Nature up close and personal

By Patricia Hului


AMERICAN POLITICIAN CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN once said, “Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.”

Similarly, wildlife photography can be seen playing its own ‘small’ role in raising environmental awareness.

But it does not means snapshots of flora and fauna are not loud enough to turn some heads, raise some eyebrows and eventually change some hearts on environmental concerns.

With much wildlife to be seen and captured on camera especially here in Borneo it was not a big surprise that people like Californian wildlife photographer and biologist Ch’ien Lee decided to move to Kuching.




Lee holds a degree in Biology/Ecology from the University of California Santa Cruz and he first came to Kuching in 1996 to work on a project propagating a native plant species.

“Kuching is a very good place to live if you interested in nature,” Lee said.

According to Lee, he has been interested in nature his whole life and has always wanted to live near a rainforest, so he decided to stay in Sarawak even after working for seven years with the Kuching company.

But how did this biologist add ‘wildlife photographer’ into his resume?




“All this time I was doing photography on my own as a hobby because it was a good opportunity to discover and share my enthusiasm of nature. Only in the past 12 years has it become a full-time profession for me.”

Lee stated that photography plays its own part in helping raising environmental awareness as well and that conviction is what really drives him in nature photography.

“By creating images of the outdoors, flora and fauna especially things that people normally had no chance to see by themselves; it will really open people’s eyes and make them genuinely interested to want to learn more, hopefully and eventually taking an interest in conservation,” he said.




Besides observing nature and capturing them through his lenses, Lee also noticed the changes in levels of environmental awareness here in Sarawak.

“I have been here for almost twenty years and I see some slow changes happening. They are more people now interested in nature and the outdoors than when I first arrived, for sure.”

Lee who is a committee member of Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch (MNSKB) said, “Malaysian Nature Society has more members now especially in Kuching than before and you start to see some of these programmes like Santubong Nature Festival, Borneo Frog Race and Borneo Bird Race.

“In the 1990s, there was nothing like these programmes so it is nice to see it happening now. I hope that in the next decade there will be a lot more like these. Yet there is still a lot that needs to be done.”

Catch them young, so the phrase goes, and Lee pointed out that there are not enough programmes for children.

“Coming from an environmental education programme background in California where every school has a lot of field trips and environmental education, I think there is a lot missing here that could be incorporated for the younger generation.”




As for something that could be done now for the environment, Lee will be taking part in an month-long exhibition at Monkee Bar starting Nov 22.

Half of all profits will be donated to the Orang Utan Project, a conservation company offering alternative solutions and sustainable funding opportunities for Borneo’s endangered wildlife.

“I have done a few exhibitions before in Sarawak so I’m trying to show photographs I have never shown before.”

He shared that he will be focusing on Sarawak’s wildlife, plants, scenery including some rare species and rarely-caught behaviour.

Lee hoped that the photos will be things people will be surprised to see because they have not seen it before.

“We did an exhibition in Bintulu few years back showing a lot of images flora and fauna of Sarawak including taken in Bintulu region.”

As Lee reminisced on his exhibition experience back in 2009 organized by Natural Science Society Bintulu and Sarawak Planted Forest Sdn Bhd; what he found very interesting was that many people very surprised to see birds, plants and insects that the public never knew could be found in Sarawak, let alone in Bintulu.

“I hope something similar will come out for this exhibition.”

It is his hope that those who see his exhibition will be inspired to take a hike in one of our national parks, go outdoors and see them on their own.

His photographs have graced the pages of articles and books including ‘A Walk through the Lowland Rain Forest of Sabah’, ‘Visions of Mulu’, ‘Pitcher Plants of Sarawak’, ‘The Fishes of Kuching River’ and an upcoming book on Batang Ai.

Lee’s passion for nature and photography compels him to travel all over Southeast Asia and his current projects are mostly in Danum Valley Sabah and New Guinea Indonesia.

“Even though I work in Indonesia or somewhere else taking photographs I like coming back to Kuching.”

For him, the ‘Cat City’ is a very nice place to live as it is a quiet, comfortable and has a good pace of living.

“I like to come back and call Kuching my home.”

Catch Lee’s photographs on display at the Monkee Bar, and experience the rich biodiversity our rainforest has to offer, one photo at a time. The exhibition will also feature photography and arts by Scottish photographer cinematographer Gerry Fox and artist Will Taylor.

Monkee Bar is located 12 Jalan Song Thian Cheok.

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