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  PlanetSave 20 Apr 06
Environmentalists urge Malaysia to save 130 million-year-old rainforest
Written by AP

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP): A 130 million-year-old tropical rainforest in Malaysia is under threat from logging, environmental activists warned Thursday, as they launched a campaign calling for greater efforts to protect the national heritage.

Intensive logging, by both legal timber operators and illegal loggers, is damaging the ecological system in the 300,000-hectare (741,300-acre) Belum-Temengor Forest complex in northern Perak state, the Malaysian Nature Society said.

"Deforestation has caused river siltation, landslides and damage to the landscape. We urge the government to stop all logging activities and conserve these forests, which are older than the Amazon and the Congo,'' said Anthony Sebastian, head of science and conservation at the society.

The area, which is four times the size of Singapore, is a major catchment area and supports 274 species of birds and more than 100 types of mammals, including 14 globally threatened species such as the Malayan tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros and the Plain-pouched hornbill. It is also home to some 10,000 indigenous people.

The nature society, along with nine other private groups and beauty products retailer The Body Shop, launched a six-month campaign Thursday to collect 50,000 signatures to petition the government to save the forests.

The forests consist of the Royal Belum State Park and the Temenggor Forest Reserve, which are separated by a highway.

Mano Maniam, president of the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia, said Royal Belum was declared a state park in 2002 but the declaration has not been gazetted, meaning conservation cannot yet be enforced.

He urged the government to stop large-scale forest conversion along the highway, speed up the gazetting of the law and extend it to cover the Temengor forest reserve, where logging is still allowed in some parts.

"The two reserves function as a single ecosystem and together are a global treasure that is irreplaceable and immensely more valuable than the timber contained within,'' the nature society said in a statement.

It said the area also forms an important wildlife corridor to the Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary and Bang Lang National Park in Thailand, and its conservation could form a large protected area where animals could cross over borders.

However, the Perak state government has insisted that logging will continue in the Belum-Temenggor forest because the timber industry is a major revenue earner for the state and more than 10,000 jobs are at stake.

"There is no way we can stop logging. It is the source of economy for the state and the people,'' Perak chief minister Tajol Rosli Ghazali was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper on Thursday.

The minister and his office could not immediately be reached for comment.

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