Cover Photo: Centre For Orang Asli Concerns/Facebook

First gazetted as a forest reserve in 1927, this 8,000 year-old peat swamp forest is a treasure to both man and nature

Once in danger of being degazetted for development, the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR) has for now been given a new lease of life for future generations to enjoy after a decision turned in its favour on September 8.

The home of Temuan Orang Asli communities for over a century and the natural habitat of several endangered species of wildlife in Malaysia, the KLFNR represents a vestige of Malaysia's unique natural heritage that is still in danger of disappearing, according to environmentalists.

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"Unfortunately, the term ‘permanent forest reserve’ is not really indicative of what could happen to the forest," says Greenpeace Malaysia digital and media campaigner Yvonne Nathan. "Proposals to degazette forest reserves for other land usage purposes can still occur, if there is political will to do so." 

To learn more eye-opening facts about this treasured forest reserve in Selangor, Tatler hears from Nathan and Andrew Sebastian, president of The Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia.

It's changed much since it was first gazetted as a forest reserve

"The peat swamp forest was first gazetted as a forest reserve in 1927, with areas covering almost 7,247 hectares at the time. It has since shrunk to approximately 960 hectares, only around 13 per cent of its original size," says Nathan, adding that the KLFNR is one of Selangor's last remaining low-land forests.   

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It's home to several endemic wildlife species

Naturalist and conservationist of 20 years with the Malaysian Nature Society, Andrew Sebastian firmly believes that it is the responsibility of all Malaysians to get involved in the process of conserving the nation's natural heritage before it's too late.

"This complex contains endemic species found only in the area, such as the Selangor pygmy flying squirrel (Petaurillus kinlochii) and the Langat red fighting fish (Betta livida). Other notables include the Malayan Tapir and the Asian Sun Bear," he says. "This forest reserve also keeps wildlife away from human populations, and this keeps more zoonotic diseases at bay. The Global Gnome project estimates that there are over 1.7 million potential zoonotic diseases that have yet to be discovered from the animal kingdom!"  

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It boasts vital ecological benefits

In addition to its rich cornucopia of wildlife and plant species, the KLFNR serves as an important carbon sink and a freshwater catchment area, boasting flood mitigation benefits. How will losing this forest affect climate change?   

"The KLNFR is underlain with a layer of two to four metres of peat which stores more than 1.5 million tonnes of carbon formed over the last 8,000 years," says Sebastian. "The peat swamps contain organic materials that store a huge amount of methane, one of the most harmful of greenhouse gases. Degazetting the forest reserve for development would require draining the peat swamp forest that in turn releases the locked up methane into the atmosphere."

Adds Nathan: "Forests such as this have the capacity to impact air, water, and nutrient cycles, and upsetting this balance could severely impact climate change. It also acts as a green lung for neighbouring areas, providing much needed clean air and oxygen."

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Approximately 2,000 Orang Asli call it home

More than just a home to the Temuan orang asli communities, the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve is part of their cultural identity and livelihoods.  

"The Orang Asli community has been living in or around the vicinity of the forest for over 130 years, using the forest as their source of food, place of burial for their dead, and as a way to connect them to nature which is what shapes their culture," Nathan says. "Taking all those away would mean a direct move to decimate their culture."

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