The Jungle Man of Langkawi

Since childhood, Irshad Mobarak has been fascinated by the world around him.  Inspired by naturalists including Alfred Russel Wallace, Sir David Attenborough and David Bellamy, and stories told to him by his father, his deep-seated love of wildlife, and a career spanning over 25 years, has earned him the celebrated title of The Junglewalla (Jungle Man) of Langkawi.

After a brief sojourn into the world of banking, the call of the wild became too strong to ignore, so he left the corporate world to return to his first love.  For a couple of years he moved around Malaysia, guiding jungle treks and teaching sailing, but, it was when he reached Langkawi that he felt as though he had come home.  He fell in love with the islands majestic limestone formations, mangroves rich in flora and fauna, and ancient rainforest.

He immersed himself in everything Langkawi had to offer, exploring, and learning all about the incredible biodiversity that surrounded him.  An archipelago of 99 islands off Malaysia’s west coast which boasts 226 species of birds and 500 butterflies, and at night the rainforest teems with flying squirrels and rare flying lemurs.

Another turning point came when he was given the opportunity to learn from birdman Miles Baddeley, and, during time spent at British Museum of Natural History, butterfly and moth expert Bernard d’Abrera.  The knowledge gleaned from these two authorities meant his dreams of becoming a naturalist were reborn.

It is no wonder that Irshad is in his element here, with Langkawi’s abundance of nature which  includes slow-growing cycads, slipper orchids, and palms that can grow over 100m in length, the frequently seen and exceedingly cheeky long-tailed macaque, and the more elusive dusky leaf monkey, water monitor lizards, Komodo dragons, whales, dolphins, sea otters and so much more.

Eager to share this remarkable world with others, he began inviting friends, family and anyone who wanted to join him, on walks through the jungle, imparting his passion and inspiration. He has also trained a number of budding naturalists and conservationists and is an active player in the field of scientific expeditions.

With such contagious enthusiasm, and seemingly unending wealth of knowledge, it wasn’t long before he was offered the position of Resident Naturalist by the General Manager of The Datai Langkawi in 1993 – a hotel nestled in lush rainforest, blending seamlessly with its surroundings, giving you the chance to nurture the well-being of your mind, body and spirit while also enjoying the spots tranquillity, incredible beach and of course, spectacular wildlife.

His Jungle Discovery Walks became so popular, and his expertise so widely recognised, that he has worked on documentaries with the National Geographic, Discovery, and Travel and Living Channels and more recently been interviewed by BBC World.

Irshad’s role has now become more of a juggling act, balancing his desire to share Langkawi's natural wonders, combined with the necessity to preserve the island’s unspoilt quality. To ensure this situation is managed correctly he wears two hats – those of founder of Natural History Tours and lover of everything the region’s natural world has to offer, and guardian of Langkawi’s natural beauty, for which he is hugely active in his conservation, preservation and education initiatives: new roads must come hand-in-hand with the creation of wildlife corridors, the reduction of the impact of habitat fragmentation, and ensuring the wildlife maintains the freedom it deserves.

Much of this desire for conservation is driven by the desire for his two young children to be able to experience the Langkawi that he loves, the most precious reward he can imagine is seeing the joy in their eyes as they get to experience a rainforest as pristine and mesmerising as the one he discovered 26 years ago.

In recent months he has also had the fortune to meet up again with one of his childhood heroes. Cleveland Collection arranged for David Bellamy to visit Irshad, at The Datai in Langkawi, where they were able to head out into the rainforest and discuss the latest issues: strangler fig, friend or foe? Watch a female colugo, a local character and a creature David had only ever seen in books - and with over five decades as a naturalist that really is something!! - who was spotted dashing up a tree, and launching herself off, gliding 50m down to the next cluster of branches. And enthusing over the flora and fauna that they spotted on a trip along the Kilim River: cyads, so old that dinosaurs used to eat them; crab-eating macaques collecting crustaceans; swooping, dancing white bellied sea eagles; and colourful, exotic great hornbills dining at sunset.  It surely speaks volumes that Langkawi’s wildlife can still send two of the world’s most highly regarded naturalists into a state of complete awe and wonder.

If you fancy walking in the footsteps of these two great men, and joining Irshad on his morning and evening nature walks then The Datai in Langkawi is the place for you.