Tekong means “obstacle”, so named because the island obstructs the mouth of Johor River (Sungei Johor). Today the island still has a sizeable population, but the native residents have been replaced by army recruits who are shipped there for their basic military training. They are trained in jungle warfare and rarely encounter the remaining three resident wild elephants or other four-legged natives as the civilian inhabitants were moved out by 1987.
Before World War II, the island was a favourite ‘forest’ for hunters from the mainland. Their prey of wild boar and deer were once in abundance. The island was also known for its tobacco and rubber plantations. After the war, Pulau Tekong Besar underwent much development, resulting in the disappearance of the tobacco, fruit and vegetable plantations and poultry farms. The diminishing population comprising mainly of Malays and a few Hakkas and Teochews who had continued to live on the island and worked on the sizeable rubber plantation. Most of them are farmers and fishermen whilst the rest run coffee shops and sell provisions. Back in 1956, there were over 4,000 residing in 10 kampongs (villages). That excluded exiled sultans (kings) and refugees from the civil war in Pahang, Kelantan and the Riau islands. It was likened to a township. There were shop houses, mosques, churches, a Buddhist temple and an old British prison.