Backyard Explorers

Biodiversity Gardens Capacity Building Workshop

Drains, Small Ponds & Wetlands by Affan Nasaruddin

From Biodiversity Gardens Capacity Building Workshop with Affan NasaruddinWater Warriors (Co-Founder)

Affan Nasaruddin is a project officer of Water Warriors (WW). WW is an in-campus NGO which focuses on water conservation efforts. It is under University of Malaya’s (UM) Sustainability and Living Labs. Affan co-founded WW with his wife, Siti Norasiah Abdul Kadir (Asiah) in 2013. They are supported by volunteers, university staff, students and lecturers who are concerned about water bodies in UM, and work together to solve water-related issues. WW also has been working on water – related environmental education, teaching kids about wetlands, ponds, restoration of lakes and river monitoring.

How Water Warriors started

In 2013, Affan had just finished his undergraduate program. He got the opportunity to work as a research assistant with Dr. Zeeda Fatimah Mohamad. While working as a research assistant, he went to Japan to present a poster. This was Affan’s first academic journey in UM. He was quite impressed with the people of Japan, especially their way of taking care of the environment.

Affan realized that academics tend to do research about other places but seldom look at the context of the university itself. As researchers or environmentalists, how can we talk about other places without solving problems closer to home first? That really hit Affan.

So began the first task of WW — to restore the Varsity Lake in UM. In the Malay language, it is known as Tasik Varsiti. At the time, the Tasik Varsiti was in a very bad condition due to eutrophication (increased nutrient content in the water). The abundance of nutrients led to algal bloom that killed off fishes and other aquatic life in the lake. It was a dead place, and nobody dared to go near the lake. One could see rubbish and dead animals floating on the lake surface. As a fresh graduate back then, Affan was spirited and determined. With Asiah’s assistance, he spent a lot of his time at the lake, to clean and monitor the quality of its water. He didn’t expect other people to help him. People looked at them as if they were weird. However, Affan just kept on with the work.  

Asiah went through UM’s archive to uncover the history of Tasik Varsiti. When people speak of history, Affan says, we often refer to certain individuals or buildings, but not a park or a place like Tasik Varsiti. But, when they looked through the archived magazines, they could see that Tasik Varsiti was much more alive in the past. Asiah and Affan felt that Tasik Varsiti is part of UM’s history and that it was important to highlight that. So, using the photos taken in the 1960s and 1970s, Asiah made a video about the history of Tasik Varsiti. In the photos, we can see how students used to carry out all kinds of activities at the lake, including catching ducks!

Affan and Asiah’s work and initiative soon came to the attention of the UM’s top management. This led to the initiation of a project known as ‘Revival of Tasik Varsiti’ in 2014. The project had 3 phases: the first phase focused on research activities, the second phase aimed to fix the lake water, and the third phase was to bring in aquatic lives e.g. fish.

Affan and his team wanted to involve the campus community in this revival project. Usually, development projects in the campus only involve the development unit and contractors. However, in this lake revival project, Affan and his team tried to get the campus community, i.e. staff and students, involved so that the campus community would understand the aim of the project. They also wanted to foster a sense of belonging to the campus environment. Throughout the project, students and lecturers from different faculties went into the lake and helped remove trash. Some of the interesting findings include digging out a washing machine, a diskette and a hand phone from the bottom of the lake.  

The project took around 10 to 11 months to complete. As a result, the water quality of Tasik Varsiti improved greatly. The lake water is today safe for body contact, and the campus community can carry out recreational activities such as kayaking and water sports at the lake.  

After the revival project, WW was required by the university management to look into other aspects of water conversation such as water-saving efforts, rivers, and drains. They have been given a greater responsibility. Currently, WW is working closely with the development unit of UM on water conservation.  

Drains vs Rivers

What are the differences between a drain and river? Affan first asks us to imagine the typical drain: smelly, oily, full of pests (such as mosquitoes) and trash. Actually, such things happen because of sullage i.e. wastewater from house kitchens. But let’s look back at the actual function of a drain. There are many people who think that drains are meant to channel wastewater and that they are allowed to release anything into the drains. But this is not true. The ONLY function of a drain is to drain rainwater.

It is common in Malaysia for people dispose of the water from kitchens or washing machines into the drains. This should not happen. But, how do we solve it? One of the proper ways is to channel the wastewater to the sewers. Or, we can develop filtration systems such as directing wastewater into a container filled with sand, pebbles & living plants before discharging the water to the ground.  

What does a good drain look like? Dry, clean, structurally in good condition, has water flowing (instead of being stagnant), odourless, and much better if it sustains some lifeforms such as mosses, guppies and tadpoles.

