Gaze at green vistas, swim with fish or hike up forested hills; that’s the call of World Environment Day this year, which falls on June 5.
The biggest annual event for positive eco action, World Environment Day first started in 1972. This year’s theme, Connecting People To Nature, urges people to go outdoors and enjoy the beauty of nature. As the saying goes, “You can’t love what you don’t know.”
So why not see and immerse ourselves in the goodness of nature at first-hand?
Smell the freshness of forests, swim in our warm seas over coral reefs and sense the energy from waterfalls.
Hopefully when we experience nature for ourselves, we will then come to understand and appreciate its importance, and the need to protect it.
“Nature’s gifts are often hard to value in monetary terms. Like clean air, they are often taken for granted, at least until they become scarce,” says a United Nations Environment page promoting this day.
Malaysia is blessed to be a country rich in biodiversity, filled with lush tropical rainforests and beautiful marine parks.
Here are 10 areas you can visit to rekindle your love for the environment:
1. Selangor State Park
It’s amazing how there’s so much nature right on the doorstep of Kuala Lumpur.
Many hikers know of nearby hills (Gunung Nuang, Bukit Kutu) and waterfalls (Templer’s Park, Sungai Chiling and Gabai Falls), but not many are aware that these are all part of the Selangor State Park.
These rugged wonders of nature are possible because the eastern part of Selangor is formed by the mountainous forested slopes of the main Titiwangsa mountain range.
The park spans over 108,000ha in size and is the third largest park in Peninsular Malaysia after Taman Negara and the Royal Belum State Park.
Within the park are over 110 types of mammals, 350 bird species and 100 freshwater fish species.
If you live in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya or Selangor, even if you don’t care about biodiversity, you should care about the Selangor State Park because 98% of your water comes from there.
2. Gunung Irau
If you’ve always wished that you could go through a fairy tale forest like that in Hansel And Gretel, the good news is that Malaysia has one!
It’s called the mossy forest of Gunung Irau at Cameron Highlands. Here, you will see gnarled tree trunks and branches laden with thick moss, from where water drips constantly.
Gunung Irau is 2,110m above sea level, so the environment here is cool (even cold) – perfect for those who don’t want to sweat too much.
There is a popular hiking trail which requires anything from three to six hours to complete, depending on your speed.
Along the way, feast your eyes upon an array of orchids, moss gardens, unique shrubs and pitcher plants.
The trail here follows a ridge, which marks the watershed boundary between three states. Perak (in the west) and Pahang-Kelantan (in the east).
This means that water dripping down from all that moss on your left (to the west) side flows down to rivers in Perak, while water dripping down on your right (east) flows to Pahang or Kelantan. In other words, a hike here takes you to the very place where our rivers begin!
And if the forest was cut down, we would have problems with water supply, soil erosion and floods.
3. Taman Negara
This is the home of the most ancient tropical rainforest in the world, believed to be over 130 million years old.
Taman Negara (usually entered via Pahang) is the largest national park in the country at 4,343sq km.
There are a variety of trails. A short one goes to the famous canopy walkway, which at 45m above ground level, gives you a stunning and unusual view of the rainforest. And hardcore hikers can always trek to Peninsular Malaysia’s highest peak, Gunung Tahan.
Prized fish such as kelah, that can only survive in pristine river waters, can be found here. It is also home to the world’s largest flower (the Rafflesia), as well as birds, reptiles and rare insects.
Wildlife mammals that call the place home include elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, seladangs (a species of gaur), sambar deers and Malayan tapirs.
4. The forests of Ulu Muda
The forests here supply 96.5% of Kedah’s and 80% of Penang’s treated water, and are crucial to both high-tech industries and padi field irrigation – not to mention baths for ordinary residents (goo.gl/0HhTxL)!
The forests stretch from Kedah’s border with Thailand to Baling in northern Perak, an area about twice the size of Singapore.
This is the “Taman Negara of the North” (in the peninsula). Apart from water supply, the area is crucial for biodiversity conservation.
This is the home for Asian elephants, tapirs, sun bears and serows. Two types of leopards (spotted and clouded) live here too.
Ulu Muda has over 300 species of birds. It is one of the only two areas in Malaysia (the other being the forests of Belum-Temengor) where all 10 species of Malaysian hornbills are found, including the rare and endangered plain-pouched hornbill.
