A pristine stream in Belum-Temenggor.

We must bear in mind that throughout this long process, what we are honouring is the consistency of the effort…it is a prolonged effort and I think that MNS needs to be congratulated for the consistency of its efforts on this and other conservation issues.
Gurmit Singh,
Member of the nomination committee,
Environment category


Malaysia is fortunate to be blessed with large tracts of tropical rainforest, which is home to a biodiversity nearly unparalleled in the world. But with rapid development and economic growth, these forests which have existed for millions of years, are at risk. Recognising the value of Malaysia’s unique biodiversity there are many who continue to be relentless in their efforts to protect and nurture this heritage. At the forefront of Malaysia’s conservation efforts stands the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS).

The rhinoceros hornbill is among the various species of Malaysian hornbills found in Belum-Temenggor.

MNS has a long and venerable history, founded in 1940 as the Malayan Nature Society in Kuala Lumpur. Naturalists residing in the country at the time conceived the idea of cataloguing and publishing their collection of field notes on Malayan flora and fauna, as well as banding together to share their experiences and common interest. The first issue of the Malayan Nature Journal was published in August 1940.

Following its inception, MNS has been continuously involved in conservation efforts to protect Malaysia’s natural heritage. Its first large scale conservation effort was to protect the giant Leatherback Turtle, with the campaign beginning in 1963. This resulted in a hatchery programme being formed, which is now managed by the country’s Fishery Department.

Since that first successful campaign, MNS has never looked back. Publishing the seminal Blueprint for Conservation in Peninsular Malaysia in 1974, MNS has been active in conducting studies and campaigns targeting the preservation of various aspects of Malaysia’s natural wealth. Notably successful initiatives include the Endau-Rompin Scientific and Heritage Expeditions which culminated in the gazetting of that forest as a State Park by the State of Johor, the Kuala Selangor Biodiversity Survey and numerous avifaunal surveys.

Over 3,000 species of plants thrive in Belum-Temenggor, including three species of Rafflesia, the world's largest flower.

MNS today remains active in conservation efforts, focusing its energies in various activities. It continues to publish the Malayan Nature Journal, which contains original papers on the natural history, biology and conservation of Malaysia. MNS continues to work with governmental bodies to facilitate the gazetting of ecologically precious areas including National or State Parks as well as the management of existing parks. In recognition of its work, MNS has been appointed as the focal point for communication and public awareness for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

MNS has always been vocal about the importance of protecting the environment, and has spoken courageously about environmental issues. It believes in reaching out to the public to encourage a wider awareness of issues and participation in its campaigns. Mindful of the importance of people in habitat protection, MNS also engages with affected local communities in its conservation studies.

Today, MNS has one of the largest membership of any environmental groups in Malaysia. Its many members are active in the society as a whole or in one of its Special Interest Groups. MNS’ logo is the cipan, or the Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), which is in danger of extinction. The Tapir is also the name of an MNS publication aimed at instilling a love for nature and awareness of the importance of conservation.

Members, volunteers and supporters of MNS play an integral role in the conservation of the forest.

Protecting A Natural Heritage
Arguably, MnS’ tour de force is its ongoing effort to conserve the belum-Temenggor forests in northern Perak state. MNS was aware early on of the immense significance of belum-Temenggor as a repository of much of Malaysia’s biodiversity, and continues to work tirelessly to ensure that the region is protected from encroachment.

Belum-Temenggor is a tract of virgin rainforest spanning over 300,000 hectares in the northern reaches of Perak State. More than 130 million years old, its biodiversity surpasses that of the Amazon and Congo rainforests. In spite of this, the continued existence of this vital green lung remains under threat from logging and development. Much of its area was drowned by the reservoir formed by the construction of the Temenggor hydroelectric dam, and the contiguity of the forest was cut by the East- West Highway. MNS realised that something needed to be done to preserve this invaluable tract of forest.

MNS therefore embarked on two landmark scientific expeditions to Belum-Temenggor in order to catalogue the biological wonders of the region. The first expedition lasted from 1993 to 1994. In addition to confirming that Belum-Temenggor was home to sizable populations of elephants, tapirs, tigers and other endangered mammals, it was discovered that the forest was also home to the world’s largest seasonal congregation of hornbills, with all 10 Malaysian species of the bird residing there. Large numbers of reptiles and birds of various species inhabit the Belum-Temenggor forests.

Deforestation in Belum-Temenggor has accelerated in recent years.

The expedition discovered many rare and exotic flora and fauna, including a unique species of the Rafflesia flower, a large variety of orchids and many new species of insects, arachnids and molluscs. Based on its findings, MNS concluded that Belum-Temenggor was home to some flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world and that species diversity was one of the richest in Malaysia, making conservation and proper land use imperative. The findings of the survey were published both in the Malayan Nature Journal, and in a richly illustrated book entitled ‘Belum – A Rainforest in Malaysia’, which helped to bring publicity to the expedition and to the irreplaceable wonders of Belum-Temenggor.

MNS subsequently published the Management Guidelines for a Proposed Belum Nature Park in 1995, which called for the creation of a central development authority under state management to set development policy and enforce sustainable resource management in the proposed Park. MNS followed up with a second expedition to Belum-Temenggor together with scientists from the University of Malaya (UM), the National University of Malaysia (UKM), the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) in 1998.

This second expedition unearthed many more discoveries, with literally hundreds of species of plants, with more than 500 different species of moss, over 300 species of gymnosperms and flowering plants, 32 edible fruit trees and 21 species of ginger being catalogued. Belum-Temenggor fauna was similarly bountiful in fauna, with 44 species of mammals and 71 species of birds recorded on the expedition.

Convinced more than ever that Belum-Temenggor was in dire need of protection, MNS commenced an extensive awareness and publicity campaign on the forest together with a coalition of like-minded nongovernmental organisations and concerned citizens. MNS explained how logging and development activities, while providing some economic benefit, would damage Belum-Temenggor to an extent far beyond the monetary gain accrued. MNS lobbied the Malaysian Government extensively at both Federal and State levels to preserve the forest. Additionally, MNS stated that the development of the ecotourism and pharmaceutical potential in Belum-Temenggor would far offset the loss in revenue caused by the restriction on logging. MNS’ efforts led to Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak proclaiming the Reserve as Royal Belum in 2003.

In spite of the royal proclamation, Belum-Temenggor remained legally unprotected as the forest had not been officially gazetted. In order to remedy this situation, MNS launched the ‘Belum-Temenggor Postcard Campaign’, calling upon the Perak State Government to gazette Belum-Temenggor. The campaign was a success, attractingover 80,000 signatures. On the 10th of May 2007, the Perak Government officially gazetted 117,500 hectares of the forest as the Royal Belum State Park, with logging inBelum-Temenggor to cease by 2008.

Left: The Orang Asli in Temenggor are mainly Temiar who are settled near the edges of the forest.
Right: Studying and exploring the forest's natural wonders

Concluding Remarks

MNS has accomplished much in the protection of Belum-Temenggor. After an extremely long and hard fought campaign, the society’s tireless work has resulted in saving a significantly important part of Malaysia’s natural heritage for the enjoyment and benefit of Malaysians for many years to come. This group of environmentally concerned citizens will therefore remain as an inspiration to Malaysians who are ever conscious, due in large part to MNS’ efforts, of the necessity of conserving Malaysia’s rainforests.

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