Agenda ‘me-longkang-kan’

In Malaysia, the structure of some rivers and their surrounding environments makes them look like a longkang (the word ‘drain’ in BM). The implementation of such river modifications started back in the 1960s and 1970s to solve flooding issues. By channelising and straightening the pathway of a river, the river water flows much faster towards the main river.  Affan has surveyed the UM community. He finds that most people do not realise that there is a river in UM. They assume the river is a big drain, despite the fact that the river is officially known as Sungai Pantai. The construction method, people’s mindsets and the bad habit of discharging wastewater into the river makes our dear sungai look like a longkang.

Lives in Rivers

What sort of life can be found in urban rivers? Frogs, fishes, wildflowers, dragonflies, fig trees, palm trees. When WW did a biodiversity survey of the urban river in UM campus, they found butterflies, dragonflies, wildflowers, tadpoles, fishes, and many other wild animals. There are so many interesting lifeforms that you can encounter around the river. This happens especially when the river has concrete walls. The animals often reside within the crevices of the concrete. The material is not meant to support life, but with the appearance of cracks, plants and animals miraculously manage to survive in a concrete environment.  

Another case of agenda ‘me-longkang-kan’ was studied in Bukit Kiara where a stream was channelised into a drain. This is quite saddening because streams are precious in the urban context. Nonetheless, people often undervalue them. Once the stream was transformed into a drain, people started to dump rubbish and discharge wastewater into it. The channelization is a big loss to citizens as well as wildlife.

There is an alternative drainage system which is more eco-friendly: the bio-ecological drainage system. This drainage system was introduced in the Faculty of Engineering, University of Science, Malaysia (USM). With this system, there is no typical concrete longkang. Instead, the drains are enclosed with earth. Holes are created and a modular is inserted and covered. When it rains, water will seep into the modular and flow into lower areas. As the water enters the modular, filtration happens so that the water is purified and oxygenated. This process improves the overall quality of water. Aside from USM, there are a few places in KL that have implemented such drainage systems.


Ponds are common as they are multi-functional. Ponds can be used for aesthetic purposes, fish-rearing, educational and recreational activities as well as for sedimentation. Usually, a pond is created with a specific purpose. However, in the urban context, a pond often becomes a source of water or food for wildlife such as birds. With ponds, humans and wildlife share benefits.

So, why don’t we make wildlife ponds? There is a wildlife pond at the courtyard of Rimba Ilmu in UM. The pond itself attracts wildlife. There are lots of animals, such as frogs, dragonflies, water striders and so on, residing in the pond. The concept of wildlife ponds is not very popular in Malaysia, although it is quite common among Europeans.

There are many online references that guide beginners who want to build a wildlife pond. If you are concerned about mosquitos, you can add fishes such as guppies in the pond. The fish will eat mosquito larvae.

There is also a reference book: A Guide to Freshwater Fauna of Ponds in Singapore that provides detailed information of some water-loving animals that will visit your pond. 


Wetlands are known as Tanah Bencah in the Malay language. In Malaysia, there are a lot of wetlands. One of the most famous wetlands in Malaysia is Putrajaya Wetlands Park. It is a man-made wetland that helps improve water quality. How does a wetland work?  As the stream water enters the lake, the plants in the wetland will take up nutrients through their roots for growth. By doing so, the plants help to remove contaminants from the water. They also help remove sediments from the water. One can see the whole filtration process at Putrajaya Wetlands Park. Its incoming river water is quite turbid but the outflow is much cleaner.  

The functions of a wetland include water-filtering, flood and erosion control, and habitat and food source for fishes and other animals. There are many people who view a wetland as a place that is unstructured and messy. However, this kind of environment is able to accommodate high biodiversity and provide food, resting and nesting place for wildlife. Wetlands are also great spots for fishing, canoeing, hiking & bird-watching (as there are many water birds and migratory birds). And they can serve as enjoyable outdoor ‘classrooms’ for people of all ages.  

However, this may not always be appreciated. Wetlands have their unique ways of sustaining plant and animal life, and the way they appear may not be aesthetic enough for some people (think about the murky, swampy atmosphere that they create). When developers advertise new houses, they tend to state that the houses are in proximity to a lake or pond, to set higher prices and make better sales. But, in many cases, the houses are not near to any of the water bodies advertised. Instead, it is that muddy, messy wetland that is not ‘aesthetic’ enough for the residents. This is the cause of many complaints made by property buyers when they find out the truth.  

A typical imaginary view that can be seen on property advertisement

Drains, Ponds and Wetlands

The scattered green spaces on this map are important water catchment areas for Selangor state.

Looking at the big picture, how are these drains, rivers, ponds and wetlands inter-linked? How do they affect our daily life? One of the most important effects is in flood control. In addition to existing flood preventing measures, we need more systems to help mitigate flooding. Affan mentions the concept of a ‘sponge city’. In a city, we need to have clean ponds, lakes, green roofs, rain gardens and open canals that help us to absorb excess rain water, especially during sudden heavy rains.  

