Need to conserve Batu Caves


Natural heritage: Photo of a part of the interior of Batu Caves. The limestone massif is under threat from nearby development. — Filepic/The Star

WE read with grave concern a recent report in the press that highlighted land clearing and excavation work at Batu Caves, Selangor, that threaten the integrity of the iconic limestone hill, its biodiversity and geology.

For more than 50 years, concerned NGOs have been calling for Batu Caves to be not only legally protected but for its protected status to be enforced. This new project illustrates the urgent need for a holistic approach to the management of Batu Caves.

Batu Caves is renowned globally as a tourist destination. It is also an important habitat for thousands of bats which have been scientifically proven as the most effective pollinators of durian flowers. An article in Market Insight (bit.ly/market_caves) in October last year mentioned that in 2018, Malaysia exported around 23,400 tonnes of durians valued at around US$30mil (RM128mil at today’s exchange rates) which shows the important role played by bats.

Batu Caves is also known as a site for recreational activities such as rock climbing, base jumping, zip-lining and educational caving.

The Malaysian Cave & Karst Conservancy (MCKC) is one of the very few organisations that carries out research and conservation of caves and karst in Malaysia. We organised the Batu Caves Scientific Expedition from January to December 2019 with the endorsement and approval of the Selayang Municipal Council. The expedition included scientists from various institutions, government bodies, and NGOs. There were many fascinating findings covering fields such as flora, fauna, geology and palaeontology. Five newsletters that summarise the expedition are available at bit.ly/cave_news.

Because of all these significant values, encroachment around the hill is worrying and may cause irreversible negative impacts on the flora and fauna, especially the endemic species and their roles in ecosystem services – for example on bats that act as pollinators not just for durian but also mangrove plants by dispersing seeds and helping with controlling insect pests.

Moreover, unsustainable development may expose human lives to potential risk from rockfalls and loose rocks on the steep slopes.

Limestone hills take millions of years to form but bulldozers and explosives can cause irreversible damage in just a few hours.

Batu Caves is an outstanding precious heritage and it’s long overdue that its multiple values, whether as a landscape icon or for culture, biodiversity, geology and ecotourism, are valued and conserved for prosperity.

DR ZUBAID AKBAR MUKHTAR AHMAD ,President, Malaysian Cave and Karst Conservancy

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