Press Release: New State Park to Strengthen Biodiversity Protection in Malaysia

KUALA TERENGGANU, 15 August – Malaysia’s Terengganu state government announced today that it has designated 10,386 hectares of land formerly slated for logging as a new protected area for conservation. This new state park in the Kenyir region of Terengganu is phase one of a much larger conservation project that lies within a globally important Tiger Conservation Landscape and critical wildlife corridor.

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The creation of this protected area and its ongoing management is a collaborative effort involving the Terengganu state government, and local nonprofit organization Rimba, in partnership with Rainforest Trust and Panthera/Woodland Park Zoo.

“This new protected area not only brings more key wildlife habitat under protection, but also protects vital forested watersheds that provide important ecosystem services to the people of Terengganu,” said Dr. Sheema Abdul Aziz, President of Rimba.

Estimated at more than 130 million years old, the dipterocarp forest in the Lawit-Cenana State Park is now protected from logging and secured from further development.

“The importance of this area simply cannot be underestimated,” said Rainforest Trust Chief Executive Officer Dr. Paul Salaman. “The creation of the new park is a rare and unparalleled opportunity to protect a spectacular and imperiled tropical forest harboring what is certainly one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring predators – the Critically Endangered Malayan Tiger.”

The forests of the new park contain some of the highest biodiversity in Asia and are home to 18 highly threatened mammal species, including the Asian Elephant, Sunda Pangolin, Asian Tapir, Dhole and White-handed Gibbon. Six of Malaysia’s eight wild cat species prowl these forests, including the Malayan Tiger.

“These apex predators face tremendous pressure from poaching, fuelled by the illegal trade in their body parts for traditional Chinese medicine,” said Dr. Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, lead investigator of Rimba’s Harimau Selamanya project and Associate Professor at Sunway University. Continue reading

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Publication update 21: Project Pteropus press release: Durian Industry May Suffer Without Endangered Fruit Bats

Flying foxes pollinate regionally important fruit crop

Kuala Lumpur, 19 September – Scientists here have discovered that Southeast Asia’s highly popular durian tree is pollinated by locally endangered fruit bats known as flying foxes.

By putting camera traps in durian trees on Tioman Island, Malaysia, researchers collected video evidence showing the island flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) pollinating durian flowers, leading to the production of healthy durian fruit. The study has just been published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

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Still shots from a video recording of a flying fox feeding on durian flower nectar.

The spiky tropical durian fruit is highly prized throughout its native region. A ubiquitous icon of Southeast Asian culture, it is also a lucrative industry, generating millions of US dollars in local and international trade. And these economic profits owe a huge debt to bats.

Commonly referred to as flying foxes, large fruit bats of the genus Pteropus are severely threatened by hunting and deforestation. They are often sold and eaten as exotic meat due to an unsubstantiated belief that consuming them can help cure asthma and other respiratory problems.

On top of this, they are also persecuted and killed as agricultural pests, as some people claim that the bats cause damage and economic loss by feeding on cultivated fruits. Consequently, these factors have led to severe declines in flying fox populations worldwide.

Yet these bats actually play very important roles as seed dispersers and pollinators in rainforests, especially on islands. The disappearance of flying foxes could thus have disastrous repercussions for tropical ecosystems. Now, this international team of researchers from Malaysia, France, India, and Thailand, in collaboration with Tree Climbers Malaysia, has found that Southeast Asia’s durian supply could be affected too. Continue reading

Project Update 22, Publication Update 20: Project Limestone Press Release

Scientists and Lafarge Malaysia Collaborate to Study Threatened Land Snails

Kuala Lumpur – Scientists and Lafarge Malaysia recently embarked on a joint study to document the diversity of land snails at limestone hills in Peninsular Malaysia.

A quarried limestone hill in Kinta Valley, Perak, Malaysia. Credit: Junn Kitt Foon. License: CC-BY 4.0

Formed from reefs beneath ancient seas, limestone hills are regarded as “arks of biodiversity” because they can harbour plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth. A recent study showed that at least 445 limestone hills can be found scattered across Peninsular Malaysia.

Research has also shown that limestone hills provide numerous benefits to humans, by storing groundwater, or providing habitat for cave bats that either pollinate commercially important trees like Durian, or reduce pests in rice fields.

To support the construction industry which plays a vital role in the socio-economic development of the country, however, certain limestone hills are being quarried to make cement. Continue reading