For example, in Bangkok, people are facing similar challenges, as the city is built near a river. They are also experiencing rapid population rise. A landscape architect, Kotchakorn Voraakhom has conducted a landscape design project in which she gets the city park arranged in a vertically diagonal way. There are slopes in the park to direct rainwater to targeted areas. This is a creative way of using space to manage rainwater.

In Malaysia, there is a manual entitled Urban Stormwater Management Manual for Malaysia. In this manual, several topics related to conserving water and water quality are discussed, including ponds and wetlands, drains and swales, bioretention systems, gross pollutant traps, and so on. Many experts are needed to solve water problems together. This includes landscape architects, hydrologists, and many more people with different backgrounds. We will need interdisciplinary efforts to overcome climate issues as well.

Affan shares the story of two water rehabilitation projects in UM. One is at the Faculty of Science, UM, where he and his friends helped to install filtration layers to the big drains by introducing plants and fishes. Another project is at Sungai Mustafa, UM. The water of this river comes from nearby hills. Initially, the water quality was poor due to poor management. However, after a series of restoration efforts, the water quality improved. WW also created a park along the river for recreational activities.

The most recent project of WW is the UM green belt. WW has collaborated with Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to create a small pond and a patch of wetland around it. The pond is then linked to the Tasik Varsiti as a source of lake water. Since the lake was originally built higher than surrounding water bodies, directing water to the lake was a challenging task but WW team was able to achieve its mission. Drain water is purified by the wetlands before entering the lake, and the green belt becomes a place for recreational and educational activities.


During the process of urbanisation, we are losing lots of spaces for water infiltration. We need to get these spaces back, by conserving more wetlands, making wildlife ponds, green roofs, and rain gardens. There are many more things that we can do to save our water. Let’s do it together!

This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant

You can watch the entire session here.

Biodiversity Gardens Capacity Building Workshop

Citizen Science by Yap Jo Leen

From Biodiversity Gardens Capacity Building Workshop with Yap Jo LeenLPP (Founder)


Langur Project Penang, LPP, is a dusky langur research and outreach group based in Penang. Its members are ‘Duskies’, a group of citizens from different backgrounds who share a common goal – dusky langur conservation.

LPP was established in 2016 when Jo Leen Yap was studying for her Masters. Since then, she has been working closely with Duskies to collect dusky langur data and spread awareness on the importance of primate conservation. Jo Leen shared with us about the work the group does and the people behind LPP, and most importantly, what citizen science is and how we can contribute to wildlife conservation.

Many people consider science a profession, but it can be a hobby as well. Jo Leen has had a sense of curiosity towards things around her from a young age. The journey of LPP started when she quit her job in 2015. She really wanted to help the wildlife in our country, and so she started studying dusky langurs under the supervision of her current supervisor, Dr Nadine Ruppert.  

Jo Leen soon met Wen, a graphic designer, and Wen became LPP’s first citizen scientist member. In the early days, Jo Leen did not know much about citizen science. She thought that since she was studying primates and was also an environmental educator, why not share her stories from the field on Facebook & Instagram? As a result, some of her friends started to come in to help out.

Wen designed the logo of LPP and helped Jo Leen in fieldwork. They went into the forest 2 to 3 days per week, when Wen was free. Jo Leen trained Wen to collect data through scan sampling and focal sampling. They then started to post more information online.

Eventually, more friends joined the team for fieldwork experience. Since they were very curious about the dusky langurs, Jo Leen let them follow the team into the forest. In return, they would have to contribute something – helping with data collection or producing creative educational articles, photographs or videos. Today, LPP has 70 volunteers, local and international.  


What is citizen science? Can everyone be a citizen scientist? To answer these questions, let’s think about what we do on a daily basis. We are surrounded by nature and often interact with nature close to us. It can be observing pollinators in our gardens, finding birds in our backyards, or measuring the amount of rainfall on a weekly basis. All these activities are those of citizen scientists. So, everyone can be a citizen scientist.

Although there are various definitions of citizen science, the main aim is to bridge the gap between scientists and communities so that we can have more impact together. By involving more people with different backgrounds, conservationists can achieve greater milestones, relying on teamwork and creativity.

LPP comprises citizen scientists from different backgrounds that work towards the conservation of dusky langurs and urban wildlife in Penang and Malaysia. The first pillar of LPP is the research project. This project involves long-term data collection that began in 2015, before LPP was established.  Jo Leen has trained citizens in the field, teaching them how to collect data in a proper and non-biased way. This way, their observations can support scientific research.

The second pillar of LPP is the canopy bridge project. In 2019, LPP installed the first canopy bridge in Malaysia. Since then, LPP has dedicated efforts to collecting more data on urban wildlife road crossing hotspots so that they can propose areas to build more arboreal crossings. This is important because most of the planned wildlife crossings in Malaysia are bioducts, which target large, charismatic mammals. However, most of the tree-top animals such as monkeys, squirrels or even tree snakes are being neglected.  

