By TEAM CLARISSA
AS the sun goes down in Genting Highlands, a whole new world emerges, hidden in plain sight from the theme park goers and tourists.
At an altitude of 4,500 metres, the forested area around Chin Swee Temple serves as home to over 1,400 species of moths. To the untrained eye, moths don’t do very much. Their lifespans are short, their appetites small.
“They just propagate and die,” said Eddie Chan Teck Ling, a naturalist who has been observing moths as well as other native fauna for the past four years.
But it’s exactly that short lifespan and large number of deaths that contribute to the ecosystem. Moths are the staple food of many local species of birds and bats in the area, and a crucial part of the food chain.
“On one of our field works three months back, we found more than 1,000 moths in 30 days. On the first three days itself, we found almost 450 moths. That really blew our minds,” said Chan.
“Moths are severely underrated,” the 58-year-old continued, “They are not known to be very pretty.” He wants to change the mindset of the public, emphasising that moths are actually much more interesting than what they are perceived to be.
The Chin Swee Temple is one of Chan’s favourite spots to go mothing because of the high concentration of species found within its walls. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the presence of its cement structure helps both moths and moth enthusiasts alike.
“The cement building, to moths, is just like another habitat,” said Chan, “What it does is it creates a certain scent to the area so that a moth far away can smell that scent and then come over.”
This enables Chan to locate the moths easily. Having found famous moths such as the satin moth, the luna moth and the atlas moth in the area, Chan felt a need to spark an interest in moths. The satin moth, known as the leucoma salicis, is a white-coloured moth that is usually found in Europe and the British Isles.
The luna moth, known as the actias luna, is one of the largest moths in North America, with a wingspan of up to 114mm. On the other hand, the atlas moth, known as the attacus atlas, is a large moth that is normally found in tropical and subtropical forests in Southeast Asia. It has a wingspan of up to 25cm.
“We find that there is a general lack of connection. Not that they (the youths) don’t come to nature, but they do not have a chance to know nature more intimately,” said Chan. With that in mind, he feels that the strategic location of the Sky Forest in Genting Highlands would provide a more personal experience with nature for the younger generation.
Chan names the moths he discovers according to their appearances instead of their scientific names. For example, a moth with blackish scales was given the name Darth Vader.
He believes that naming moths in this way would attract more of the younger generation to mothing, a search for moths which is also a part of Treks Nature’s movement.
Chan and his wife, Pat Ang, who worked with Resorts World Genting, founded Treks Nature Enterprise, a team that offers guided nature walks in a bid to conserve the area’s rainforests. Treks Nature started off as a retirement plan for the couple. It advocates ecotourism and biodiversity activities.
“We wanted to have something to do in our old age. Something we can do till we’re 80 and with nature,” said Chan.
His inspiration to not have a conventional retired life came from the late Genting Group founder Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, who only retired in his 80s.
However, time constraints and lack of qualifications in the study of insects are challenges to Chan and Pat. One of the goals Chan has for Treks Nature is setting up a social enterprise for the long term, specifically to promote nature.
He plans to start an Internet Rainforest TV Station to share information on his work and wildlife. “There would have to be print materials as part of documentation and information to the public,” added Chan, who plans to collaborate with other organisations in documenting his discoveries.