Encroachment damaging fossils, rare species in Batu Caves, researchers warn

Dr Ros Fatihah showing the photos of the orang utan fossils published few years ago. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

OVER a decade ago, Dr Ros Fatihah Muhammad and her research team were exploring a limestone cave within Batu Caves in Gombak, Selangor, when they made a groundbreaking discovery: fossils of orang utans dated to between 33,000 and 60,000 years ago.

These findings emerged from three distinct caves, including the Swamp cave, now known as Gua Lepak.

During this expedition, Dr Ros Fatihah, alongside her student, the lead researcher and paleontologist Yasamin Kh Ibrahim, uncovered an orang utan tooth.

ALSO READ: Balancing act in preserving geosites

This significant find served as evidence of the long-term presence of these species in the caves.

Dr Ros Fatihah, who is the president of the Malaysian Cave and Karst Conservancy (MCKC), said these discoveries were documented in a 2013 report by a geology team from Universiti Malaya, with further findings by various experts emerging subsequently.

British botanist Ruth Kiew and a key figure in the MCKC Batu Caves Scientific Expedition, emphasised the rarity of orang utans in Peninsular Malaysia, as they are native to the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

“The presence of their fossils in Batu Caves suggests migration from these islands.

The discovery of the orang utan fossils, along with later findings of extinct tigers, rhinoceros, bears and rodents within the same caves, has provided invaluable insights into the region’s distant past,” she said.

Kiew also highlighted the geological significance of the limestone caves, known as Kuala Lumpur limestone, dating back around 430 million years.

The area is part of the Gombak-Hulu Langat Geopark, which was accorded national geopark status in 2022.

Batu Caves, a world renowned site featuring a limestone hill known as “Bukit Batu” or “Gua Batu,” hosts a collection of caves.

Kiew says the fossils are tangible evidence that orang utans roamed the area 66,000 years ago.Kiew says the fossils are tangible evidence that orang utans roamed the area 66,000 years ago.

Among these, the Temple Cave, home to the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple, stands out as the most celebrated, while the Dark Cave is famed for its extensive network of passageways stretching over two kilometres.

“Most limestone caves are underground, but in Selangor, we see three occurrences of this type of limestone, with another in Gopeng,” said Dr Ros Fatihah.

“In this small area alone, we have unearthed fossils and rare plant species that have surprised scientists for more than a century,” she said.

She expressed her shock upon returning to the Swamp cave site (now Gua Lepak) years later and finding it under development.

“There are still fossils to be discovered within the caves, but encroachment and cementing over the area likely damaged what remained,” she lamented.

The encroachment issue was highlighted by StarMetro in a front-page report yesterday, “Food court in Gombak cave stirs up concerns”.

Regarding Selangor’s bid to apply for Global Unesco status for the National Gombak-Hulu Langat Geopark (GHL Geopark), Kiew pointed out that Batu Caves (Temple) was disqualified for Unesco Heritage status due to surrounding developments.

“A development should not overshadow the limestone hills.

“Currently, Batu Caves lacks a well-defined boundary, with no protection or buffer zone separating the cave from the main road.”

Kiew highlighted the threat of urban encroachment, noting that commercial and residential structures were inching ever closer to the hill.

She advocated for a safety zone around karst limestone, recommending a buffer of two to two-and-a-half times the height of the limestone to mitigate rock-fall risks, and suggesting a safety zone for Batu Caves between 650m to 1,000m wide.

Both Dr Ros Fatihah and Kiew said there was a pressing need for governmental action to preserve the area’s unique biodiversity and geodiversity.

“The government needs to reassess conservation strategies and the legislative framework for Batu Caves, considering its distinctive features and vulnerabilities.

“There have been proposals to designate Batu Caves as a nature reserve and to establish a managing authority like Selangor Water Management Authority under direct state control,” Dr Ros Fatihah said.

“However, this requires political commitment,” Kiew added. — By BAVANI M and SHALINI RAVINDRAN

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

gua lepak , batu caves , selangor , tourism , geosites , unesco ,


Next In Metro News

Workshop shares soapmaking, income tips with elderly in Tapah
City Hall identifies 19 firms for KL tree maintenance contracts
Penang hosting Asian youth chess championship
Gopeng all set to glow
New facility to solve water woes in Sg Bakap
Fostering a happy, fit community
MPS looking into creating Rawang’s first ‘art street’
Past meets present in lively Chinatown hangout
‘Having Singapore base will boost regional trade’

Others Also Read