You are on page 1of 3

The Malaysian Rainforest

Major forest types in Malaysia are lowland dipterocarp forest, hill dipterocarp forest,
upper hill dipterocarp forest, oak-laurel forest, montane ericaceous forest, peat swamp
forest and mangrove forest. In addition, there also smaller areas of freshwater swamp
forest, heath forest, forest on limestone and forest on quartz ridges.

The forests in Malaysia are mostly dominated by trees from the Dipterocarpaceae
family, hence the term ‘dipterocarp forests’. The dipterocarp forest occurs on dry land
just above sea level to an altitude of about 900 metres.

The term ‘dipterocarp’ specifically refers to the fact that most of the largest trees in this
forest belong to one plant family known as Dipterocarpaceae. It was so called because
their fruits have seeds with two wings (di = two; ptero = wing; carp = seed).

This type of forest can be classified according to altitude into lowland dipterocarp forest
(LDF), up to 300m above sea level, and hill dipterocarp forest (HDF) found in elevation
of between 300m and 750m above sea level, and the upper dipterocarp forests, from
750m to 1,200m above sea level. However in Sarawak both the lowland and hill
dipterocap forests are known as mixed-dipterocarp forest (MDF).

HDF, normally found in areas 500-700m above sea level, contains less undergrowth. It is
a little poorer in wildlife compared to the LDF, but is the preferred habitat of birds and
small mammals that are tree "specialists" such as the squirrels. The Rafflesia species,
which have the largest flowers in the world, can be found in these forests. At present,
LDF is a threatened habitat. There are very few areas of this forest type left outside of
protected areas such as parks and wildlife reserves. While most of the country was
covered with lowland forest in the past, today the majority has been cleared for other land
uses. The few remaining pockets are under threat.

There are some pockets of lowland forests near urban centres such as the Sungai Buloh
Reserve, Kanching Forest Reserve (part of which is the popular Templer's Park) and
Ampang Forest Reserve outside Kuala Lumpur. These areas, however, are under intense
pressure from development and these islands of natural lowland forests are shrinking

Beautiful and relatively undisturbed LDF can be found at Taman Negara in Peninsular
Malaysia, Lambir Hills National Park in Sarawak and at the Maliau Basin, Sepilok Forest
Reserve and Danum Valley in Sabah. But there is a real need to conserve the remaining
areas of LDF in other parts of the country.
Most of the dipterocarp forest left in Malaysia is HDF because HDF terrain is usually
hilly and rugged – making it unsuitable for agriculture or large-scale settlements, as well
as being difficult to access and clear. Timber extraction from these areas is also more
difficult, but improving technology may change this situation.

In Peninsular Malaysia, for example, most of the highland areas are covered with this
type of habitat, which is important not only in its biological richness but more for its
other ecological functions. The Main Range or Banjaran Titiwangsa is an important
water catchment area for the whole of Peninsular Malaysia. Many of these areas are now
being developed for hydroelectric dam projects, roads and highways, and resorts. Steep
slopes are sensitive areas prone to soil erosion. Disturbances in the hinterland will most
certainly affect areas downstream as well.

There is a real need to put more effort in saving and protecting this precious habitat type.
Fortunately, some state governments have halted land clearing for agriculture. It is vital
that all remaining forest areas are protected. In this way, this valuable natural habitat can
be managed on a sustainable basis.

The Main Range

The Main Range, or Banjaran Titiwangsa, is the largest remaining continuous forest tract
in Peninsular Malaysia. Running along the backbone of the peninsular, the Main Range
stretches for 500km southwards from the border of Thailand.

It supplies most of the peninsula's water needs. Rivers that originate from highland
forests supply fresh water to meet almost 90% of the water needs of the domestic,
agricultural and industrial sectors. Acting as natural water reservoirs, they help ensure
that this water is clean and free from silt and sediment.

These forests are important water catchment areas. They are the source of many
important rivers that supply fresh water to the states of Kelantan, Perak, Pahang, Selangor
and Negeri Sembilan. And it is up to us to preserve the quality of our water sources for
the sake of our own health and well-being. The tremendous economic value of clean
water will quickly become clear if we need to pay for the high costs of cleaning a
polluted water supply.

The slopes of highland forests also act to prevent landslides. Highland forests slow down
the flow of rainwater down slopes and help retain some of this water. Take away this
natural "sponge" and you'll have torrents of muddy water eroding the soil, bringing with
them landslides and flash floods. Rivers become choked with silt and water quality
everywhere suffers.
The catastrophic consequences of landslides can cause devastation for people and the
environment. Examples include the June 1995 landslide in a Genting Highlands slip road,
which resulted in at least 21 deaths and 22 injuries; the January 1996 landslide at Gua
Tempurung and the January 2000 Kampung Raja, Cameron Highlands landslide which
resulted in six deaths. The Tanah Rata–Brinchang road tragedy also cut off links for more
than 15,000 people living on the Blue Valley Estate and Kampung Raja.

Highlands are also rich in biodiversity. The mountain peacock-pheasant and the
Malayan whistling thrush, both endemic to the Main Range, are among the 600 or so
species found in Peninsular Malaysia. It is home to over 25% of all plants species found
in Malaysia. Of the 850 orchid species found in the peninsula, more than 400 are found in
the highland forests within this Main Range. Studies have shown that there are still many
undiscovered plants that possess medicinal value – which provide potential cures for
many diseases.

However, the Main Range is not as cool as it once was. Reports have shown increasing
temperatures in Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands due to massive forest
clearing. If this trend continues, the effects of a warmer climate would be severe and

Cloud formation would decrease, reducing water supply for many cities throughout
Malaysia. Many plant and animal species could be threatened with extinction. The
number of tourists could decrease, resulting in significant losses of national revenue.
Finally, a temperature rise could devastate temperate agriculture such as tea, vegetables,
fruits, cut flowers and ornamental plants.