LIPIS: Logging activities at the Merapoh forest at Batu Yon here could result in the permanent loss of the country's natural heritage which has high tourism potential.
With the assistance of two non-governmental organisations - The Protection of the Natural Heritage of Malaysia (Peka) and Save Merapoh Caves (SMC) - Harian Metro had the opportunity to witness the land clearing near a limestone cave known as Gua Hari Malaysia (Malaysia Day Cave).
It is understood that the land clearing of the 668.79 hectares area encompasses Sungai Merapoh, which was a source of clean water to around 10,000 residents in eight villages.
SMC founder Mohd Laili Basir said that the villagers' source of clean water would be under threat if the water catchment area was not safeguarded.
He said that aside from acting as a source of clean water, Merapoh forest with its flora and fauna, was a safe haven for wildlife.
"Merapoh, which borders Kelantan and Perak, needs to be protected also for its beautiful limestone cave which was estimated to be between 230 million and 350 million years old.
"In terms of wildlife, I have never visited another location where I could find elephants, tapir, tigers, bears, deer, and mountain goats at the same time.
It is a haven for widlife.
"It is also a habitat for a species of 'Bunga Padma Tikus' or its scientific name Rhizanthes loweii (Beccari) Harms, which is the smallest Raflessia family in the world," he said.
Laili said logging and mining activities in Merapoh forest would also jeopardise the income of villagers, who worked as tour guides for visitors in the area known for its ecotourism activities.
"When I previously came (to Merapoh) in 2012, there were no homestays built and only one tourism agency, but now there are 12 homestays and three tourism agencies, as well as extreme events such as mountain biking and The Magnificent Merapoh Trail running event," he said.
Meanwhile, Peka president Puan Seri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said that the NGO's investigation found that the cleared forest area was given by the state government to an agency for large-scale agriculture activities.
She said they found gold and sand-mining activities at nearby areas which were done without valid licence and approval from the Department of Environment (DoE).
She was concerned that before any agricultural activity was carried out, all natural resources in the area would be exploited via mining and logging until there were no trees left.
"Therefore, Peka Malaysia and Friends of the Earth Malaysia (SAM) urge DoE to carry out immediate enforcement on the licensor and contractor who is carrying out logging as it is understood that they did not produce the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to DoE.
"We also urge the Pahang state authorities to gazette the area and any remaining government land in Merapoh as protected areas, especially as Permanent Forest Reserve.
"It is also hoped that the federal government, via the Tourism and Culture Ministry and Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, will gazette the Merapoh (forest) area as a sensitive natural environment and ecotourism spot that needs to be maintained," she said.