Rainforest Journal

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Gunung Telapak Buruk

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Gunung Telapak Buruk is a mountain located near Seremban town, Negeri Sembilan, and stands at a height of 1193 meters ASL, making it one of the tallest mountains in the state. The mountain and adjacent hills (including a nearby peak, Gunung Berembun, from which the forest reserve derives its name) form part of the Berembun Forest Reserve, an extensive forest area (around 50,000 ha) in the middle of Negeri Sembilan – that is mainly harvested for timber.

Within the Berembun Forest Reserve also lie several water catchment forest reserves and Virgin Jungle Reserves (VJRs), where timber harvesting is prohibited.  It is at Gunung Telapak Buruk that the largest of these Virgin Jungle Reserves is located, the Berembun Virgin Jungle Reserve (approximately 1,300 ha). Thus, Gunung Telapak Buruk is of interest to nature lovers because of its largely undisturbed hill dipterocarp and lower montane rainforest, which you can see from about halfway up the mountain.

Getting there

Getting there is easy; just take the road to Kuala Kelawang from Seremban (Route 86). Along the way, you will pass a small village called Pantai; keep going straight all the way and soon the road will start to ascend as it winds its way up the foothills. You will pass a small Chinese temple on your left. At a point, the road starts to descend, and you will see a large signpost on your right to denote the border between the Jelebu and Seremban districts. At this point, the small access road begins. This is the access road that goes up the Telapak Buruk mountain. If you proceed further on the main road, you will arrive at a Recreational Forest Park called Jeram Toi which has a nice waterfall and is the start of a trail up the mountain (for those wishing to climb the peak), although it appears to be overgrown now.

Road up Telapak Buruk

The single lane road up the peak while still partly sturdy, is in desperate need of maintenance, and repair.

The road runs up the mountain from the base to the summit for a distance of about 12 km; this road was built in the 1970s and was in good condition up until a few years ago. Perhaps it was maintained then, but now, it is eroded in many places and quite impassable to saloon cars; only 4WD vehicles can go up without problems. At the summit, Telekom Malaysia and some telcos maintain several telecommunication towers, and a small army camp to protect them.

Telco towers at Gunung Telapak Buruk

The telecommunications towers at the summit.

Cyathea tree ferns

Tree ferns (Cyathea spp) are synonymous with moist, cool, tropical climates.

At the base of the mountain next to the road and signpost, there is an open area where you can park your car and walk up the road. I have not tried walking up, but it will probably take 3-4 hours at least, for a very fit person, to walk all the way up to the summit. Nonetheless, if you’re into nature, this is one of the best places in Peninsular Malaysia to experience the environment in its wild, undisturbed state.

Biodiversity

The forest at Gunung Telapak Buruk is mostly untouched upper hill dipterocarp (lower montane) forest from about halfway up the mountain. The lower half is lowland and hill dipterocarp forest which appear mostly logged, due to their high content of valuable timber. But once you ascend above around about 600 or 700 meters altitude, you will be surrounded by unlogged forest, with soaring dipterocarps poking their crowns above the main canopy. Several places along the road allow for panoramic views of the countryside and Seremban in the distance.

Lower montane rainforest

Lower montane rainforest of Gunung Telapak Buruk, at roughly 900-1000 meters altitude. Although unlogged, the tree mortality rate here is pretty high. Notice the huge gap in the middle of this ridge. Years ago, the canopy was totally intact.

Telapak Buruk rainforest

The rainforest of Telapak Buruk is adorned with many kinds of palms.

The forest at Gunung Telapak Buruk is unique in some ways; this is one of the last mountains of the Titiwangsa Range (and standing quite alone by itself) at its southernmost limit, and also located in the driest district of Malaysia (Jelebu district). Thus it’s not surprising that the forest serves as a refuge for many uncommon species of flora and fauna and differs slightly from elsewhere. The diamond shaped umbrella palms and the mountain serdang palms (Livistona speciosa) occur here, making the forest interior a beautiful sight to behold.

Serdang palm

A Serdang palm, possibly Livistona speciosa. They are common here, at higher altitudes.

Cicada tube

Cicada tube, from which the nymphs emerge as adults after spending a long time underground. Some temperate species spend years underground as nymphs.

Giant milipede

Giant millipede, about 23 cm long. They feed on plant matter and are totally harmless. In cool montane habitats, they are very common.

