Camera-trap image of a wild elephant. Courtesy of the Ulu Muda Field Research Center. Wild elephant in Ulu Muda. Photo courtesy of Ulu Muda Field Research Center. Article published by Isabel Esterman Wild elephants in Ulu Muda. Photo courtesy of Ulu Muda Field Research Center. Camera-trap image of a wild elephant and calf. Courtesy of the Ulu Muda Field The Ulu Muda forest is the primary source of water for four million Malaysians, as well as for industry and agriculture.The forest is also home to a huge diversity of species, including the Asian elephant, Malayan tapir, sambar deer and clouded and spotted leopards.Although the federal government imposed a ban on logging in the reserve in 2003, local authorities have allowed commercial logging to increase over the past decade. Logs on the back of a track leaving Ulu Muda. Photo by Kate Mayberry for Mongabay.ULU MUDA, Malaysia — On a dusty roadside in northwestern Malaysia, the drivers of three trucks laden with logs are lounging beneath an open-sided hut while they wait for officials to clear their cargo. Moments later another lorry pulls over, its load balanced precariously on top of the trailer and a red flag fluttering at the rear to warn other road users about the potentially dangerous cargo.Loggers are back in business in Ulu Muda, a protected forest that covers an area twice the size of Singapore along Malaysia’s border with Thailand, and is the main source of water to some four million people in the country’s three northern states.“The extraction process is extremely destructive,” said Phang Fatt Khow, the secretary of the Kedah branch of the Malaysian Nature Society and a former agricultural official. “They use a lot of bulldozers and they have to use a lot of timber trucks. That’s even worse than the tree removal itself. The area shouldn’t be logged at all.”Hymeir Kamarudin, who first visited Ulu Muda more than two decades ago, knows all about the damage caused by logging. The avid caver and limestone expert used to work for WWF-Malaysia in the neighboring state of Perlis, and now operates Ulu Muda Field Research Center, a 90-minute journey across the Muda Lake and up the Muda River into a rainforest thought to be as many as 170 million years old.Crossing Ulu Muda lake. Photo by Kate Mayberry for Mongabay.Over the years, he’s seen how the expanding industry has turned the water a milky brown as rain washes the soil from the logged hillsides into the river. The sedimentation means that where once it was possible to make the journey to the camp on a boat with a regular outboard engine, only those with a long-tail motor can do so today. During the dry season, parts of the river are so shallow that visitors have to get out and maneuver the boat over the sand banks.“Most of (the logging) is being legally done,” Hymeir said. “But although it’s legal it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. The decision-makers in Kedah (the state where Ulu Muda is located) are not looking at the bigger picture: the conservation value of this place and the water catchment.”The north-western states are Malaysia’s rice bowl. From Kedah’s state capital of Alor Setar, tens of thousands of hectares of emerald green paddy fields stretch out across the coastal plains towards the hills, producing 40 percent of the rice grown in Malaysia each year. Successful rice cultivation generally demands plenty of water so in 1966 work began on an irrigation system that would ensure the rice farmers had enough to support not only one harvest a year, but two. With the support of the World Bank, the Pedu and Muda dams were built and the once forested valleys flooded. A further dam – Ahning – was completed in the 1980s.Although the construction provided opportunities for logging in the forest, it was mostly left alone. But over the past two decades, commercial logging has expanded despite a Federal government ban that was imposed in the reserve in 2003 after a proposal to start helicopter logging triggered public anger.Ulu Muda is located near Peninsular Malaysia’s border with Thailand. Data from forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch shows the extent of forest loss in the area from 2000-2013.The politics of loggingPoliticians from rival parties have backed logging, which started in earnest after PAS, the Islamic party, took control of the state government in the 2008 elections. PAS officials claimed it was the only way the state could raise funds, but even when a new party took power in 2013, the practice continued. Politicians said they needed to honor the licenses that had already been given out.Last December, environmentalists noticed an old logging road, not far from the Muda Dam and clearly visible from the lake, had been reopened raising concern not only about the effect on water quality so close to the lake’s shore, but also potential access for poachers and hunters.Satellite imagery shows the progression of a road south of Muda Lake in since 2016.Data from Global Forest Watch indicates that the logging road (marked with