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Natural History



Barking Mad, Nature Around Kuala Lumpur

Gombak Forest Reserve, Selangor (Peninsular Malaysia)

By Matt Salleh

My friend Jake and I decided to go for a hike today. He wanted to show me the trails behind the Zoo and hopefully reach the waterfalls. We headed out about 8 a.m. After a cup of coffee we were on the trails by 9 a.m.

Along the way we passed by a kampong, several defunct fish ponds, and a newly terraced piece of land for farming. It was an unusually clear day.. no haze! You could see Genting Highlands from the new toll road to Ampang! These sights were intriguing.

Anyway, we drove down the dirt road behind the zoo as far as we could and disembarked. Immediately we began to see birds galore.. bulbuls, bee eaters, magpie robins, swallows and others we could only glance and not identify.

A short way up the road we came upon the 'Institut Budaya Baru Melayu' (forgive my Bahasa if it's not right). Jake said it must be new.. it wasn't there last year. Anyway, the guard directed us to the waterfall trails. We kept hiking and I added the 'Orange Bellied Flowerpecker' and the 'Lesser Green Leafbird' to my list of 'birds seen in Malaysia'. I noted my sightings in my copy of Jeyarajasingam and Pearson's field guide and we kept walking.

A short way up the trail and a strange loud noise halted us in our tracks. It sounded like a cross between a dog barking and a mule honking!

We were a bit frightened. Could it be dog warning us? Could it be a wounded animal lying in the forest? Could it be a monkey challenging us?

At this point, we wished we had an experienced guide to tell us what we were hearing!

Anyway, we checked our escape route.. in case it was something that wanted to attack us! What did we know? Two mat salleh amateur naturalists far away from the environs we know best in the United States!

We decided to investigate! Crazy! Stupid! Exciting!

Less than a minute later a large deer like critter jumped across the road, silently.

Now I wasn't afraid anymore.. we decided to follow. My white tailed deer hunter instincts kicked in!

The critter kept barking at us for 10-15 minutes. Then it occurred to me.. barking deer (Muntjac)! I had only read about them.. never heard or seen them before in my life! The adrenaline between excitement and fear kicked in!

We had seen our first large mammal in Malaysia! The biggest one I had seen before was a 'colugo' on Tioman Island last April! YAY! We were elated!

We realized we had seen something that many Malaysian's themselves have never seen.. heard or otherwise experienced!

The rest of the day we explored the nearby waterfalls and bushwhacked our way through the extremely overgrown forest with a parang.

I still wasn't sure if what we had seen was a barking deer. I'm still not sure. It was reddish brown. No antlers. Medium sized like a German Sheppard dog. The footprints were definitely ungulate. Split hooves.. like the white tailed deer back home. And it had a white tail. Since I have never seen one before I am basing my ID on books.

We also saw a LOT of other tracks.. maybe wild pig.. with lots of disturbed ground...

Editors Notes

What was most likely sighted was the Barking Deer, and it is not uncommon throughout the lowland and hill forests (more commonly in hill forests and upland areas). These are relatively small deers, just over a 1m in length from head to body. This is a heartening sighting, as it indicates that these deer are still around the Gombak forests, despite the pressures of hunting from nearby settlements and the much larger population mass of Kuala Lumpur. If you want to hear what these deer sound like, download this file (mp3, zip). This recording was made in Temengor Forests (northern Peninsular Malaysia) on tape, in December 2001. © Reza Azmi 2001.

Surin Suksuwan, also adds:

"Concerning Kenny's article on the Kemensah trail, it might be interesting to note that on a recent hike up the trail (late 2002), I heard the duet calls of gibbons. I'm quite familiar with calls by the White-handed Gibbon and I can say with a certainty that they were distinctly different. So the calls were most probably made by either the Agile Gibbon or the Siamang. The calls were made from some distance to the north or east of the trail (towards the Main Range)."

"The trail itself was through a heavily logged area. Could hardly see any tree of respectable size but if the area is connected to the Main Range, chances are larger mammals, such as the barking deer that Kenny spotted, are found there. I also noticed the tracks made by wild pigs. There were also chestnut trees (Fagaceae) fruiting at that time which could be attracting foraging animals."



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