A newspaper story last Saturday featured the village of Ulu Geroh, in Malaysia, where local Semai guides take tourists to see the Rajah Brooke Birdwing butterflies and the rare Rafflesia flowers. The story in The Star updates information provided by an AFP dispatch on the subject in November.
The community-based organization that hosts tourists is obviously expanding and growing more sophisticated. Called the Friends of Ecotourism and Nature Conservation, which has the acronym SEMAI, the group not only takes tourists to the places where they know the visitors will see the butterflies and the rare flowers, it now also takes people to a local waterfall, to a cave, on white water rafting trips, and trekking into the Cameron Highlands.
Furthermore, according to the newspaper story, the guides make an effort to introduce curious tourists to the Semai way of life. Ahha Bah Udal, the chairman of the project, told the newspaper there are 19 villagers who provide the guiding service, three of whom, including Ahha, have certificates called green badges from the Tourism Malaysia Licensing Board.
Ahha told The Star that the village gets between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors per year. Most come from Singapore, but they also come from other countries. The state of Perak gave the community organization a Tourism Appreciation Award in 2009 to recognize the group’s passion and dedication for promoting ecotourism and safeguarding their natural heritage. “Why let others do the job when we are the ones most familiar with the jungle and its surroundings?” asked Ahha rhetorically.
The initiative to guide tourists to local natural attractions started in 2000 when the villagers realized the potential for income from ecotourism, but it really took off when the Malaysian Nature Society helped them launch the SEMAI organization. The group now receives funding from various NGOs, government agencies, and corporate bodies. Shell Malaysia has given the group a grant so they can build three or four Orang Asli houses along the Ulu Geroh River for tourists, which will supplement the present dormitory in the village that is available for visitors.
The article also mentions that the group has established a website, at www.esemai.org, where a lot of additional information can be found on Ulu Geroh, the Semai people, and the nearest town of Gopeng. The website describes the E-Semai project, which has developed the website. It provides information about attractions in the area, accommodations, how to get there, and other useful information on the people and their ecotourism project.
In its photo gallery section, the website provides a couple brief videos about the project and the village. One shows some interesting footage of the Rajah Brooke Birdwing butterflies hovering at a salt lick, plus other animals such as leaches that are found in the forest. The other video is focused more on the culture of the Semai themselves and their village.
The news story gives a phone number so potential visitors can call Ahha.