2007-06-06

Visit Malaysia: Priority on conservation - Belum Valley

Assalammualaikum!!!

Good article from Google. Just to share good knowledge here:-


Lembah Belum or Belum Valley, although remote, is actually a very beautiful place that is rich in wildlife and plant species. This natural heritage site found in the northern region of Perak is virgin land that will please nature lovers.
Some of the activities you can participate in include a river safari along the Sara River, on which you can view many hills that have been submerged over the years until now, their hilltops form mere islands in the stream.
Jungle trekking is also a favourite activity here and if you are lucky, you might be able to catch sight of some animals in their natural surroundings. They are rather more difficult to spot here because of the density of the forest.
There are also aboriginal tribes in the Valley; shy and simple people who are self-sufficient in the wild. There is much adventure, excitement and discovery to be had in the 130,000-plus hectares of the Belum Valley.
Tucked away in the northernmost corner of Perak, the launch of the Royal Belum state park marks a major milestone in the country’s conservation history. As this last tract of virgin wilderness in the peninsula will soon be open for tourism, the need for a detailed park management plan has become a pressing issue.

Plans for a nature park at Belum forest reserve, the expanse of virgin wilderness at the northernmost edge of Perak, have for years left nature lovers waiting with bated breath. Many are anxious to know how big the protected area will be, what shape it will take and more importantly, who will manage it. These are valid concerns, for what if the park is developed for mass tourism complete with huge resorts? Or becomes a profit-driven luxury tourist destination beyond the reach of most Malaysians, such as Danum Valley in Sabah? Or worse, a water theme park? Hordes of tourists can only ruin a pristine site which harbours untold biological riches.

Understandably, there were sighs of relief when plans were finally unveiled during the launch of the Royal Belum state park early last month by the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah. The state government appears to have heeded calls for only low-key ecotourism in Belum. The untouched Belum forest abounds with huge trees like this one which is entwined by a straggling fig.“Conservation comes first and tourism, second,” asserts Datuk Ahmad Konchong, director of the Perak State Economic Planning Unit. “The focus will be on conservation and research. It will not be a commercial thing.”

Royal Belum stretches over 117,500ha of an area referred to as Upper Belum which sits north of the East-West Highway. The park, however, excludes the sliver of Belum forest that remains south of the highway, known as Lower Belum. The park comprises four zones: Sungai Kenarong Research Centre, Sungai Kejar Adventure Eco-tourism, Sungai Tiang Ethno-botanical and Adventure Eco-tourism, and Jenut Papan Educational and Adventure Eco-tourism. Ahmad says control of tourism activities will help prevent adverse impact to the site’s pristine and fragile environment. There will be a daily limit on visitor numbers and they can only enter the reserve with park guides.

To further minimise disturbance to the site, infrastructure such as a visitor centre, chalets, dormitories, shops and restaurants will be sited outside the park, on Pulau Banding. Inside the park, facilities will be limited to longhouses, hides and observation towers. Camping grounds will not be set up because of the presence of wildlife.

“Most visitors will stay at Banding and make daily excursions to the park. The adventurous ones can spend the night at observation towers inside the park but their numbers will be small since the towers can only accommodate eight to 12 people,” explains Ahmad.

The state government is certainly making moves in the right direction but these are only the first few steps towards preserving Belum. Nature groups, so far kept out of the planning of this protected area, have pointed out several uncertainties. They say the most crucial element of a park – a detailed park management plan – is missing. There is also the question of how zoning of the park was done.

Zoned management
The state has only a broad conceptual map on four usage zones within the park. This is not enough, according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) national programme director Dr Dionysius Sharma.

“Every protected area must have a management plan. This is a fundamental aspect of conservation sites. The plan will guide development of the park to ensure that rules on sustainability are followed and due consideration is given to conservation, research and eco-tourism,” he says.

Sharma says a management plan should cover these aspects: identify products which can be developed for eco-tourism; carrying capacity (the number of visitors the area can take without being adversely impacted); the impact of humans, boats, garbage, sewage and noise pollution on wildlife and habitat; suitable infrastructure; and zoning based on the area’s biological features and species requirements. WWF, which helped set up the Perlis State Park, is eager to provide its expertise to the state and has drafted a management plan for the state Economic Planning Unit.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) executive director Dr Loh Chi Leong says a management plan will work out how much land to open up for human use and how much to set aside for conservation. He fears that, without an overall guiding plan, new development may be added indiscriminately. “With an agreed plan, any changes or additional development will require the agreement of all stakeholders. This will give them an opportunity to raise their concerns.”

