PETALING JAYA: The Ulu Muda Reserve in Kedah, which is already facing risk as a water catchment area, is in danger of having its wildlife poached.
Poachers and hunters from as far as Laos and Myanmar have been detected in the forest, which is one of two places in Peninsular Malaysia where the spotted leopard is found.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) from Oxford University have found evidence of poaching during their recent 18-month study on the population of clouded leopards in the area.
In an open letter urging the Kedah government to accord official protection to the area, WildCRU said its researchers had encountered multiple signs of illegal poaching and harvesting activities.
“In total, we found 20 gun shells and probably, six to seven felled agarwood trees.
“Our camera traps have revealed multiple detections of people from Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, armed with harvesting and hunting tools,” it said.
Pictures of poachers caught in WildCRU’s camera traps were also attached with the letter.
The destruction of salt licks, on which animals depended for their essential mineral nutrients, would also negatively disrupt their population, said WildCRU.
“Opening up logging roads will increase accessibility for the already existing illegal activity,” it said, adding that this would further decimate the wildlife population and jeopardise the ecosystem as well as ecotourism activities in the Ulu Muda area.
It was recently reported in The Star that almost a year after rampant logging near the Ulu Muda Reserve that affected the water catchment area and left the dam there exposed, a new trail for timber lorries had been found.
The new trail at the catchment area in the forest reserve near Sik is believed to have been used by loggers since early this year.
Stretching from the Malaysian border with Thailand at Yala to Baling in the north of Perak and about twice the size of Singapore, it is said to be a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers.
However, logging is legal.
The 163,000ha Ulu Muda forest complex, covering seven forest reserves, is an important water catchment forest for Perlis, Kedah and Penang.
WildCRU is part of the Zoology Department in Oxford University, founded in 1986 with members from more than 30 countries.
Asked how they knew that the poachers were foreigners, its main researcher Dr Cedric Tan said they had found packages of instant noddles with Thai language as well as based on personal communication with local villagers.
“There was no report lodged,” he said to a question whether WildCRU had reported such intrusions to the authorities.
An e-mail of the letter was sent to the Department of Town and Country Planning in Kedah on April 20, added Dr Tan.
Hymeir Kamarudin, operator of Earth Lodge in Ulu Muda, said he had bumped into poachers several times and even cornered a few, in the presence of his guests.
“They tried to run away. I’ve cornered them before but they kept mum. We also had pictures of poachers in our camera traps,” Hymeir said, adding that it had some 10 cameras within 3km from the lodge.
He said he could understand it if the local people were to harvest agarwood, bamboo, rotan and herbs from the forest for their own use.
“It’s when people harvest for commercial use for sale in the foreign market that they take more than they need,” he said, adding that he had reported to the Forestry Department as well as Perhilitan about the poachers.