Malaysia: Protect Rafflesia by educating tourists


KOTA BARU: MALAYSIA is host to several species of the Rafflesia, known in Bahasa Malaysia as bunga pakma, which is recognised as the biggest flower in the world. Unfortunately, the number of Rafflesia is dwindling and the flower is under threat now.

In the peninsula, Rafflesia kerrii, said to be the biggest among the group of unique flowers, is found only in Lojing Highlands in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

The rarity of the species has led to a flow of enthusiasts, especially foreigners, to visit the sites of the endangered flower. But sometimes, tourists trample on the host plant or young buds when trying to get a closer look at, or to take pictures of, the flowers.

Kelantan Forestry Department director Datuk Zahari Ibrahim said the department had received information on the threat posed by visitors who stopped by while on their way to Cameron Highlands, or enroute to Pulau Perhentian in Terengganu, especially at Pos Jedik, which was part of the Lojing Permanent Forest Reserve.

“Some tourists step on the buds and host plants without realising the damage.

“It should not happen in the first place because the Rafflesia Kerri is among the state’s tourism products, and all parties, including travel agents, must play their role in keeping the flower safe,” he said.

Zahari said to protect the plant under the High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) management plan for the Rafflesia kerri species, the state government had decided to fence 18 plots on a 50ha land at the forest reserve, from which visitors would be barred from entering.

He added that the department’s rangers would carry out surveillance at the reserve, which would be turned into a Rafflesia preservation area.

“Our surveillance will include checking on host plants. The Rafflesia depends on its host for food.”

Zahari said under the HCVF plan, the Kelantan government would allocate RM120,000 for forest development, including setting up fences and guard huts.
Besides being threatened by tourists, Rafflesia was also under threat due to rampant land clearing.

Alhough the Kelantan government had in 2009 gazetted 550ha of the highlands as an area for the conservation of the flower, the worsening situation is worrying nature lovers as no monitoring group had been set up.

There was uncontrolled opening of land for farming around the area in 2008, which had damaged the environment and caused several rivers to be polluted.

Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK) is conducting a study on Rafflesia at Lojing Highlands to find out its growth rate and to ensure the survival of the species.

The dean of UMK’s Natural Resources and Sustainability Science department, Zulhazman Hamzah, said the university was aware of the threats and had taken necessary measures to help the authorities.

“The tourism sector is a likely contributor to the destruction of the Rafflesia’s habitat,” he said.

He said the university also started awareness campaigns to educate the Orang Asli and other communities in the state about the preservation of the flower.

“We have been promoting the Rafflesia as a tourist attraction in Lojing Highlands for some time now.

“This provides the Orang Asli more job opportunities as they can work as tour guides.

“We also give talks and share our knowledge with state government departments, local agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the flower’s recovery and its potential to help the people through eco-tourism activities.”

He said UMK’s study on Rafflesia in Lojing Highlands started in 2008 and was still ongoing. Its latest study, he said, was on the odour released by the flower to attract insects during its pollination process.

“A special team to study Rafflesia was set up in 2010, led by myself, with the assistance of several agencies and departments, such as the Forestry Department and Lojing sub-district Land Office,” he said, adding that the Rafflesia needed to be looked after as it was a priceless treasure.

'Touching Rafflesia with hands may cause them to wilt or die'

KOTA BARU: Tour guide Bukhari Mat, who often escorts tourists to Lojing Highlands, said he had seen tourists causing damage to the Rafflesia.

Bukhari, 37, who has been in the business since 1996, said, however, none of his clients were involved as he had briefed them on the do’s and don’ts before visiting the Rafflesia sites.

“My real expertise is in bringing visitors to Gunong Stong (at the border of Jeli-Kuala Krai-Gua Musang) but I also go to Lojing Highlands if there are requests.

“l have seen tourists brought by other agents touching the Rafflesia with their hands when they wanted to take pictures,” said Bukhari, who is popularly called Bob.

He said he normally took between 10 and 15 visitors on each trip to Lojing Highlands.

The tour guide, who is also the vice-president of the Kelantan Licensed Tourist Guides Association, said the Rafflesia was a sensitive species and touching it would definitely cause damage to the flower.

“The bacteria on our hands may cause the flower to wilt or die. Therefore, tour guides should explain the do’s and don’ts to their clients before they enter the area,” said Bukhari, who operates Stong Outdoors and Adventures based in Gua Musang.

Another tour guide, known only as Kimi, said tourists should not harm the Rafflesia as it was a rare species.

“The flower is valuable to us. When the government decided to gazette the area for the Rafflesia, many of us, especially the tour guides, were happy.

“We felt that the decision should have been made a long time ago,” he said.

The 41-year-old part-time guide, who has been in the job for more than 10 years, said the tourism business was important as it boosted the state’s economy and brought more job opportunities for the people.