A news report from the U.K. last week described the recent visit of the British photographer Joshua Gray to the Batek living near the Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia. He was invited by the group Ecoteer—referred to as FuzeEcoteer in an earlier news story—to use his skills as a videographer and photographer to document the work of the volunteer agency.

The forest canopy of the Taman Negara National Park
The forest canopy of the Taman Negara National Park (Photo by Vladimir Yu. Arkhipov, Arkhivov in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Gray was based in the small town of Merapoh, located just outside the northwestern border of the huge park. A 20-year old student from Lewes who is studying at Falmouth University in the U.K., Gray told the newspaper that Ecoteer conducts walks through the forests to look for signs of tigers and, hopefully by their very presence, to deter poaching. In the course of their activities, the visitors also get to meet some Batek. Gray apparently got to interact with the Batek quite a bit.

He described the fact that they formerly lived nomadically in the forest, but around 30 years ago they were resettled by the government out of the national park and into a village. But, he added, they still rely heavily on forest products, though they are slowly adopting the foods and technology of the surrounding Malays.

Gray suspected that if present trends continue, the Batek will lose their “unrivaled jungle knowledge.” He indicated that Ecoteer employs some of the Batek men as guides and some of the women as organizers of camping trips. He commented on their amazing knowledge of the forest.

The newspaper report includes a link to Gray’s blog, which provides more details on his work and his trip. He published an entry on October 1, 2015, which indicated that he first traveled to Malaysia in 2014 as a volunteer with Ecoteer, primarily for an ecology project focused on the Perhentian Islands off the east coast of the Malay Peninsula. In the course of that trip he had some time to also visit Merapoh and the Batek villages.

He returned in the summer of 2015 to spend eight weeks in the forest studying the wildlife and visiting the Batek. He said that their children are not learning their ancestral language well—they are learning to speak a mixture of Batek and Malay, and they are having a hard time conversing with their elders.

He was amazed by the forest knowledge of both the Batek men and women. He sensed their shyness at first around their visitors, but in time they became quite comfortable around Gray and the other outsiders. He taught classes in English to the Batek children as he amassed thousands of images, which he plans to upload into his page at the photo marketplace website 500px.com.

Gray’s blog entry includes two photos of Batek adults, one an image of a man holding a plant and the second, an image of a woman holding a large knife, captioned “One of the Batek ladies foraging in the jungle.”