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The Fireflies of Kg Dew

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Mother Nature is kind to Perak and has blessed her with many natural phenomena which some have taken for granted. One such occurrence is fireflies that are found in abundance in mangrove swamps along the coast of the state.

Kampong Dew, located to the west of Kamunting along the old trunk road, is essentially a fishing village which is also noted for its once thriving charcoal industry. Charcoal kilns are still found in the area but not as many as it was in the 1960s. Most of the charcoal produced here are for export, especially to Japan, where demand for this low-tech energy source prevails.

One other product closely associated with Kg Dew is freshwater lobsters. They thrive in the tepid waters of Sungei Sepetang, a major waterway running past the village. The crustaceans have long been an important source of income for the villagers.

The other product which has yet to evolve into a viable money spinner is eco-tourism. And the thing that will spearhead this economic activity is an insect that lives in the mangrove swamps.

Firefly or Lampyridae is a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles and are commonly called fireflies for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence in their abdomens to attract mates or prey.

There are 2,000 species of firefly found in temperate and tropical environments. Many are in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where food is in abundance.

The Kg Dew fireflies are found on a species of mangrove tree called pokok berembang or Sonneratia Caseoraris, which is indigenous to the mangrove swamps of the tropics.

Getting to these firefly colonies is half the fun, as the traveller has to overcome a number of obstacles; the most exhilarating being the wobbling boat ride from Kampong Dew jetty. It takes about 15 minutes, in failing light and under the guidance of a seasoned boatman, to access the spot. The other half of the fun is on reaching the firefly colonies and seeing the insects glowing in the dark on the berembang trees. The flashing glow is the reason why the insects are known as kelip-kelip in the Malay language.

Tropical fireflies routinely synchronise their flashes when in large groups. The cause of this behaviour is linked to the insects’ diet, social interaction and altitude. Fireflies can live up to 30 days without food. The male fly dies after mating while the female dies after laying its eggs.

Realising the tourism potential these insects have to offer, some very enterprising individuals in the village formed the Kelab Chaya Alam Perak. Its objective is to promote the Kampong Dew fireflies to tourists as part of an eco-tourism package. However, facilities are still lacking and drawing tourists to the area may be problematic, considering the many shortcomings.

Dato’ Hamidah Osman, the executive councillor for tourism, dropped by the village recently to see the extent of the problem. She acknowledged that the club requires assistance and pledged RM50, 000 to upgrade facilities such as a covered walkway to the jetty, a waiting area, signage and a sturdier jetty.

Hamidah implored on the villagers to maintain the integrity of the area. “Destroying the insects’ natural habitats will drive them away,” she told members of the club. “The berembang trees are essential for the insects’ survival,’ she stressed.

Norshamshida Abdul Rahman, Director of Tourism Malaysia Perak, who was in the entourage, echoed Hamidah’s sentiments emphasising on the need for conservation. She assured the club that her office would initiate actions to promote Kg Dew in the run-up to Visit Perak Year 2012.

Besides fireflies, visitors can also fish for lobsters, see how charcoal is made and trek the jungles of Gunong Semanggol nearby. These are some of the activities that can be packaged for nature-loving tourists, local and foreign.

Readers keen on knowing more about Kampong Dew can call Khairul Salleh Ahmad on his mobile 012-5145023. They can also access his blog: http://fireflyzone.blogspot.com for details.

RM