red arrows) intrudes on previously intact forest landscapes.The logging track can be seen from Muda Lake. Photo by Kate Mayberry for Mongabay.Earlier this year, a local newspaper discovered new tracks in the southern part of Ulu Muda with high-quality wood – Meranti, Merbau and Cengal – piled up in camps ready to be transported to the timber mills. At one site, they found a signboard that indicated the state itself was the license owner.Despite rising anger from NGOs and the state of Penang, which accused Kedah of “gambling” with the water supply by continuing to log, local authorities insist there has been no effect on water quality. Chief minister Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, who has responsibility for logging and land issues, declined Mongabay’s request for an interview.“It’s a human problem,” said Zakaria Kamantasha, a former Army captain who comes from a family of paddy farmers and runs Sri Lovely, an organic rice farm about half an hour’s drive from the Muda Dam. “It’s humans who create nature’s problems.”Sri Lovely’s rice paddies are spread out over a ten-hectare site in a valley of forested hills, surrounded by thatched huts of bamboo; home to the volunteers who spend their days tending the crop alongside workers from the surrounding villages. Water comes from the stream that runs through the site, although adaptations to traditional techniques mean they need about 60 percent less than other farmers.The stream near Sri Lovely. Photo by Kate Mayberry.Two months ago, floods triggered by heavy rain washed mud and sand downstream, swamping Sri Lovely’s rice fields and destroying the crop. The villagers further down the valley, who rely on the river for their daily needs, complain that their water is no longer as clean as it once was.“You can see the sand in the river and after it rains the water’s the color of ‘Milo’ (a chocolate milk drink),” Zakaria said, the farm’s free range chickens pecking at the soil as he spoke. “I don’t know why they don’t care for the people in this area. They are just looking at the short term and not about the future. This land we borrow from our grandchildren. We must take care of it.”“Reserved for logging?”Ulu Muda is a combination of lowland dipterocarp, hill dipterocarp and upper hill dipterocarp that includes virgin jungle as well as previously logged areas (secondary forest), and is divided into seven “Permanent Reserved Forests,” which come under the country’s forestry laws. Designation as a PRF does not mean the jungle will be preserved untouched. The majority of the PRF in the area is earmarked for timber production with slightly below a third for water catchment and the rest for research, education and recreation, according a WWF-Malaysia report assessing the Ulu Muda water catchment in 2009.“The area is classified as a forest reserve, but the protection is not strong enough,” said MNS’ Phang. “Reserved for what?” he asks. “Reserved for logging?”Legal logging at Ulu Muda takes place under the Malaysian Timber Certification System (MTCS), which is supposed to protect the ecology of the country’s forests and ensure the timber business is sustainable. Much of Malaysia’s timber is exported overseas to countries including the UK, Switzerland and France, where such sustainability certification is crucial.Satellite images from Planet Labs show a proliferation of logging tracks in the south of the reserve.Close-up of the areas where logging spindles can be observed, indicating the tracks extend into previously intact forest landscapes.At the beginning of this year, the Netherlands also recognized Malaysia’s timber certification for use in public procurement projects. But Eric Wakker, director of Dutch NGO Aidenvironment, harbors serious doubts the industry’s sustainability.Examining audit reports, maps and satellite imagery for a report (pdf) on Kedah forestry last year he found logging in the state was “highly dependent” on primary forest, that there had been “recent, heavy logging” in water catchment forests, as well as land clearing and logging at elevations above 1,000 meters.“The evidence is overwhelming that they are logging it,” Wakker said. “There’s nothing sustainable about it. It’s outrageous that Western governments have endorsed this practice of ‘sustainability.’” Wakker plans to take his campaign back to the Dutch parliament. “(The issue) is not closed,” he insisted.Ulu Muda forest. Photo by Kate Mayberry for Mongabay.A haven for mammals and birdsUlu Muda was first proposed as a wildlife reserve in 1968, by an ecologist named W.E. Stevens, and the suggestion was included in the Third Malaysia Plan (Malaysia’s government uses these plans to map out its development strategy) of 1976 – 1980. Recognition of Ulu Muda’s conservation value also came in the National Physical Plan, which designated the region as an Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1, and noted its importance to the Central Forest Spine, the jungles including the main national park that run from north to south along the country’s main mountain range.The area is home to a huge diversity of species from the Asian elephant to the Malayan tapir and birdlife such as the globally-threatened plain-pouched hornbill, which takes to the skies in formation at dusk. In July last year, volunteers counted an astonishing 1,720 birds in a single evening. Along with neighboring Belum-Temenggor, it is one of the only places in Malaysia where all ten species of hornbills can be found. Biodiversity, Conservation, Deforestation, Endangered Species, Environment, Featured, Forests, Global Forest Watch, Infrastructure, Logging, Old Growth Forests, Primary Forests, Protected Areas, Rainforests, Wildlife Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsored 1234
