‘Tread lightly along green lung’

Taking it all in:The mangrove boardwalk at Kuala Selangor Nature Park extends into a mangrove forest which is also home to various animals, including crabs, mudskippers and birds. — GLENN GUAN/The Star

Conservationists are concerned for the flora and fauna, as well as the livelihood of the local community when news of a proposed development in Kuala Selangor Nature Park (KSNP) broke out.

Opened in 1987, the park in Selangor currently managed by Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), is housed within a 324ha land comprising a coastal mangrove forest (104ha), secondary forest (200ha), brackish water lake (8.09ha) and coastal mudflats.

KSNP is located next to the historical Bukit Malawati.

The park’s man-made lake system was specifically designed to attract birds to roost and feed.

Several rest huts and two watchtowers around the lake act as vantage points so birdwatchers and nature photographers can do their work.

The park’s northern boundary is the Sungai Selangor estuary while its western side faces the Straits of Malacca.

The eastern boundary is adjacent to the old Kuala Selangor township while the southern side borders the new Kuala Selangor township.

After it was announced at the Selangor state assembly last month that the state government had approved a development affecting 84.13ha of the park, it struck a jarring note with concerned parties.

On Aug 3, Selangor tourism, environment, green technology and Orang Asli affairs committee chairman Hee Loy Sian said the decision on the proposed development was made by the state executive council.

He said the private investment would involve about RM100mil to build 300 chalets for four-star accommodation at the park.

He also said that the nature park was still in the process of being gazetted as a permanent reserve and gave assurance that the forest reserve would not be degazetted.

Hee added that the forest reserve would not be affected and the proposed development would focus only on the existing development area.

The mangrove ecosystem, he said, would be preserved to ensure minimal damage to the trees during the development.

Concerned parties urge caution

Kuala Selangor Nature Park programme officer Asokumar Rajadurai said if Sungai Selangor near the mangrove forest was affected by development, it would damage the entire ecosystem, including the firefly population, ecotourism, marine life and the local fishermen’s rice bowl.

“Besides its diverse habitat where it acts as a sanctuary for many mammals, including four species of otters, local and migratory birds, the park plays a significant role in mangrove conservation,” he told StarMetro during a recent visit to the nature park.

The park, he said, was blessed with about 10 types of different mangrove species.

“Many people do not understand that mangroves are important in absorbing tidal waves like tsunami.

“They function as important buffer zones to protect the vast marine life.

“If that is gone, imagine the disaster that will take place in Kuala Selangor,” he said.

Asokumar said many tree-planting activities in the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects with private corporations and local communities had been organised to sustain the mangrove swamp.

“As we took a walk around the mangrove boardwalk, which extends into the mangrove forest, a pleasant cool breeze permeated the area.

“We had an uninterrupted view of various crabs, like the vibrant blue fiddler crab, mudskippers and birds, one of which was the large, heavily built crested serpent eagle.

“These birds are indicators to measure our environmental health,” he said.

Asokumar added that the park also had raptors and migratory birds visiting from even China, Siberia and Mongolia.

“KSNP is a strategic location for these birds to land and get their food during the migration season,” he said, adding that the park was recognised by BirdLife International under its Important Bird Areas programme.

The nature park is also home to the endangered silvered leaf monkey that is now the park’s logo.

Another of the park’s special feature is that it has the endemic species of the Selangor silvered langur and the crab-eating, long-tailed macaque.

“The Selangor silvered langur can only be found here in the peninsula, nowhere else in the world,” he said, adding that the monkeys depended on nature and the mangrove forest as their habitat.

Asokumar is doubtful that the state government’s proposed development would not harm the mangrove forest and park’s ecological balance.

“KSNP is not designed to accommodate four-star lodging. We have chalets and facilities for tourists here already.

“These are not five-star accommodations because we have service providers for local and international tourists who are nature lovers.

“A total of 84.13ha for the development will encroach on a huge part of the forest, including the mangroves,” he said.

Asokumar, a native of Kuala Selangor who has worked at the park since 2008, said the park provided income support to the local communities.

“There are about 10 staff members here, all from Kuala Selangor, and we manage the present facilities and generate income.

“We are local guardians for the fishermen to generate their income.

“The fishermen and villagers depend on the park for their livelihood. If all that is gone, what will happen to all of us?” he asked.

There are four types of accommodation offered at the nature park – eight units of kampung-style chalets with attached bathrooms, four units of A-frame huts with common bathrooms, four units of dormitories for six people each with attached bathrooms, and a hostel with 14 rooms.

However, all accommodations are now closed for maintenance.

Human-wildlife conflicts

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), on its website, said human-wildlife conflicts were happening more frequently, causing serious and widespread problems as human population grew and habitats were lost.

“Effectively managing human-wildlife conflicts protects communities, stops conflicts from escalating, builds trust in conservation and avoids retaliation against wildlife,” it stated.

Award-winning wildlife photographer and activist Sanjitpaal Singh concurred with this as he said we could expect animals like monkeys encroaching into residential areas should their habitats be destroyed due to development.

“We make matters worse by trying to feed displaced animals.

“We need to understand that humans are the dominant species, so when we feed the animals, we are giving them the notion that they are the dominant ones and we are inadvertently welcoming them into our space.

“Eventually, the animals return and are habituated and will enter your home once they equate humans to food,” he told StarMetro.

Sanjitpaal said he had witnessed young children taking baby silvered leaf monkeys, which have orange fur, as pets in Bukit Malawati.

“Once these animals are treated as pets, it will change their personality.

“This is what will happen if we take away their habitat,” he added.

MNS president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said more studies needed to be done on the silvered leaf monkey and its subspecies – from ecology, behaviour, zoonotic diseases, breeding performance, diet and potential conflict with humans.

“Nature and tourism can be good at a certain level, but not to the extent where it can cause conflict with humans and nature.

“Sustainable ecotourism is where we can enjoy nature without causing damage or conflict,” he said.

Prof Ahmad said development outside or near the forests should be carefully planned to avoid impact to the mangrove area.

“If we think of bringing tourism in the forested area, all aspects of disturbance must be considered, especially on the carrying capacity of the area, and number of visitors at a certain time,” he said.

He said the recent spate of strong winds also destroyed some mangrove areas in the nature park.

“We will replant the mangrove with the support of various private corporations.

“If we don’t restore the mangrove forest quickly, with current trends of weather changes, this will create more environmental damages,” added Prof Ahmad.

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