Malaysia is home to over 360 mammal species — of which 28 are primates — and close to 700 bird species. Despite its small size, Singapore packs a mighty punch in terms of fauna, with 80 species of mammals and 395 bird species. In addition to the Royal Bengal tiger, India is home to over a dozen other wild cats, including the Asiatic lion, Indian leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard, and caracal.
Yet, few people, including locals are aware of — and therefore care — about the rich biodiversity of their countries. This natural wealth is under serious threat due to increasing pollution, habitat loss, poaching, and climate change. Just in this part of the world alone, several species of animals and birds have already become extinct, while dozens more are classified as Endangered or Vulnerable.
In the words of Dr Jane Goodall, world-renowned primatologist and environmentalist: “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.”
Enter Eko Eko, a project that showcases the natural world around us. This global initiative is the creation of Roots & Shoots Malaysia — the local chapter of a global community initiative with over 150,000 active groups in 130 countries — and raises awareness about endemic wildlife in the five countries involved in the venture: Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, India, and Australia.
The first step has been to create a website containing diverse images from these countries, carefully compiled and captioned. Six themes are reflected in the images shot by both amateur and professional wildlife photographers: What’s for Lunch — how animals hunt or forage; Source of Life — how forest ecosystems function; Now You See Me, Now You Don’t — how camouflage works in nature; Home Sweet Home — the nesting habits of local fauna; Dressed to Impress — how animals use colour as a means of communication; and Family Ties — how animals interact as a family.
(Related: 10 once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experiences)
Highlighting wildlife and biodiversity in Asia Pacific
According to Roots & Shoots Malaysia president TP Lim, Eko Eko was started as a way to introduce Malaysian biodiversity and wildlife to Malaysians, as well as the rest of the world. He says, “Even though international platforms such as National Geographic and Animal Planet regularly make wildlife shows, South-east Asia does not get much coverage.”
Similarly, Eko Eko’s project leader, Peter Ong, says the aim is to show outsiders the region’s natural beauty rather than rely on them to discover it.
Both Lim and Ong emphasise the importance of raising awareness about the larger environmental issues that face the planet, such as deforestation and poaching. Lim says, “We keep harping about economic growth and human capital, but we are also experiencing devastating floods, pollution, and the climate change crisis. Eko Eko also seeks to emphasise the impact civilisation has on wildlife and the environment at large.”
For Eko Eko, the inspiration comes from Dr Goodall, and her idea of linking the head with the heart, and the heart with the hand. Thus, the information is not presented in the form of scientific facts and data, but in the form of images to evoke the wonder and awe nature can inspire.
The ultimate goal of Eko Eko is to propel action in the form of citizen volunteering. This means tree planting in the mangroves, beach clean-ups, and citizen scientist programmes.