot younger, I remember watching a lot of documentaries, especially Steve Irwin,” Steven told me prior to the tour. The similarities between the two were uncanny. Clad in long khakis and a headlamp, he reminded me a lot of the wildlife warrior Steve Irwin himself. Thankfully though, jumping on crocodiles wasn’t on the agenda.
Rather, it was Steven’s interest in frogs and snakes that made him the specialist he is today, even adopting the name ‘Frogman’ because of his extraordinary knack for locating these amphibians.
Steven’s passion for the wild outdoors was instilled ever since he was a boy. Following his dad on frequent camping trips, the time he spent in the midst of nature has visibly shaped his character to be a man of the woods. “He is really quite supportive of what I’m doing which I’m infinitely grateful for,” he said about his dad.
Today, Steven, who is also a volunteer for Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), conducts environmental night walks in Bukit Kiara where he brings his guests head first into an off-the-grid route. Like a man in his own backyard, he knows the best spots and methods to witness Bukit Kiara’s lurking night inhabitants, which I was fortunate enough to witness.
What’s in Bukit Kiara?
Admittedly, I was slightly sceptical about the night walk. Despite it being a dense forest, Bukit Kiara, to me at least, was still a community park. And while from the outlook it seemed to boast an impressive amount of greenery, that was all I thought there was – trees.
But Steven had proven me wrong. Just before we began, he whipped out a Powerpoint deck which listed pages of fauna he has found in the park. “Frogs and toads we’re at 17, snakes at 27, lizards at 14 species, and turtles at 5 species,” he said. I was left agog.
From the tip of the tongue and almost seemingly rehearsed, he then strung through a list of species of snakes which I confess I couldn’t keep up with. “Oriental Vine Snakes, Speckled Vine Snakes, Bronzebacks, Blue Bronzebacks…” As he went on, he swiped through a series of impressively taken photographs. Not much a person about snakes, I have to say, even I was excited.
Jungle life in a city park
Nature is beyond anybody’s reach, and on a night like this, the snakes were unfortunately (for us) out of sight, save for the one Brahminy blind snake. Yet we were still left impressed by the teeming wildlife surrounding us, but perhaps even more so by Steven’s acute vision to spot them. From a good 2 metres away, he could see and pinpoint the species we were looking at. While I, in all my ignorance, could only make out a green bush. If it weren’t for his red laser pointer and his careful approach, we would have missed it completely.
Along the way, he spotted a multitude of camouflaged frogs, various spiders, and a host of crawling insects. As we planted our feet back on paved road, it felt to be the end of a fulfilling night.
But Steven’s radar hadn’t switched off yet.
“Over here, guys,” he whispered. By now the streetlamps had gone out and we were plunged in darkness.
We slowly approached to where Steven was standing. Switch off your headlamp, he motioned as we got closer. We stood there, slightly puzzled – but in anticipation. Quickly, he slipped out a UV flashlight, and pointed it towards the wall of a drain. There, under the rays of the ultraviolet, were a nest of baby scorpions. The mother was fitted in a gap, but its pincers stuck out. Indiscernible in the dark, these scorpions were bio-luminescent, which meant that it would glow blue under ultraviolet light.
A few minutes later, as Steven was rummaging through leaves, we sighted yet another exotic insect. This time it was the Sumatran Centipede. Truth be told, I would take a snake over a massive insect of that size any time of the day. Thankfully though, the centipede was down in the drain, and we were well content with just observing from above.
The amount of wildlife we encountered in the 2 hours we were there was enough to leave an impression on a city kid like me. It was evidence to what Steven had said earlier to me.
“Even small patches of forest like this – community forests – deserves to be protected because it acts as a refuge for a bunch of species.”Steven Wong
A wild and fruitful excursion
While it was not to be that we would be gifted with an array of snakes, the night walk was nevertheless an enjoyable experience. If not for being immersed in nature, then for Steven’s generosity with his knowledge. Steven is enthusiastic with his passion for nature, and he shares that with his guests without reserve.
Ultimately though, Steven’s work is a down-to-earth method for people to achieve a sense of awareness about wildlife in Malaysia.
“I used to think that the Amazon was where all the interesting animals were at, but no, we’ve got some very interesting species here at home as well.”Steven Wong
And by the end of the night walk, Steven would like his guests to come out from the tour with a greater appreciation for reptiles and amphibians.
After the night walk, I left with a newfound respect towards environmental specialist such as Steven, who are not just explorers of nature, but wildlife educators to the common society.
For a city boy with very little idea of what Bukit Kiara had to offer, there’s a better understanding about the importance of this green refuge. Despite the slithering snakes and the gargantuan centipedes, Bukit Kiara is no longer just a community park, but a haven for flourishing wildlife vital in preserving the ecological balance of the city.