However, this slice of paradise is being threatened with large-scale logging. You can sign an online petition to save it at https://goo.gl/K3N7gi
5. Tioman Marine Park
Back in In the 1970s, Time magazine called Pulau Tioman in Pahang “one of the world’s most beautiful islands”.
Forty years later, there’s a whole lot more tourism here (along with the associated negative impacts on the environment) and trawlers still sometimes sneak in to illegally scoop up the marine treasures in this marine park (where fishing is banned).
Despite the damage, there’s still so much natural beauty here. The island’s distance from the mainland has led to clearer seas and more abundant corals – the two main attractions.
On the east coast, the Juara Turtle Project is a hatchery that protects and studies sea turtles.
6. Bako National Park
Bako in Sarawak is different from other national parks in Malaysia. Despite being one of the country’s smallest national parks (just 2,727ha at the tip of a peninsula), it is home to every type of vegetation found in Borneo.
Twenty-five distinct types of vegetation form seven complete eco-systems – beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, kerangas or heath forest, mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, padang or grasslands vegetation and peat swamp forest. All these can be seen by following the well-marked trails here.
Unlike other national parks, visitors to Bako will find it much easier to see wildlife. Long-tailed macaque monkeys and silver leaf monkeys are always present, and wild boar often rummage around the park HQ. There is also a decent chance of seeing proboscis monkeys on certain trails.
7. Kinabalu Park
Everyone knows that Mount Kinabalu (4,095m) in Sabah is the highest mountain in Malaysia. Many climbers go to “conquer” it, but while you’re at it, don’t forget to appreciate the abundant eco riches here.
It was designated as Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site in the natural site category in 2000. It’s also the Centre of Plant Diversity for South-East Asia, with more than 5,000 vascular plant species and some 90 lowland mammal species.
8. Pulau Sipadan
Sipadan in Sabah is Malaysia’s sole oceanic island, rising 600m from the seabed and formed by living corals growing on top of an ancient volcano.
In 1989, Jacques Cousteau, the famous marine explorer and conservationist, said: “I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.”
Sipadan is commonly rated as “one of the top five dive sites in the world”, and the coral and fish diversity here is superior to what’s found in the Caribbean.
Being an oceanic island, it combines the sights of a tropical coral reef (like that found in Tioman or Redang) with deep blue-water fish. Divers coming here look forward to seeing turtles, sharks and huge tonado-like swirls of fish such as jacks and barracudas.
Sipadan was gazetted as a marine park in 2004, and only 120 divers per day are allowed to visit here, to minimise the impact of mass tourism.
9. Tabin Wildlife Reserve
Tabin Wildlife Reserve was established in 1984 as part of Sabah’s efforts to protect and preserve wildlife, especially large mammals such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, Borneo pygmy elephant and sun bears.
Tabin is located near Lahad Datu in Sabah. One of the highlights here is the active and mineral-rich mud volcanoes. These attract frequent visits by wildlife to get their mineral “supplements” and make a good platform for wildlife observation and bird-watching.
The creatures that visitors may see here include nine species of primates, three species of jungle cats and 300 species of birds.
10. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary
It’s usually hard to see wild animals in a tropical rainforest. But one big exception to that is the river cruise at the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in the heart of Sabah.
Visitors will often catch sight of bizarre long-nosed proboscis monkeys, the “men of the forest” or orang utans, macaques, gibbons, leaf monkeys, crocodiles basking in mud and, if you’re lucky, Borneo pygmy elephants.
This is a richly biodiverse area with many species of plants (over 1,000), birds (250), fish (90) and mammals (50).
The sanctuary is one of only two areas in the world inhabited by 10 species of primate, four of which are endemic to Borneo.
A proposed RM223mil bridge project here received strong objections from local and international conservationists, who said it would disrupt the migratory route of wildlife, thus harming conservation.
In March, The Guardian newspaper of Britain published an article highlighting the concerns of conservationist Sir David Attenborough that the bridge would threaten one of the last sanctuaries of the rare Borneo pygmy elephant. In April, the bridge project was scrapped.
This place is described as “Sabah’s Gift to the Earth” and has been dubbed the “Corridor of Life”. It’s one of the must-see highlights of nature in Malaysia.