malaysian naturalist, march 2019
In 2015, two spotted leopards were sighted in Ulu Muda, creating a stir about an area previously thought only to have melanistic (or black) leopards. The forest complex is also a known habitat for elephants, tigers, tapirs and sun bears, was once home to the Sumatran rhino, and most likely hosts a plethora of other creatures.
Who knows for sure the breadth of biodiversity in the Ulu Muda? Well, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Kedah Branch plans to make a go of finding out, on the way towards advocating for protection of this precious water catchment.
The plan is to undertake the Ulu Muda Scientific Expedition, to involve scientists and researchers, to get a buy-in from individuals, corporations and the local community, and in the end to convince the Kedah government that the forest complex would be worth saving. The payback is eco-tourism proceeds that could take the place of logging revenue.
At the launch ceremony in February, MNS Kedah Chair Lt. Col. (R) Husamudin Yaacob said the Ulu Muda Scientific Expedition aimed to study all the flora and fauna in the area, and was expected to take two to three years.
A long time, sure, but that’s not even accounting for the Branch’s commitment to Ulu Muda over the decades, or the effort taken so far in preparation for this ambitious expedition to be announced.
This included several reconnaissance trips into the forest complex starting in September 2017, with the most recent in January 2019, identifying possible trails and base camp sites, marking out salt licks, hot springs and spots for camera trapping, and spotting a paw print or two.
In the public sphere, MNS Kedah worked on outreach by promoting Ulu Muda at the Kedah Cycle for Water 2017 event organised by WWF-Malaysia, and at Expo Muafakat Kedah the following year. In January 2018, members of the public took part in a public forum and workshop on Ulu Muda that heard from such agencies as the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA), Kedah Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) and Penang Water Board, aside from MNS itself, presenting on the biodiversity of Ulu Muda.
MNS is also reaching out to the world of academia, and so far, an agreement has been reached between MADA, the Kedah Fisheries Department and Universiti Sains Malaysia on fish and water quality studies in Ulu Muda.
The Branch has also gone hard on its membership drive, recruiting among them four-wheel-drive and dirt bike enthusiasts whose hobbies take them into the forests, as well as local community members such as fishermen and former poachers. MNS Kedah Vice-Chair Yani Madewnus Yunus said their expertise would come in handy for the expedition, while also serving as the eyes and ears for the Society on the goings-on in the forest complex.
Then there’s support from official quarters. The launch was attended by Ooi Tze Min, Kedah Exco member with several portfolios including Science and Technology, and Climate Change and Environment. Standing in for Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, Ooi repeated the Kedah government’s pledge to protect the water catchment while reaping the rewards of high-quality ecotourism. This follows the much-lauded announcement by the MB that all logging licences in Ulu Muda would be revoked.
Ooi also touched on the forest’s rich flora and fauna, the possibility of Ulu Muda still being home to the rhino (deemed extinct in the wild in Malaysia) and possible “not yet discovered” biodiversity and plants with pharmaceutical value. “This is why the Kedah government sees Ulu Muda as an ecologically sensitive area that needs to be protected, where all activities need to be sustainable,” he said. To ensure clean water flowed to the dams, logging would not be allowed near the catchment, he added.
As part of the launch, Ooi visited the Ulu Muda Scientific Expedition Centre, situated at the Muda Lake jetty in Gubir, planted a merbau sapling and released fish into the lake. He also took a short boat ride on the lake, and afterwards said it was his first time as a visitor to Ulu Muda, and wished to return for a longer forest trip, despite not being the “hiking and camping” type.
Ooi also urged companies and the corporate sector to help fund the Ulu Muda Scientific Expedition, and pledged to ask the state government to assist MNS in completing this advantageous study of a precious natural resource.