Strange red fungi

A strange looking species of fungi.

The known larger wildlife found here includes white handed gibbons, siamang gibbons, tapirs, barking deer, and panthers. Hornbills are a common sight here, and I’ve heard the calls of the relatively rare Helmeted Hornbill here in the past. Another thing – This mountain is one of the most southerly refuges for the endangered Siamang in Peninsular Malaysia, and spend enough time here and you will certainly hear the loud calls of the barking deer. Ten years ago, wildlife seemed plentiful; today, I’m not so sure anymore.

The WW2 bomber crash site

Gunung Telapak Buruk is also getting a bit of press for being the site of a World War 2 B-24 Liberator bomber crash, in August, 1945. The B-24 was a four engine heavy bomber built mainly for the US Air Force, but also widely used by the British Royal Air Force, and it was one of these planes (KL654/R) that crashed on the then remote slopes of Gunung Telapak Buruk. All 8 crew on board were killed. It is understood that the plane was on a mission to deliver supplies to anti-Japanese guerillas at that time.

B-24 crew member names

The list of crew members aboard the ill fated plane, attached to a tree at the crash site. This list has only 6 names whereas I believe there were 8 crew members in total on board.

The wreckage lies at an altitude of around 1000m ASL, and was only discovered in 1961 by members of the Orang Asli (aborigines) who stumbled upon the plane and promptly alerted the local police, although it would be many years later before the remains of the victims would be properly identified and buried at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Cheras.

Trail to B-24 crash site

The beautiful montane forest near the beginning of the trail to the B-24 plane crash site. Regrettably, some logging was carried out here, up till about halfway through the trail, as can be inferred from tree stumps.

Today, you can trek to the plane crash site using either the Pantai trail (around 4 hours), or the shorter trail (1.5-2 hours) from the summit, which begins at the side of the middle (lower) telecommunication tower, and is marked by ribbons throughout the way. Recently, I trekked to the plane crash site, using the Telapak summit trail, a distance of about 5 km. Since the trail is descending, going down is easy, coming up – not so. Nonetheless, hiking this path in the cool mountain air amidst undisturbed montane forest is a nice experience in itself.

B-24 wing part

Part of one of the wings of the B-24.

B-24 propeller engine

Remains of the engine of one of the propellers. The B-24 had 4 propellers.

B-24 landing wheel

One of the landing wheels is surprisingly well preserved, but being underneath the wing, it was probably spared the ravaging tropical climate.

B-24 fuselage

The rear fuselage of the B-24 Liberator, looking in towards the tail end, where there was a rear gunner turret sited.

B-24 Liberator tail

One of the rear tails of the Liberator

The parts of the plane are strewn over a fairly large area, and what visible remains of the plane that can be seen are a part of the fuselage near the tail, and a portion of one of the wings. Apparently the crash was catastrophic and violent; it appears that parts of the plane caught fire and burned (melted aluminum can be seen). Despite that, some parts of the plane still look very well preserved despite 70 years of tropical climate having elapsed. My advice for anyone coming here – Respect those who died here, and leave the wreckage and place as you found it. Please do not take home parts and pieces of the plane as souvenirs.

Conservation potential

Gunung Telapak Buruk and the surrounding hill forests have high conservation and future ecotourism potential, being so near to Seremban and having a large enough area to harbor populations of some of the larger mammals, as well as serving as a very important water catchment area for all the surrounding towns (like Seremban) and villages. It is essential to keep all the VJRs and Protection Forests within it intact and safe from logging, while maintaining the bulk of the area under perpetual forest cover.

The road up Telapak Buruk

There is plenty of peace and solitude here. In this pic, it is about to rain.

The southern borders of the Berembun Forest Reserve have already suffered much from heavy logging and steady clearance, which have turned this block of forest into an “island” in the middle of Negeri Sembilan. Looking south from the summit, it’s disturbing to see the relentless march of humans into this fragmented forest. Perhaps the state government should consider granting Gunung Telapak Buruk conservation status as a State Park. In my opinion, there is likely no better area for a State/National Park in the entire Negeri Sembilan state, than this parcel of forest. Besides, there are not many hills or mountains in Malaysia with this height, where there is a road all the way to the top, and with an intact ecosystem to boot.

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