The third pillar of LPP is the outreach and education programme. The main objective of LPP is not restricted to research, but also aims to promote co-existence among people and wild animals.  Jo Leen’s background is in environmental education, and she is passionate about it. Jo Leen really hopes that she can make a difference, since typical researchers are not willing to take the time to talk to a 6-year-old kid or 60-year-old uncles and aunties. However, these are the people that live close to urban wildlife. They are the crucial community that can help to conserve wildlife and promote human and wildlife co-existence.  LPP believes that symbiotic relationships should be created not only among different species of animals but also between animals and humans. We should have more empathy, tolerance and understanding towards our wild residents, a.k.a. wild animals.  


Conservation is a process that not only saves wildlife but changes people’s perspective as well. For example, people tend to see monkeys as either pets or pests. We can change these perceptions to more positive ones, such as, monkeys are important seed dispersers in rainforests. There are many ways to do so, and it all depends on the interest and specialty of citizen scientists. In LPP, there are four elements to utilising citizen science in achieving research, conservation and education.

1. Field research

Field research involves monitoring of dusky langurs in study sites, arranging research data and training new members of LPP. It takes many months or years to understand a group of dusky langurs in terms of their home range, food plants & social dynamics. During the first MCO (Movement Control Order), LPP was unable to conduct fieldwork for 3 and a half months. When the research team caught up later during RMCO, there had been changes in the social structure and dynamics of the dusky langurs under study, including their home range. Hence, it is important to ensure the continuity of monitoring the targeted group for research purposes.

When people join LPP as members, they are able to learn wilderness survival skills, sampling methods, plants identification and bino-graphy i.e. photography through binoculars. LPP’s research includes collecting information on activity patterns, diet composition and home range of dusky langurs in the wild. After training, volunteers are able to assist research teams and facilitate fieldwork.

Studying science and nature is a never-ending process. Yet citizen scientists will manage to recognise food plants of dusky langurs, many of which are fig or fruit trees. In the last few years, LPP has documented over one hundred of the langur’s food plants, and the data collection is ongoing. Citizen scientists are also able to recognise different langur individuals, and so they can help collect data on individuals as well as groups.  

There is certainly a challenging side to fieldwork for citizen scientists. One of the common problems is insect bite. There have been incidents where citizen scientists were attacked by wasps during fieldwork. This is why it is important to ensure that members are fully aware of potential risks. Also, Jo Leen makes sure citizen scientists are well-trained so that they are independent enough to take care of themselves and their partners.  

2. Environmental education

LPP is actively engaging with the community through 3 different means:  

  • rainforest programmes,
  • outreach, talks and roadshow,
  • creative contents for social media and activities.

Instead of inviting people to follow the monkeys in the wild, LPP also encourages duskies to use their creativity to develop content that can raise awareness of dusky langurs and primate conservation in Malaysia. This is very crucial as environmental education is often neglected. Many people question whether environmental education has a measurable impact. This question has been on Jo Leen’s mind for years. As she is not a social scientist, she is now working with a group of psychologists to measure the impact of environmental education. Hopefully, they can share the results soon.

Why environmental education? Why involve citizens in environmental education?

Well, because everyone can benefit from experiencing nature and help with conservation. For example, during the rainforest programmes, children can join trips to the forest. They can hike and experience nature through their five senses. They also get to have an adventure and unlock their potential for learning and discovery in the forest.  Children are always amazed by their first encounter of a dusky langur, as well as the first-time they taste a wild starfruit. After the program, these children share what they learned with their friends and family. They even send messages to Jo Leen to report their observations of dusky langurs around their neighbourhood. These observations may seem insignificant in research, but to LPP, these sightings help us to develop a sense of the occurrence of langurs in urban environments.  

LPP members actively help with environmental education. They contribute their time to organise and conduct long-term programmes and activities. LPP also organises roadshows, known as Occupy Beach Street, for communities. Through the roadshows, people learn more about the langurs including where to see them, what they feed on and so on. All these efforts spark curiosity and interest towards the monkeys. This is where LPP bridges the gap between science and community, and also encourage the public to join its upcoming citizen science initiatives.  

Using creativity for science communication

Science communication can be creative. Why do science in a boring way? We have some very inspiring and interesting science documentaries like those of BBC and National Geographic Channel, and we often think that we need lots of money and manpower in order to produce films.

But what can we do as a small working group? The answer is creativity. Instead of making typical printed educational boards, we have many other ways, from story-telling web articles and infographics to videography.

Several members of LPP contribute science communication materials: Wen, the graphic designer, created LPP’s logo. She also produces interactive props such as crossword puzzles and paintings. At the moment, she is helping create T-shirts for LPP. By integrating the food plants of dusky langurs into the design, Wen makes the T-shirts unique and educational.

