MALAYSIA is one of the most megadiverse countries in the world. We are truly blessed with rich biodiversity, and the ecoregions in this country are home to many unique flora and fauna.
Tropical rainforests make up 59% to 70% of Malaysia’s total land area, of which about 12% are pristine. Perhaps unknown to most people, Malaysia is also home to the world’s fifth largest mangrove area totalling over half a million hectares.
Recently, merbau (Melaka teak) was announced as our national tree during the launch of the Hutan Kita exhibition at the Kuala Lumpur Tower (“The merbau is now Malaysia’s national tree, says Dr M”, The Star, Aug 23; online at bit.ly/star_tree). This hardwood tree that stands tall, strong and big was selected as a symbol of the integrity of the nation’s forests.
There were immediately two conflicting views that arose from this announcement.
One group of environmentalists opined that it would actually help spark stronger environmental management efforts. Arguing, firstly, that it could very well be a stepping stone in raising awareness of local indigenous trees; and, secondly, that using merbau as a flagship species could help instil a sense of pride and help spark conservation efforts to protect other vulnerable flora and fauna in our jungles.
Others, though, are of the opinion that the declaration of a national tree has no significance whatsoever. By having merbau as a national tree, does it mean that this tree species can no longer be logged? What are some of the measures that are in place to protect it? And what sort of enforcement would be in place for those measures? In the event that it goes extinct, would it mean that Malaysia will not have a national tree?
There have also been questions about what due process was used to decide on Malaysia’s national tree. Some even went as far as suggesting that there should have been a voting mechanism in place for the rakyat to decide.
Ultimately, sustainable forest management is something that we should be aiming for with or without a national tree.
After all, the Aichi Targets that we have aligned ourselves with hopes to, among others, “reduce the rate of natural habitat and forest loss by at least 50%; prevent the extinction of threatened species; safeguard ecosystems for tribal groups, women and the poor; and combat desertification and restore degraded ecosystems”. We are definitely making some progress but much more needs to be done.
CENT-GPSThe Centre for Governance and Political Studies is a Kuala Lumpur-based behavioral and social science research firm.The Aichi Targets are part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and includes 20 targets to be met by 2020.