IPOH: New Straits Times contributor, Zulkifly Ab Latif, who was known as a travel writer and photographer, died while hiking up Pulau Tali Kail in Gerik today.
The 40-year-old man from Kota Tinggi, Johor had suffered from breathing difficulty before collapsing.
Zulkifly was one of 18 media participants who took part in the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry's (KeTSA) Eco-Tourism Exploration familiarisation trip deep in the jungles of central Perak. It was a three-day programme starting on Tuesday.
It was learnt that he complained of chest pains and nausea before collapsing and losing consciousness.
A Perak Fire and Rescue Department spokesperson said it received a distress call at 1.27pm today.
"We received a phone call saying that a member of the press who was a participant of a eco-tourism exploration program was reported to be unconscious.
"A team of firemen from Gerik were dispatched to the scene to bring down the man to the Banding Jetty," he said.
The spokesman said the man was later pronounced dead at the scene and his remains were handed over to the police. The operation ended at 5.20pm and the body was taken to the Gerik Hospital for post-mortem.
Zulkfifly had been a regular contributor to NST Life & Times' Travel (now known as Jom!) since 2009.
He began his writing career in Kumpulan Media KarangKraf's "Remaja" magazine before finding his niche at another publication in the same group, "Traverama".
Life & Times Jom! editor, Zalina Mohd Som said Zulkifly attended a photography course when he wrote for "Traverama".
This led to him honing his skills in photography, which eventually got him noticed by the team at NST Life & Time's travel section. He was roped in to be one of its regular writers in 2009.
"I lost a good writer and a good friend.
"He loved nature and diving assignments. He was the only one in our pool of writers who's was a certified diver," said Zalina, a close friend and colleague who was in contact with Zulkifly's family upon receiving the news.
The bachelor, who is the eldest of four siblings, was based in Kampung Makam, Kota Tinggi where he lives with his mother, a single parent in her 70s who runs a 'lempeng' food stall.
Zulkfily often highlighted the plight of independent guides in the stories he wrote.
"He always championed the small-time, independent guides. He would say, 'why do we need to help bigger corporations instead of these independent guides, who are making things happen.
"That's why at the end of his articles, he'd write down the phone numbers of the 'pak cik' or 'mak cik' guides he took for the trip."
"He always fought for the protection of our wealth in nature too."
On March 9, Zulkifly broke a story about the discovery of the world's 29th species of the Rafflesia flower in Tioman island.
Zalina said when writing on such issues, he was critical of the authority's stance of always wanting to prioritise development over environmental protection.
However, she said Zulkifly was a good listener and a family man.
"The reason he moved back to Johor was because he wanted to take care of his elderly mum."
Meanwhile, KeTSA conveyed condolences from all their staff to Zulkfifly's next-of-kin, and have rendered suitable assistance for the arrangements for his remains.
"The entire staff at the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry convey our condolences to Encik Zulkfifly Abd Latif, a New Straits Times contributor who died this afternoon while taking part in our Natural Resources Eco-Tourism Exploration Programme with the Perak media from April 6-8, 2021.
"The ministry will render suitable assistance with the handling of his remains. May his soul be blessed and placed among the pious and righteous. Al Fatihah," it said in a statement.