Eric is a communication officer at PWTC. He is also a writer. Eric has been collaborating with LPP since late 2017. He has been actively engaged with LPP, especially in obtaining information on the canopy bridge project and environmental education programmes, so that he can write more stories in a more creative and impactful way, reaching a wider range of audiences.  

The younger generation of LPP members are very creative and interested in conservation. One of their main concerns is making a living in the field of conservation. Although they might find that their career is not a very lucrative one, the right citizen science platform will allow them to discover their potential.

Jieh Long is good in illustrating & content-creating. He is now helping LPP to produce a lot of cute wildlife cartoons for writing, videos & infographics. He also converts findings of scientific research into infographics that promote a better understanding of citizen science and wildlife conservation among the public.

Zher Yee who studies in Imperial College, UK has created a monopoly game that involves role-playing. In this game, each player has his or her own role to play. The roles include conservationist, government official, developers or citizens. The players will learn how their roles impact the conservation of primates and langurs. Also, they will learn how stakeholders can work together in order to make a difference in wildlife conservation.

Yoong Shuen is a broadcasting student in Han Chiang University College of Communication. She helps LPP to produce various educational videos. The videos that she produces involve citizens’ perspective, which are different from those created by people with a science background. These videos are able to reach wider audiences.

3. Community effort in conservation

The third element to utilising citizen science is community. In order to create a long-term impact for our citizen science projects, we need to reach out to more people.  LPP has been working together with communities in several projects.

First, there is road ecology, which is the study of the impact of roads on the movement of wild animals. We always think of wild animals living in far off places like the deep sea or remote mountains. In fact, due to habitat loss and fragmentation, many wild animals now exist in our neighbourhood. Therefore, LPP started to encourage people to make reports about road accidents or road-crossings that involve wildlife. For example, during the RMCO, LPP received a call that reported the injury of a langur in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.  When someone witnesses a road-crossing activity, he or she can report to LPP. LPP will collect the data and use it for upcoming conservation projects. If a person encounters a road kill incident, he or she should directly contact PERHILITAN (Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia). Or sometimes, LPP acts as the middle person that aids communication.

Second, there is documenting urban wildlife sightings. LPP tries to seek help from the public to collect sightings of urban wildlife across Malaysia. Currently, LPP is working with Dr Cedric Tan from Oxford Brookes University to develop a tool that encourages citizen scientists to report wildlife sightings.

Some may wonder what the difference is between this project and iNaturalist. The objective of this wildlife sighting tool is to create a more rewarding platform. People can join this project for different purposes. Some may join out of curiosity, others to be helpful, while some aim for vouchers. LPP will need to identify people’s purposes and identify more niches of the public, and this will help to engage new communities in wildlife conservation.

Combating wildlife crime

Wildlife crime is not a new issue for people who are concerned with conservation. On social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, we see people and even celebrities selling or buying wildlife as pets, including babies of dusky langurs. These young langurs are so adorable that people want to own them as exotic pets.

LPP encourages citizens to screenshot the advertisement and send it to LPP itself, the Wildlife Department or MYCAT (Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers). Citizens can also raise awareness by creating Instagram contents, stories, hashtags (#PrimatesAreNotPets for example), articles and blogs regarding wildlife crime. After collecting coordinates and photos from the public, LPP will forward the information to wildlife department for further action. As Jane Goodall said, every individual makes a difference. If we start to do something, even a simple act of taking a screenshot and sending an ad of wildlife sale to the authorities, we are helping to gather data on wildlife crime.

Even in our backyard, people may still be keeping wildlife as exotic pets. It is our responsibility to ask ourselves whether we want to help or pretend that we do not see anything.

All these efforts are not only saving the animals and giving them a second chance, but also contributing relevant data to research projects that aim to understand and protect wildlife.

4. Collaboration

Lastly, LPP utilises citizen science in collaborative projects such as the Canopy Bridge project. In Penang, wildlife habitat is fragmented by roads and buildings. After years of following the animals in the forest, LPP realises that these animals move from one fragmented zone to another. 

Dusky langurs use overhead cables for moving. They even run across the road, which is very risky for both young and elder individuals. Therefore, LPP wants to overcome this problem through large-scale efforts. Recently, with the data collected from citizen scientists, LPP approached relevant authorities to construct a canopy bridge.

Some stakeholders that LPP works with are PERHILITAN, Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia (FDPM) and even Public Works Department (JKR). LPP held multiple meetings with these stakeholders to get their approval for the project. After these meetings, Jo Leen realised that all of these stakeholders were concerned about wild animals, and, with a common dedication and passion towards wildlife conservation, we can work with different stakeholders and make a difference.

In February 2019, LPP built the first canopy bridge in Malaysia. After a year of data collection, LPP recorded 500 crossings of three charismatic species: long-tailed macaque, plantain squirrel and dusky langur. There are also birds and rodents that use the canopy bridge. As LPP shares these data publicly through videos, people have started to share more sightings of urban wildlife crossing activities. This inspires LPP to reach out to different groups of citizens in order to have more collaborations.   

