Recently, I attended the Hutan Kita exhibition at the KL Tower (beside the KL Forest Eco Park). The exhibition was meant to showcase the forest heritage of Malaysia and was opened by the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, on August 23, who at the ceremony also declared the National Tree of Malaysia as the Merbau tree (Intsia palembanica). In his speech, Mahathir also claimed that Malaysia had over 55% forest cover (more on that later).
The exhibition ran for about a month, and was quite ok, but could have done with more real exhibits and dioramas rather than relying on pre-programmed shows being run on small TV screens that few bothered to watch. Even some of the photos were no longer relevant; certain areas have since been heavily logged, yet displaying old photos that gave the impression that the place was still wild and untouched.
That said, the staff manning the booths were friendly and helpful, and I especially enjoyed the traditional dance performances by the staff of the Sabah Forestry Department booth. The dark animated room showing scenes of “Wild Malaysia” was also quite mesmerizing.
However, for me, the exhibition was a rather sad reminder of the state of the Malaysia’s forests, although having an exhibition was I guess, better than no exhibition. The issue is the same all along – Malaysia is not doing enough to conserve its rainforests and in terms of priorities, the forests and environment are always among the last, if not the last. From what I saw, quite a sizable number of the visitors to the exhibition were not even Malaysians, but foreigners.
It was sad to see the stuffed animals on display there, which may very well soon vanish from Malaysia, such as the Malayan Tiger, the Serow, the Sunda Pangolin, and the Indochinese (Malayan) Leopard. All these animals (plus many more) are currently severely threatened by poaching and rapid deforestation. They could all be gone within 10 years from the way things are going.
Malaysia has all along claimed to have 50-60% forest cover, and this claim goes back some 25-30 years ago as I recall. But it makes no sense that until today, Malaysia still has supposedly 55% forest cover. It is very likely that a sizable portion of that 55% claim is made up of plantations, be it oil palm, rubber, durian, or some other crop. And no, plantations cannot substitute for a virgin, tropical rainforest. So let’s not delude ourselves.
Even if not completely clear-cut for a plantation, our forests are logged for timber. Almost the entire forest estate of Malaysia today is made up of logged secondary forests with the only significant undisturbed areas being national parks or Protection Forest Reserves (water catchment forests on mountains) where there is less valuable timber to extract anyway.
Leaving the exhibition, the thought does cross the mind, will such exhibitions be the only thing left of Malaysia’s natural heritage in the coming future? Well, I can’t answer that one. Go visit the forests of Malaysia while they are still around. That sure beats any exhibition!