Langur Project Penang: Our Dirty Hands



Oh, right. (Clear throat) Ahem..


Our Dirty Hands

Now, if I were to ask you to picture a group of Millennials, and describe it to me, you would probably say you see a group of tech-savvy young adults in Gap and Nike. Their eyes fixated on their latest iPhones, and they were probably discussing about the new ‘cool’ cafe to hang out. Indeed, when it comes to defining the generation born between the early 1980s and 1990s, that image seems to be the norm.

“Young people who are unwilling to get their hands dirty”, one of the participants announced. It was August 2017, in a forum and book launch “Penang At The Climate Crossroads” hosted by Penang Institute. Naturally, I was fortunate enough to be in it. This posed an awkward situation for me as I fall exactly in THAT category. Looking at my copper-toned hands, I thought they looked wonderful. And they do have had their fair share of dealing with dirt and sand. I’m just not so sure if they are qualified to be adequately dirty (read worthy) for that participant.

The forum ended with a rather less-than-enthusiastic note. Moderator Evelyn Teh fittingly pointed out that the forum participants were majority elders. It was a telling sign that environmentalism is ‘not a thing’ among the new generation. Being a Millennial herself, she hoped one day “new young champions could step up and take the torch from them”. She was referring to the veteran environmentalists in Malaysia (big respect to them). That hit the spot for me. I was there as perhaps the sole participant from my generation. The underlying implication that we have little to no interest in our environmental well-being is certainly troubling, to say the least.

Pocahontas in Action (I Always Imagine They Are)

Unbeknownst to all of us, however, a noteworthy action is taking place just 15 kilometers from Penang Institute at the time. Armed with scorching hot passion and strong arms and strong legs, a group of young adults were navigating fearlessly through the uncharted jungle routes in Teluk Bahang. They slid down steep soils with mortal hands brushing away any obstacles on the path; They climbed sloppy hills on all fours by holding onto any plants within reach; Most importantly, their eyes never leave a very particular species of primate right above them.

Langur Project Penang

I present you (some) members of the Langur Project Penang (LPP)! Left to right: Hong Jing (from Nature Classroom), Min Yu, Joleen Yap (LPP founder), me, Wen

Members of the Langur Project Penang (LPP) love to describe themselves as “Human primates with binoculars as eyes, ‘parang’ (machete in local Malay language) and notebooks as hands, GPS as legs and a heart of passion”. The organization counts locals and expats among her rank with young adults making up most of her number.

(I always imagine how the participant would moved to tears when he sees their oh-so-dirty hands.)

Into The Wild!

Langur Project Penang is primarily a research project to study the ecology and behaviour of Dusky Leaf Monkeys / Langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus). It was initially proposed to be conducted in a single sampling location, Teluk Bahang. University of Science, Malaysia (USM) student Joleen Yap decided the scale of the project was too small for any meaningful data implication. Under the umbrella of the university and as an outreach project of the Malaysian Primatological Society (MPS), Langur Project Penang would eventually branch out to various data sampling sites such as Teluk Bahang, Cherok Tokun, Penang Botanical Garden and Penang Hill.

“Adventure found me” – Data collection at sampling site

In a time when the public may conceives environmental and wildlife conservation as something only scientists do in a distant for-authorized-personnel-only laboratory behind fenced compound of some mega institute (Ya I ran out of air reading this too), Langur Project Penang prided herself as a grassroots organization whose strength lays exactly within the relationship she built with the people.

Outreaching to The Public (Did I Mention I Was Afraid of Kids?)

In collaboration with the Nature Classroom and local childcare center, Langur Project Penang’s Langur Rainforest Educational Programme embraces children from various ages in her nature tour. Through sharing and interaction with trained nature guard, our little future leaders are introduced to the nature in Penang Hill, Taman Rimba Teluk Bahang and Penang Botanical Garden.

Admittedly, I have had my doubts before volunteering for the programme in December 2017. We are talking about a generation who has easy access to matured digital technology from an age younger than never before here. Surely learning the names of flora and fauna would pale in comparison to the ‘bigger’ and ‘brighter’ scenes they are accustomed to? It turns out, like the participant from the forum, I am equally guilty in projecting baseless stereotype on these kids.

Langur Project Penang

“I talk, you listen; I stand there. you sit there” education method can only gets you so far. We believe in learning and growing together by conversation from both sides. Ask us questions! We love it! Who knows, we might learn a thing or two from you too! – Langur Rainforest Educational Programme

Planting The Seeds of Hope

Perhaps it was something about the way they casted their attentive look toward our nature guide. Or maybe it’s the fact that they were actively interacting with her that stirred a warm feeling in my heart. To my pleasant surprise, they did enjoy outdoor activities. That’s the first stereotype shattered right there. The activities in the programme include letting these kids to experience working as a ‘biologist’ of the day. They picked up leaves or fruits, pasted them on a piece of paper, and described their name and characteristic. They actually did a fantastic job about it! Second stereotype vanished into thin air.

Langur Project Penang

Look at their proud work! – In Collaboration with Nature Classroom and Tadika Seri Comel, Nibong Tebal

We also delivered a short ‘theater’ performance to illustrate the relationship between living things in a jungle (I played a tree, don’t judge!), and the cruelty of Langur poaching. Once again, these little geniuses amazed me with their existing knowledge on the topics. That’s Third. It was then I realized we adults have much to learn from our younger ones!

Embracing The Bottom-Up Approach

Like many Malaysians, we envision a better country where people live with compassion and respect to each other and Nature. It dawned to me that these kids may one day shoulder this responsibility. They will play a big part of a movement that will topple neoliberalism and shape a world unimaginable to people before them. Between helping them to carry heavy things (food) and eyes-staring standoff with a crab-eating macaque, I found myself appreciating the wonderful sight before me.

I earnestly eager to see the seeds we planted in these young ones finally germinate. They will grow into mighty trees that will lead the way to true prosperity and protect those after them.

Yes, you heard me right. I had an eyes-staring standoff with a macaque. It’s a long story.

(Langur Project Penang is also open to invitation for educational talk. For more details, or if you are interested to be part of our team by volunteering or interning, contact us! We could always use a hand!)

(All photo credits go to Langur Project Penang)

Original article from

What do you think about the wildlife conversation movement in Malaysia? Comment below, let me know!


Welcome to MESYM!
Connecting the green dots is a crowd-sourced platform and a living database for environmental movements in Malaysia. There are many good actions being done out there. Our goal is to bring them together. We connect the green dots.