Last month, LPP upgraded the canopy bridge to its second prototype which resembles a doubly twisted liana. Apart from working with authorities and existing collaborators, LPP also gained support from a volunteer engineer who helped LPP create a solar panel that charges the camera trap (a specialized camera for filming wildlife that was set up at the canopy bridge). This really helped a lot as until then, Jo Leen had to climb up the pole and change the batteries a few times per month. It is amazing how a single effort is able to reach out so that more people are inspired to join and help out.

All these videos of animal crossings can be found on LPP’s Facebook page. There are all kinds of camera footages of the canopy bridge. Hopefully, this project will help to collect more data in order to determine which prototype of the canopy bridge is more suitable for the wild monkeys in Penang.

Future of primate conservation in Malaysia

“Are you positive about the future of primate conservation in Malaysia?” This is the question that people always ask Jo Leen in interviews or sharing sessions. She believes it is the young people who decide the future. There are more young people engaged in conservation as citizen scientists, whether in their local groups or initiating their own citizen science projects, even involving younger children. This makes us more hopeful as these are the people who will be able to make a difference in the future. It may be hard to believe for some, but throughout her years of involvement in citizen science projects, Jo Leen confirms that such efforts change peoples’ behaviour and create opportunities for future conservation. It is just a matter of wanting to do or not to, and the willingness of other stakeholders to collaborate and contribute to wildlife conservation in Malaysia.

Seeing all the camera footages of langurs using the canopy bridge to cross road, Jo Leen feels more confident about continuing with the installation of canopy bridges for wildlife crossing. Many people ask her if she will continue to with LPP after she completes her PhD study. Jo Leen gives a big YES, because if she doesn’t do it, no one will do it. If she doesn’t make the effort to keep this group of citizen scientists together, the future of Malaysian primates may not be as good as recent or previous times; and we still need more people to get involved as citizen scientists in order to make a difference.  

What are the future plans of LPP?

LPP will engage with more Malaysian citizens and reach out to more stakeholders. Aside from establishing canopy bridges, they also want to have arboreal wildlife road crossing. This can be done by putting signage by the road. In addition to elephant, tapir, monkey ground crossing, we can also have tree-living wildlife crossing signage.

For environmental education, Jo Leen would like to see more collaboration among educators so that we can merge all our expertise and creativity together for nature conservation in Malaysia. And so that we can proudly announce, on international platforms, that Malaysia has succeeded in adopting citizen science efforts in which all Malaysians can be involved in.

This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant

You can watch the entire session here.


How to do mulching

A layer of dry leaves covers the soil around ginger plants

Mulching is a simple and yet useful gardening technique. It is the practice of putting a layer of covering above the surface of soil, so that the soil is shielded and protected. The layer of covering is known as mulch. Mulch helps to conserve moisture in soil and suppress weeds. It also maintains the soil’s structure and regulates its temperature. Organic mulches enrich soil with nutrients and support soil microorganisms. Mulch can also help avoid direct contact of edible crops with soil. It is used for decorative purposes as well.

There are two types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulches are made up of formerly living materials. They will eventually decompose and need to be replaced regularly. However, organic mulches will improve structure and organic content of soil underneath. Some examples of organic mulches are wood chippings, shredded leaves and newspaper sheets. Inorganic mulches such as plastic sheets and gravels do not require frequent replacing, but they will not add any nutrient to the soil.

Granite chippings can be used to pave the walkway of the garden

There are several tips for using mulch. First, keep the mulch at 5 to 7 cm thick. You need to have a certain amount of mulch to protect the soil effectively. However, when the mulch is too thick, it absorbs all the moisture and prevents water from reaching the soil underneath. This is detrimental to the surrounding plants as their roots will not be able to absorb water.

Second, make sure the stem and roots of trees and shrubs are not in direct contact with the mulch. Otherwise, the plants may rot due to high humidity. Also, since mulch creates a moist and dark environment, it may attract pest insects that damage plants. Therefore, try to leave an empty circle, with a radius of 15 cm, around the tree or shrub.

Mulching requires little maintenance. However, if you are using organic mulch, you have to add new mulch consistently as the mulch will eventually disintegrate. Sometimes, weeds may sprout if the mulch contains seeds or the soil was not weeded properly before mulching. Remove the weeds by hand if you spot any of them.

Organic mulch will slowly decompose and disappear.

The mulch may harden as time goes by. You will need to rake and loosen the hardened mulch so that it becomes functional again. If you are using lightweight materials for mulching, create an outer edge or border around the mulch to keep it from spreading by wind or rainwater.

Mulching is a low-cost and effective way to conserve soil. You can experiment with different materials to find the mulch that is most suitable for your garden. Have fun!