Mammals are drawn to Ulu Muda by the large number of salt licks, naturally occurring deposits of vital minerals that are found on land, in the river and even in the hot springs that are known as “sira” in the local Malay language. One camera trap, positioned a salt lick a couple of hundred meters from the river bank, showed a regular procession of wildlife visiting the site during the night including elephants, wild boar, tapir and large numbers of endangered sambar deer.For the researchers at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), investigating the habits and habitat of the clouded leopard, Ulu Muda’s isolation made it an ideal location for their work, recalls Cedric Tan, a post-doctoral researcher with WildCRU.“In Ulu Muda there are many places that are unexplored,” he explained over the phone from Oxford. “There are not so many tracks and the forest itself is more dense, with bigger trees and taller trees. It’s more or less a primary forest.”The team spent 18 months in the area until June 2016, setting up camera traps around the forest to monitor animal movements. Within the 120-square-kilometer camera grid they created, they detected 54 species, including 37 mammals, 16 of which were Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered, according to the IUCN’s Red List.While the clouded leopard was the main subject of the team’s work, they were surprised to capture photographs of the spotted leopard, which had previously only been recorded in Endau-Rompin, a state park in the southern part of the peninsula. In an April letter to the Kedah State Government, as concerns about logging mounted, the team’s director, Professor David Macdonald, described Ulu Muda as a “vital habitat for sustaining many important species from charismatic carnivores to iconic herbivores.”Camera-trap image of a clouded leopard, courtesy of WildCRU.Camera-trap images of a spotted leopard, courtesy of WildCRU.But the team’s research also revealed “multiple signs” of illegal poaching and harvesting. Despite chaining and locking the cameras to the trees, WildCRU lost about 50 during the course of their research and came across poachers armed with guns, some of whom were also caught on camera.“The problem with logging is that it creates access,” Hymeir explained. “When you have roads people can start coming in and that’s when you get problems; poaching, hunting, people who want to set up orchards…”In 2014, WWF-Malaysia warned that logging could “degrade or even destroy” Ulu Muda’s salt licks with logging roads opening up the forest and increasing the risk of poaching (pdf). It recommended the deposits – along with a two-kilometer buffer zone – be designated High Conservation Value Forest. It also concluded that Ulu Muda’s natural forest should be retained and made a state or national park with all logging activities prohibited.Less than half of Peninsular Malaysia’s total land area remains forested, and only a small portion of that is classified as unlogged, primary forest. Ulu Muda, then, is one of the country’s last wildernesses, a critical source of water for millions of people and an environment where wildlife thrives. After so many years, campaigners say it’s time for Malaysia to make good on proposals first mooted nearly half a century ago and declare Ulu Muda a state park.“It’s time for us to change our mindset,” said Wong Ee Phin, who is a researcher in the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants team at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. “We do not need to depend on the exploitation of natural resources anymore. We need to recognize that what we have is very special.”WildCRU camera traps caught evidence of armed poachers and hunters in Ulu Muda, even during daylight hours. Image courtesy of WildCRU.Citations:Greenpeace, University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and Transparent World. “Intact Forest Landscapes. 2000/2013” Accessed through Global Forest Watch on June 22, 2017. www.globalforestwatch.orgIUCN and UNEP-WCMC (2017), The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) [On-line], June, 2017, Cambridge, UK: UNEP-WCMC. Available at: www.protectedplanet.net. Accessed through Global Forest Watch in June, 2017. www.globalforestwatch.orgFEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.