ALOR SETAR: More than 100 scientists and naturalists will start documenting the extensive flora and fauna in the 162,000ha Ulu Muda Forest Reserve in an effort to push for its total protection.
This comes as timber companies put in demands for compensation from the Kedah state government for suspending logging licences.
For the next two years, scientists will arrive in teams and produce research from this forest, which is twice the size of Singapore and a crucial source of water for Penang, Kedah and Perlis.
Organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), the project will see experts taking plant and fish samples, setting up motion-sensor cameras along animal trails and even analysing pharmaceutical properties of non-timber growth in the primary jungle.
MNS president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said its volunteers would provide the scientists with the support they needed to venture into the jungle for their research.
MNS Kedah secretary Phang Fatt Khow said between RM3mil and RM5mil was needed to help the scientists reach deep into the jungle, adding that it had been raising funds for the research.
Citing an example of the extent of the research, Phang said one of the plans included taking scientists to the salt licks that lay within Ulu Muda, where elephants, tigers, tapirs, gaurs and sun bears had been spotted.
Salt is a precious nutrient for animals in the jungle.
“There will even be experts to examine the moss and lichen,” he said.
The expedition’s base camp is at the Ulu Muda Interpretation Centre near Muda Lake’s jetty in Gubir, about 40km from Sik.
State Environment and Green Technology Committee chairman Simon Ooi Tze Min, representing Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, cut the ribbon to the base camp last Sunday.
Ooi urged corporations in the northern region to support the expedition through MNS.
“Corporations in Penang which rely heavily on the water from Ulu Muda should step forward.
“This jungle belongs to us all and your contribution will help everyone in the northern region for decades to come,” he said.
The state government, said Ooi, had been exploring sustainable methods of gazetting Ulu Muda as a state park, adding that the results of the expedition would be compelling evidence to justify it.
He said that while the state did not regret revoking all logging licences in Ulu Muda, it now had to deal with timber companies making claims for compensation.
Although Ooi did not reveal the quantum of compensation demanded by the loggers, he said they had “so many ways of counting their losses, including the loss of future income”.
Last September, Mukhriz had announced the immediate revocation of all logging licences in Ulu Muda.
Applications for new licences were also suspended indefinitely.
Ooi said Kedah was now in discussions with the federal government for financial reimbursements in exchange for not tapping into Ulu Muda’s timber resource.
“As we forgo the much needed revenue from timber for the sake of ensuring that Perlis and Penang will have enough water, we will need the federal government to ensure that Kedahans will have sufficient funds for development,” he said.