Case Study Series

Case Study Series: Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

A panoramic view of Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is a community garden in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. It is on a small, linear piece of land flanked by houses on both sides. The community garden was initiated by Ng Seksan, a landscape architect, back in 2013. It took the founding team several years to get permission from authorities to use the land. As the team built the garden, it received funds from nearby residents and Think City, a Malaysia-based organisation that aims to make cities more people-friendly, resilient and liveable.

Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is managed and maintained by volunteers. It is open daily to the public, and no admission fee is charged. The garden is planted with vegetables, fruits and herbs that are given to underprivileged groups including refugees, orphanages and homeless people. It is equipped with walkways, chairs and tables to allow visitors to enjoy the garden comfortably. There are also farm animals such as geese, ducks, chickens, sheep and cows, and visitors can buy feed for them.

Since the garden is a non-profit initiative, it was sustained solely by the donations at first. After the animals were introduced, the garden tried to generate additional income by selling animal feed to visitors. This soon has become an important financial resource.

Planting plots full of vegetables
People feeding the farm animals

Success Factors of a Community Garden

As it approaches its third year, Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is gaining popularity among the public. Not only has it become a tourist hotspot, it also inspires other urban communities to create such spaces in their residential areas.

Here are some of the success factors that keep the garden moving forward.

The garden serves as a great place for learning and sharing information. Because of its strategic location, urban dwellers can reach Kebun-Kebun Bangsar easily and meet others who share an interest in farming. There are also experts and organisations that can provide guidance and support in planting crops.

Two young volunteers helping with maintenance work at the garden

Volunteering at Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is a fulfilling and meaningful experience. The garden grows food for needy people. All produce is given free to soup kitchens or welfare agencies so that underprivileged communities can have the chance to eat fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. 

The garden is friendly to visitors of all ages. Children love to play with the animals. They also enjoy exploring different parts of the garden. Adults are charmed by pretty flowers, the tranquil atmosphere and picturesque scenery.

A plot that demonstrates paddy planting. Visitors, including children, can learn how to grow food in the garden.

Challenges and Solutions

Managing a community garden is not without its trials, and the garden has its share of technical and operational challenges. As Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is community-based, it relies largely on volunteers to operate and function. Getting sufficient hands is challenging as volunteers tend to come and go. Therefore, finding new and dedicated volunteers is an ongoing issue for sustaining the garden.

Then, while the farm animals were generally popular, at one point, there were complaints from neighbouring residents who were bothered by the noise and smells produced by the animals. Kebun-Kebun Bangsar was ordered to remove them, and the farm animals were then relocated to a different section of the garden.

A cow tethered and kept at the garden.

Finally, Kebun-Kebun Bangsar practices organic farming, so volunteers have to put extra care into cultivating plants. They need to think of alternative solutions to chemicals when the plants are attacked by pests or diseases. This requires technical advice and support to ensure successful gardening. 

Making a Community Garden Sustainable

Sustaining a community garden is not easy. It is important to have a core group of volunteers that are willing to help and complement one another. Each volunteer has his or her own strength. Some are good at planting, some help to attract new visitors, and others contribute money, time and/or energy to maintain the garden. Then there are the people who manage and coordinate volunteering works.  

Events and activities help secure financial resources and attract potential volunteers. Before Movement Control Orders (MCO), Kebun-Kebun Bangsar held fundraising concerts and workshops that taught composting, planting and organic farming. People who attended the events would get a chance to know the garden and eventually become regular visitors, volunteers or funders. The garden also serves as an event space to organise gatherings, potlucks and meetings.   

The fundraising concert poster

The garden is ever-evolving. There are always new projects coming up. For example, the herb garden and pizza oven are some of the recent works contributed by volunteers. Such dynamic is a key factor that keeps people visiting the garden again and again for new experiences.

Visitors at the herb garden of Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

A garden like Kebun-Kebun Bangsar demonstrates creative use of green spaces in cities. It is a place where urban dwellers can form communities and connect with the environment.

Species Guide: Craft Plants


A coconut palm with its feather-like leaves and straight, upright trunk. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Coconut Palm

Malay name: Kelapa, Nyiur

Scientific name: Cocos nucifera

Conservation status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A palm tree that reaches 30 m tall. It is crowned by large, feather-like leaves. Stem is straight, unbranched, have rings of scar. It bears small, clustered flowers and roundish fruits which turn from light green or yellow to brown when ripe.

Habit: Perennial tree

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds

Ecological function: The flowers of this plant attract insect pollinators. It is host plant of many butterflies and moths e.g. Hidari irava (coconut skipper) and Tirathaba rufivena (coconut spike moth). As this plant produces flowers and fruits all year round, it provides a stable source of food for wildlife.

Pollinator: Wind, insects

Soil: Sand, loam, clay, organic soils

Moisture: Moist, well-drained soils. It is drought-tolerant.

