Animal Conservation

Malaysia fights to save threatened flora

The Malaysian forest canopy is like an intricate puzzle, Kepong, Malaysia. / Rian Maelzer

The Malaysian forest canopy is like an intricate puzzle, Kepong, Malaysia. / Rian Maelzer

The imminent threat of extinction of Malaysia’s charismatic animal species like the tiger and orangutan could attract public attention. But much less is focused on the threat of extinction of the plant and tree species that form the habitats these animals need to live and thrive. A recent study by Botanic Gardens Conservation International found that nearly a third of the world’s tree species are on the verge of wiping out. Malaysia, one of the richest countries in biodiversity on the planet, is among the countries where the most tree species are endangered.

Malaysian NGO Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Center (TRCRC) is working to stop and reverse this trend.

The process of locating trees, collecting seeds and caring for young trees can take years, Bukit Cerkah, Malaysia, September 23, 2021. / Rian Maelzer

The process of locating trees, collecting seeds and caring for young trees can take years, Bukit Cerkah, Malaysia, September 23, 2021. / Rian Maelzer

About 15 species are critically endangered and about 35 are endangered. “Our mission is essentially to save our endangered tree species in Malaysia, focusing on a single tree family that dominates the canopy in an intact forest, the Dipterocarpaceae,” said Dzaeman Dzulkifli, executive director of the TRCRC.

The TRCRC aims to track down populations of endangered trees, collect their seeds, propagate them and possibly reintroduce them into the wild to rehabilitate sites, expand the diversity of secondary forests and create corridors to connect plots. of fragmented jungle.

Many trees only bear fruit once every five to seven years, Shah Alam, Malaysia, September 23, 2021. / Rian Maelzer

Many trees only bear fruit once every five to seven years, Shah Alam, Malaysia, September 23, 2021. / Rian Maelzer

It is a difficult and time consuming task. “We have species that flower every year, but the majority of them bear fruit and flower every five to seven years,” Dzaeman explained.

Much of the biodiversity loss of trees in Malaysia has been caused by logging of the dipterocarp species, which is valued for its timber, converting the land into wood and oil palm plantations and residential development. and commercial. But climate change likely plays a role as well, disrupting the drought cycles that trigger trees to flower and fruit, Dzaeman said.

The “living collections” nourish plants for a possible reintroduction into nature. / Rian Maelzer

The “living collections” nourish plants for a possible reintroduction into nature. / Rian Maelzer

The TRCRC has established three “living collections”, nurseries where it nourishes seedlings and saplings until they are ready to be planted. They are found in Selangor state outside of Kuala Lumpur, in the northern region of the peninsula and in Sabah on the island of Borneo – home of the orangutan, but no longer the Sumatran rhino, of which the last one died two years ago.

Greater flora biodiversity can help ensure the survival of species like the orangutan. / Rian Maelzer

Greater flora biodiversity can help ensure the survival of species like the orangutan. / Rian Maelzer

It is not enough to preserve the tropical rainforest. What is important is to create a functional habitat where wildlife and large mammals can exist. “The more diverse your flora, the more diverse your earthly life,” said Dzaeman.

It may not make headlines like preventing the extinction of charismatic mammals. But preserving the biodiversity of Malaysia’s trees will help prevent highly valued charismatic species, such as the orangutan and tiger, from suffering the plight of the Malaysian Sumatran rhino.

(Cover image by Rian Maelzer)

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