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Thursday May 8, 2008

Mission to save our green heritage

fazleena@thestar.com.my

EVER wondered how a 130 million-year-old jungle looks? Take a trip to the Belum-Temenggor rainforest in Perak and you can find out, first hand.

The 300,000ha forest complex in Hulu Perak is bounded by the Malaysia-Thailand border and is linked to the Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary and Bang Lang National Park.

The East-West Highway from Ipoh to the East Coast divides the forest reserve into two parts – the Upper Belum (to the north) and the Temenggor Forest Reserve (to the south), which includes Lower Belum.

The forest is known for its rich bio-diversity. It is home to more than 100 species of mammals, including the Asian elephant, Malayan tiger, leopard, sun-bear, Sumatran rhinoceros and Malayan tapir According to the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), all 10 hornbill species of Malaysia can be found within the forest complex, including the endangered Plain-pouched Hornbill.

Striking: Pulau Batu Kapur in Temenggor.

Last year, the Royal Belum State Park was gazetted and granted fully protected status. The Federal and State governments also announced that logging would be phased out in the Temenggor Forest Reserve by 2008.

This was achieved through a partnership with The Body Shop in postcard campaign, whereby 80,000 signatures were collected in support of the effort.

The 117,500ha Royal Belum is managed by the Perak State Parks Corporation and guarded by the army.

It comprises tropical rainforest with many river systems, small grassland areas and Tasik Temenggor, a large man-made lake.

However, the battle to Save Belum-Temenggor is only half-won, and to create greater awareness of the need to save Malaysia’s green heritage, the Body Shop and MNS recently organised a nature trip into the wild.

The journey began in Pulau Banding, which is the gateway to the forest complex.

Nature lovers can opt to stay at the Belum Rainforest Resort, which can help organise trips into the jungle as well as sightseeing opportunities.

The guides at the resort are familiar with the routes and bounds of the forest complex as well as the Orang Asli who live amid the lush greenery.

Botanic attraction: Cheah-Foong striking with a newly blossomed Rafflesia.

Before one can enter the protected Belum forest, they have to stop at the X-Ray camp, which is an army checkpoint.

Once clearance is given, exploration – and admiration – of this lush forest can begin.

A 20-minute cruise to Sungai Rouk will take one to serene waterfalls that make a great backdrop for a picnic. And, a swim in the cool waters is quite irresistible.

Belum-Temenggor has many salt-licks that provide essential minerals to a wide variety of wildlife, ranging from butterflies to elephants. The tracks of the animals may be seen around these areas, and elephant tracks are distinctly visible in the areas visited by the pachyderms.

For those with an interest in plants, there are at least 10 locations for Rafflesia sighting, but it can be a steep climb to see the flowers. The species found here are the Rafflesia kerri, Rafflesia cantleyi and Rafflesia azlanii.

Belum Resort recreational officer Amree Majid said that during the low water levels, sightings of deer and tigers are common.

He explained that the area was surrounded by water about 200 to 300 metres deep. Because of the lake, the forest complex looks like islands.

“Belum gets its name from the sound made by the grasshopper – a ‘blum blum’ sound,” said Amree.

“This place is truly for people who love nature. They can enjoy activities like trekking, fishing, bird watching and even canoeing.

“You can get fish like Kaloi, Sebarau, Baung, Kelah, Tengalan, Temoleh and Toman here, but fishing is only for catch and release purposes,” he said.

Diah, an Orang Asli of the Jahai tribe, said life in the forest was a lot simpler than in the city.

“Our lives mainly revolve around going into the jungle to hunt, collecting fruits and searching for medicine. We do this two or three times a week.

“We go to Grik town once in a while to buy essential things,” he revealed.

According to Diah, there are 10 families living in Kampung Chueh in Lower Belum.

Mineral-rich: At this salt-lick called Sira Tersau in Temenggor, warm water bubbling from the earth emit a smell of sulphur.

Body Shop managing director Datin Mina Cheah-Foong said continuous exploitation of the forest was wrong.

“It is important to preserve our forest, especially with the current climate changes and global warming.

“We want to save Temenggor like we did Belum; if we can get the public to support the cause, we can definitely do it.

“On our part, we can reach out to our customers and make them aware of the situation. We cannot sit in the forest and count birds, like the MNS people, so we complement each other with this partnership,” she said.

To this end, the Body Shop came up with the Kick The Bag Habit and Refuse a Shopping Bag campaign in conjunction with the Earth Day celebration on April 22. The company pledged 50 sen for each shopping bag refused by every customer during April,while those who required a bag had to donate 50 sen towards this effort. The campaign ran in 50 stores in Peninsular Malaysia.

“We aim to raise RM80,000, which will go directly to MNS towards sustaining all on-going conservation and protection initiatives in the Temenggor rainforest.

“When the time comes to bring the facts to the government, MNS can present all the hard facts and data collected from the research.

“I believe that with the winds of change, the state and federal governments will listen to the people,” she said at end of trip.

Cheah-Foong also presented a cheque for RM33,161 to MNS. The money was raised through fund-raising activities in the stores.

MNS head of communications Andrew J. Sebastian said the money would be used for various awareness campaigns.

“We want to embark on awareness campaigns and activities. This is the oldest forest complex in the world – older than the Amazon and African jungles.

“Now that Perak has a new state government, we need to re-acquaint them with the related issues. Scientific research is also needed to substantiate facts.

“With the change of the times and the mileage from the Body Shop, we are confident that we will at least be heard and more people will become aware of this.

“With this greater awareness, the government will listen – especially when there are a lot of people involved, like the 80,000 signatures in getting Belum gazetted,” he said.

One for the album: The participants of the Body Shop Belum-Temenggor forest complex trip gather for a photograph.

Sebastian said they would try to get Temenggor accorded protected status as soon as possible.

According to the MNS, the Belum-Temenggor forest is the second largest remaining block of unprotected virgin forest in Peninsular Malaysia and the largest example of the northern monsoonal Burmese-Thai vegetation zone in Malaysia.

Not only does the MNS hope that Temenggor will be included in the Royal Belum, it also hopes a conservation site management plan will be developed for the state park that will protect the natural forest flanking the East-West highway from being converted to plantation.

How to get there

FROM Kuala Lumpur, take the North-South Highway heading north towards Ipoh. Take the Kuala Kangsar exit and head towards Gerik, bypassing the town of Lenggong. This will take you straight to Pulau Banding.

The journey from Kuala Lumpur to Pulau Banding can take five hours or more, depending on the stopovers.

For trips to Upper Belum, permits are required from the state’s park, police and army (X-Ray Camp). No photos are allowed to be taken at the camp.

A copy of the MyKad is required for Malaysians while foreigners need to submit a copy of their passport with full details.

It takes at least a week to get these permits through the resort. For details, call the resort at 05-791 6800 or log on to www.belumresort.com

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