Malaysia: Arrest the destruction of our pristine hills

Audrey Dermawan New Straits Times 10 Jun 13;

LITTLE is known about the green lacewing insect, Semachrysa jade, until it brought fame to the country recently.

The new species did Malaysia proud when it made it into this year's list of top 10 newly discovered species from around the world.

Semachrysa jade joined nine other new discoveries from Peru, the United States, Congo, Panama, France, New Guinea, Madagascar, Ecuador and China to make it into the top 10.

The list was selected by the International Institute for Species Exploration at the Arizona State University out of more than 140 nominated species.

Malaysia, undoubtedly, is rich in flora and fauna.

According to the World Development Indicators, Malaysia has one of the richest biodiversity of fauna and flora in the world, second only to Indonesia in Southeast Asia.

The Global Diversity Outlook had previously recognised Malaysia as one of the 12 mega-diversity countries in the world, hosting more than 170,000 species of flora and fauna. This is something we, as Malaysians, can all be proud of.

Take for example, Cameron Highlands in Pahang, one of Malaysia's most extensive hill stations. Smack right in this very highlands is where the Simulium (Gomphostilbia) sofiani, a new species of black fly, was discovered in 2011.

Just two years earlier, a new microhylid frog, Kalophrynus yongi, was recorded there.

Even its Sumatran serow, mountain peacock-pheasant and Malayan whistling-thrush were listed in the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

And, so, it came as a huge surprise for many, more so nature lovers, when it was brought to light the "rape" of the highlands at an alarming rate in recent years.

It was reported that unsustainable land-clearing continued at a staggering scale, with pristine virgin jungle chopped down to make way for agriculture.

Some no longer resembled hills as deep shelves had been cut into the land, which was flattened so that farmers could start planting vegetables.

During a chance visit to the highlands not too long ago, I had a first-hand look at the destruction of the hills. Huge ugly brown patches now replaced what was once, I was told, lush greenery as one approaches Ringlet and thereafter Tanah Rata. Earth covers the main road leading to the highlands.

Has anyone stopped to think how many yet-to-be-discovered species in Cameron Highlands we have destroyed with all the clearing works?

Did anyone carry out a comprehensive study on all the now- levelled hills to find out what was there before? Has it ever crossed our minds that we may be destroying a new species which is only privy to Cameron Highlands and nowhere else in the world?

Environmentalist D. Kanda Kumar believes that there are many more new species in the country which have yet to be discovered.

Kanda, who is also the Malaysian Nature Society Penang branch adviser, said this was why environmentalists had been pushing the authorities for greater emphasis on conducting compulsory surveys before any development.

"This is critical as many of the yet-to-be-developed areas have yet to be reached even by humans."

It may be too late for us to salvage what had been destroyed, but it is better late than never.

The time has come for the authorities to seriously address the "rape" before the highlands is totally wiped out.

The authorities had announced the setting up of a special task force to tackle the widespread ravage of the highlands together with the help of the Pahang government.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, who is also Cameron Highlands member of parliament, had said the wanton destruction of the hills must be stopped.

The MIC president has surely set a huge challenge for himself to meet, what more after being given a five-year mandate by the people to set things straight.

Will he be able to deliver? Only time will tell.

Until then, let us pray that more new species will be discovered in Cameron Highlands in the near future so that we can continue to put Malaysia on the world map.

And as we celebrated World Environment Day last Wednesday, let us join hands with Palanivel to make a pledge to stop the "rape" of Cameron Highlands now and forever.