Shade: No shade

Use in crafting: The leaves of this plant are used as thatching materials or in making baskets and mats. Malay community uses the leaves to make ketupat, a traditional rice-based dish that is usually prepared for festive seasons.

A bunch of cooked ketupat wrapped in woven coconut leaves. Photo credit: Meutia Chaerani, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other use: The coconut milk that is processed from the freshly grated flesh has been traditionally used in Asian culinary. Coconut husks can be used as mulch to fertilise soil and conserve moisture. Coconut oil can be used for cooking or in manufacture of margarine, confectioneries, soaps and cosmetics. Coconut palm wood is suitable for making furniture, household utensils and tool handles.

Species Guide: Craft Plants


The long, shiny leaves of pandan. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Screwpine

Malay name: Pandan

Scientific name: Pandanus amaryllifolius

Conservation status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A shrub or small tree with long, slightly pleated leaves. Leaves are fragrant and spirally arranged.

Habit: Perennial shrub

Cultivation: It is planted by stem cuttings & suckers (side shoots that emerge from the base of a plant)

Ecological function: It is a host plant for moth caterpillars. It provides shelter for small vertebrates.

Pollinator: No data

Soil: Fertile loamy soils

Moisture: Well-drained soils

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

Use in crafting: The leaves of this plant are chopped and mixed with flowers to make potpourris. People weave the leaves into baskets and sleeping mats.

Other use: The leaves are used as food containers. People also use them to colour and flavour dishes or beverages. An essential oil extracted from the leaves has insect-repellent activity.

Species Guide: Craft Plants


White flowers of inai plant. Dinesh Valke from Thane, India, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Common name: Henna Tree, Egyptian Privet

Malay name: Inai

Scientific nameLawsonia inermis

Conservation Status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A shrub or small tree that reaches 2-6 m in height. Stem is slender and much-branched. Old branches can be spiny. It bears small, white, fragrant, clustered flowers. Fruits are round and brown in colour.

Habit: Perennial shrub or tree

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds, cuttings or air-layering

Ecological function: The fruits of this plant are eaten by birds. It is used as a hedge plant. It provides shade. It is used for erosion control.

Pollinator: Self-pollinating

Soil: Sandy soils. It tolerates clay and stony soils.

Moisture: Fertile, well-drained or dry soil. Mature plants are drought-tolerant.

Shade: No shade

Use in crafting: The leaves of this plant are used to colour fingernails and to paint or decorate palms of hands and soles of feet. It is also used for hair-dyeing. The fibres of branches and stem bark are used to make baskets.

Other use: The flowers of this plant are used in perfumery. Its wood is used for fuel. This plant is used as an ornamental plant for its fragrant flowers.

Species Guide: Craft Plants Species Guide: Plants for Food


A jelai plant. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Job’s Tears

Malay name: Jelai

Scientific name: Coix lacryma-jobi

Conservation status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A grass that reaches 1-2 m tall. It produces tear-shaped false fruits that enclose the grains, giving the name of this plant. The false fruits turn from black to grayish white when mature. Leaves are linear or lance-shaped.

The black, bead-like false fruit of jelai plant. Photo by Siti Syuhada

Habit: Perennial grass

Cultivation: It is planted by seed-containing flowering bracts, cuttings or rhizomes.

Ecological function: It is a moth host plant. The moth caterpillar feed on leaves of this plant. The plant provides nesting material for birds. It is used in agroforestry system especially in highlands. It is used for wastewater treatment.

Pollinator: Wind

Soil: Fertile loamy soils

Moisture: Moist, well-drained soils

Shade: No shade

Use in crafting: The hard-shelled false fruits are used as ornamental beads for jewelry, rosaries or decoration for clothing. In Africa, there is a musical instrument known as shaker gourd. It consists of a net of false fruits loosely wrapped around a hollow gourd. When the net is slapped against the gourd, it produces a rhythmic sound.

Other use: The seeds of this plant can be used as a rice substitute.

Species Guide: Common Fruit Trees

Limau Kasturi

An unripe fruit of limau kasturi. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Calamondin Orange

Malay name: Limau Kasturi

Scientific nameCitrus × microcarpa

Conservation Status: Cultivated, Naturalised, Introduced (China)


A medium-sized shrub or small tree that grows up to 3-4 m tall. Leaves are egg-shaped and aromatic. The upperside of leaves is dark green while the underside of leaves is pale green. Stems are slightly thorny. Bear white, fragrant, five-petaled flowers. Fruits are small and round, turn from green to light orange when ripe.

A limau kasturi plant. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Habit: Perennial shrub or tree

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds

Ecological function: The flowers of this plant attract pollinators. It is a caterpillar food plant.

Pollinator: Bees, insects

Soil: Sand, loam, clay, organic soils

Moisture: Moist, well-drained, fertile soils

Shade: No shade, partial shade

Use: Its fruits are eaten raw or cooked. The fruit peel is preserved and used as food flavouring.