Scientists also questioned how the four zones were selected and the criteria used. The common management strategy in any protected area is to open some areas to visitors and keep others off-limits to serve as core conservation sites for biodiversity preservation. Those zones where activity is allowed are further divided into high-density use and low-density use. A pair of lantern bugs adds to the rich store of wildlife in the forest.“This approach is absent in Royal Belum. In fact, it appears as if the whole forest is accessible to tourists,” says Loh. “I don’t see any real core conservation area in the plan and there is concern over opening a large area all at once.”

Placement of the different zones matters, too. Placing a conservation zone next to a high-density zone raises the risk of encroachment into the former. In the case of Royal Belum, Loh observes that tourism activity is earmarked for the upper reaches of the park whereas the conservation area at Sungai Kenarong is further downstream. This, he says, makes it difficult to control human access to the protected zone. Zoning should preferably follow a radial approach which places the high-density zone at the lowest reaches of the park and the conservation area at the uppermost – hence inaccessible – spot.

Such a zoning system is seen in the Endau-Rompin Park which the MNS helped establish. The group is familiar with Belum, having led two scientific expeditions there in 1993/1994 and 1998. It submitted a management plan for Belum after the first expedition.

Despite doubts raised by scientists, Perak National Parks and Wildlife Protection Department (commonly known as Perhilitan) director Jasmi Abdul stands by the zoning system. He says it was based on long discussions between various agencies and recommendations from his department which was familiar with the area. As for fears of human intrusion within the park, he maintains that most of Belum will remain as wilderness as only trails and small development will be established at each of the three tourist zones.

Fragmentation fear
Spread over 1,175sqkm of lush forest, Royal Belum is the second biggest park in the peninsula, after Taman Negara (4,343 sqkm). Still, scientists would have liked to see it include Lower Belum and Temenggor Forest Reserve as well. The MNS had all along proposed the setting up of a 3,000sqkm park which straddles the Belum and Temenggor forest reserves.

There are strong reasons for this. A bigger, contiguous area means a more stable sanctuary for animal survival. The Belum-Temenggor site is the last large tract of forest in Perak and collectively forms its final stronghold for wildlife. These lowland dipterocarp forests of below 300m form the prime habitat for large mammals. Perhilitan surveys since 1990 in Upper and Lower Belum as well as Temenggor show abundant big mammals – there are some 150 to 200 elephants, 60 tigers, over 100 seladang, 10 to 15 rhinos and over 100 tapirs. The forest also showcases the flora of the northern region, which has distinct Myanmar-Thai influences.

To conservationists, it made sense to set aside the whole region as a refuge for wildlife. Elephants, tigers, gaurs and seladang regularly cross the East-West Highway which separates Upper Belum from Lower Belum and Temenggor. Huge flocks of hornbills ply both sites; it is believed that they feed in Upper Belum but roost in either Lower Belum or Temenggor.

Unfortunately, Temenggor is being logged and it is only a matter of time before chainsaws and bulldozers reach Lower Belum. Both are production forests earmarked for timber harvesting. Perhilitan’s Jasmi dismisses this concern. He says logging in a sustainable manner with no clear-felling of trees would still leave ample forests to shelter wildlife. He says both areas can still act as a buffer zone for the core conservation area that is the Royal Belum. A gurgling stream flowing through the pristine Belum forest.Another troubling point is Perak’s plans for development along the East-West Highway. WWF’s Sharma fears this might obstruct animal crossings. He says forests fragmented by highways, farms and other development hinder wildlife conservation.

“Species which need large spaces to survive, for example large mammals like elephants, tigers, tapirs and rhinos, will suffer. In the long run, it is not good for the gene pool,” he warns. He says “wildlife corridors” must be maintained to enable animals to move between fragmented forests. He calls for studies to determine sites along the highway which can be used for animal passage. Ahmad, however, argues that as only parts of the highway will be developed, animals will not be deprived of a passage. He adds that development will be controlled and restricted to small-scale eco-tourism facilities and rest areas. There will be no massive land clearing for agricultural purposes.

"The state government has to strike a balance between conservation and development needs,” says Ahmad. He agrees that the concept plan for the park is general. “We must now fill in the details, like a master plan for development and research.”

Ahmad’s view raises hope for the park. The uncertainties raised by scientists may have cast a cloud over Royal Belum but the creation of this protected area is a major milestone in the country’s conservation history. These are early days yet for the park and its managing body. But for Belum to remain intact in its natural state, the state government has to endorse and adhere to long-term plan for managing the protected area.

Sumber - Google. 

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