When darkness falls over Bukit Belimbing
Writer: Lin Zhen Yuan
Published: Fri, 15 Jun 2012
If you have seen the light, you may be a wise man but LIN ZHENYUAN finds out that the lights in the swamp are something else.
For several years now, one of our dinner table conversation topics has been “kelip-kelip” (fireflies). Every time somebody brings up the subject, I shoot it down.
Who wants to go out into the marshland and watch fireflies? Fireflies or lightning bugs, or even glow worms as they are sometimes called, are not unfamiliar to me.
Back in my schooldays, I had caught a few flying in my backyard and temporarily stored them in a bottle as a kind of low-tech toy. These days apparently, one doesn’t see them anymore, unless one goes to Kuala Selangor.
However, I was most surprised recently to see a solitary firefly making its way into my hall in the evening. I took that as a sign that I have been “summoned” to the swampland.
And so one weekend when nothing important was marked in my social schedule, my family and I made a hastily planned trip to Bukit Belimbing in Kuala Selangor.
The fireflies thrive along this part of the Selangor river.
I learned that it was the so-called Firefly Park Resort. The brochure claims that there were “millions of fireflies flashing in synchrony”. I think that may be true years ago.
When I finally witnessed the natural phenomenon, it was more like a sight of thousands, or more realistically, hundreds of kelip-kelip “dancing in the dark”.
Pteroptyx tener (firefly) is but one of several species found in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. But in Kuala Selangor, this particular species reigns supreme.
If not for the unquenchable curiosity to see how they thrive in their natural habitat, I probably would have stayed at home and watched the Discovery Channel.
As it were, the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, as some people have described it, had a predestined rendezvous with me. Fireflies emit what scientists call a cold light, that is, light that has no ultraviolet or infrared frequencies.
The light that comes from the lower abdomen of the firelight may be yellow, green or pale-red in colour. While there are only a handful of common species in Southeast Asia, there are about 2,000 species of these kelip-kelip or fireflies elsewhere on the planet.
The reasons why Kuala Selangor is so rich in fireflies are the presence of the berembang trees and the natural vegetation along the river banks.
The berembang trees are the playgrounds of fireflies and the snails that dwell below the trees along the river banks provide the kind of food that fireflies prefer.
Several years ago, FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia) researchers found out that that the fireflies lay their eggs on the soil of the river banks.
Apparently, the naturalised sago that grows abundantly in the area increases the survival rate of the firefly population. Thus, an undisturbed environment was the best option for the proliferation of our own home-grown kelip-kelip.
However, the sad story is that close to 50 per cent of the land in Kuala Selangor has been converted into oil palm plantations. A study carried out four years ago revealed that the adult firefly population had decreased by about 40 per cent compared with 2007 and 2006.
There are about seven sites stretching a distance of 1.6km along the Sungai Selangor where fireflies are known to be spotted.
Shortly after sunset, around 8pm, we put on the mandatory life-jacket and boarded one of the “toneless” fibreglass boats and headed towards the designated sites.
The electrically-powered boat was one of the quietest water vessels I have ever sat on. Nobody talked aloud. Some of us whispered for fear of scaring our tiny winged friends who used the berembang trees to perform their courting game and find mates.
Of course, it was understood that no flash photography was allowed. Nevertheless, I took a chance with my amateur photographic skills and my even more amateur brand of camera.
While I was snapping away, I could see that I was merely recording a sequential order of scenes in almost total darkness. It was definitely nothing to brag home about or to friends.
However, the sight of hundreds or perhaps thousands of fireflies blinking in symphony with the quiet rhythm of the night was a rare privilege. It was just like a row of Christmas trees illuminating a dark avenue.
That night when about eight of us were cruising silently along the shallow river very near the banks, the moon was partially hidden and there were few stars in the sky.
The air was still and I was wary about lurking crocodiles although I knew for sure there was none in the waters. Being an individual of dubious courage, I couldn’t help thinking of the worst case scenario.
You can always buy a T-shirt as a memento.
Later I learned that Kampung Kuantan further down the road was another “firefly site” where the population of the lightning bugs was allegedly larger.
But my family and I were quite satisfied that we had finally assuaged our curiosity and secured a memorable evening when fireflies came to entertain us with their natural gifts.
I have to admit that the nocturnal river trips in the Firelfy Park Resort are well organised. Adults pay RM15 per trip and for children from ages three to 12, it is RM8.
The trip lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the speed of the boat. Firefly sightseeing time is between 7pm and 10.30pm.
You will be mildly surprised with the number of tourist buses ferrying foreign visitors to witness one of Malaysia’s most fascinating insect wonders after 6pm.
If you like, you can spend the night at one of the 12 chalets located on a man-made pond where lotus flowers thrive and bloom. Each chalet has two air-conditioned rooms and it can accommodate four people.
Even though it was a man-made environment, the chalets were located so close to the marshland that it lends a certain degree of authenticity to the overall experience.
For those who are slightly tired of roaming shopping complexes, and wish to have an outdoors adventure, all details with regard to the Firefly Park Resort can be seen at its website: www.fireflypark.com.