By Catherine Yule
New Straits Times (Malaysia)
July 11, 2000
- TROPICAL rainforests once covered 14 per cent of the Earth's
surface, but this has decreased to six per cent. If current rates
of forest destruction continue, there will be no rainforest left
in 40 years' time. Over 20 million hectares of tropical rainforests
are lost each year (an area more than half the size of Japan). The
rapid forest loss has generated worldwide concern. Deforestation
could be the greatest environmental threat that developing countries
have to face this century. When tropical rainforests are destroyed,
we lose irreplaceable genetic material that could, for example,
provide cures for illnesses, such as cancer, or new food sources.
There are also links between forest loss, wood burning and the
greenhouse gas effect. The greenhouse effect is causing world temperatures
to rise at an alarming rate. If it is not reversed or slowed down
we face climate change, melting of the world's ice sheets and a
sea-level rise which would drown low-lying islands and coastal cities.
On a local scale, rainforests maintain the integrity of river catchments.
When forest is removed, erosion of the soil ensues, and rivers become
polluted with sediment which is then washed into the sea where it
can destroy coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. Removal of
forest also alters the climate, causing higher temperatures and
Forest destruction in Malaysia is driving many species to extinction.
A total of 286 mammals have been recorded here, of which 27 occur
nowhere else in the world, and 42 are endangered (15.9 per cent
of total species). Tigers, orang utan, elephants, rhinoceros, tapir,
leopards, otters, civets, porcupine, shrews, bats and 35 species
of birds are threatened with annihilation as their habitats are
A recent study by the World Conservation Monitoring said that about
7,388 (nine per cent) tree species of the between 80,000 and 100,000
on the planet may be threatened with extinction without significant
steps to reverse current trends.
Most of the threatened species exist in the tropics, and Malaysia
tops the list with 958 species, followed by Indonesia (551) and
Brazil (462). Naturally, forests contain more than trees, and it
is the small orchids, ferns and other plants which may be even more
Now 2.7 per cent of the Malaysian land area is protected with 1.7
per cent partially protected, and 4.4 per cent totally or partially
protected. Yet 40 per cent is subject to a high degree of human
disturbance. It is, thus, important to protect as much forest area
Malaysian rainforests attract tourists from all over the world.
Taman Negara is world famous. Those of us living in Kuala Lumpur
are lucky to have rainforests nearby, such as at the Gombak Forest
Reserve, the Malaysia Agricultural Park, and the Forest Research
Institute of Malaysia. We must do what we can to preserve our heritage
and to ensure that our children and grandchildren will also have
the scientific, recreational, educational and aesthetic benefits
of tropical rainforests.
Dr Catherine Yule is a lecturer in environmental management at
the Monash University branch campus in PJ.