Merdeka for na­ture too?

Our free­dom as a na­tion should also be­long to our wildlife and forests, which have done much for this coun­try.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Ecowatch - By MELVIN TERRY GUMAL

HERE we are, 60 years young as a na­tion, hav­ing ac­com­plished much, in­clud­ing the best haul of medals in the re­cent SEA Games.

Our range of Malaysian lu­mi­nar­ies in­clude states­men such as Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man, movie stars such as Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh, the singer Datuk Siti Nurhal­iza, in­ter­na­tion­ally-recog­nised car­toon­ist Datuk Lat (born Mo­ham­mad Nor Khalid), sportswoman Pan­delela Ri­nong (a mul­ti­ple Olympic medal­list) and mul­ti­ple squash world cham­pion Datuk Ni­col Ann David.

And we have the bi­ol­o­gist Dr Lim

Boo Liat, the only South-East Asian nom­i­nated by peers world­wide for the renowned Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Mam­mol­o­gists.

But what about our un­sung he­roes in na­ture?

Wild an­i­mals main­tain the forests (through pol­li­na­tion, seed dis­per­sal, and seedling re­gen­er­a­tion) and those forests “catch” rain to give us price­less drink­ing wa­ter. And there’s the “small” mat­ter of how these trees pro­vide oxy­gen for us to breathe.

Some of the Malaysian trees and wildlife (I call them our “Found­ing Wildlife”) have ex­isted for many mil­lions of years.

How­ever, sadly, some of them have dis­ap­peared from the wild, and these in­clude the ban­teng from Penin­su­lar Malaysia and Sarawak, and rhi­nos from through­out the coun­try.

Oth­ers such as ele­phants, gaurs, pan­golins, clouded leop­ards and tigers are now un­der se­vere threat. Poach­ing, ram­pant loss of habi­tat and the rapid ex­pan­sion of plan­ta­tions have con­trib­uted much to their demise and con­tinue to do so.

Many of us only know of the large iconic an­i­mals, but may for­get the lesser known ones, like the fly­ing foxes (which is ac­tu­ally a bat), in­sects (bees and but­ter­flies) and the sharks, rays and skates in our coastal seas.

Poach­ing, hunt­ing and over­fish­ing (in­clud­ing the use of bombs and cyanide) have re­duced their pop­u­la­tions.

Mean­while, silent killers like the per­va­sive use of plas­tics, pes­ti­cides and fer­tilis­ers have pol­luted our lands and waters, killing off these hard­work­ing but un­ap­pre­ci­ated in­sects who help pol­li­nate our flow­ers that then make our forests, crops and fruits.

Wis­dom at 60?

For a hu­man, the age of 60 is a time when we take stock of our life, our past con­tri­bu­tions

and­whatwe­have to of­fer for the fu­ture, in terms of wis­dom.

Malaysia at 60, is also at its cross-roads. Do we con­vert more of our nat­u­ral trea­sures and bio­di­ver­sity to­wards our end­less and re­lent­less pur­suit of “de­vel­op­ment” (or money) or do we start look­ing at de­vel­op­ment in a more proper, sus­tain­able and eco­log­i­cal sense?

This means not los­ing more of our nat­u­ral cap­i­tal or bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity – at the past and cur­rent un­sus­tain­able rates.

For ex­am­ple, how wise is it to re­place nat­u­ral forests with ar­ti­fi­cial plan­ta­tions?

What are we ac­cu­mu­lat­ing hu­man wealth for, when such ac­tions mean we will lose the nat­u­ral re­silience that forests and bio­di­ver­sity can pro­vide?

For ex­am­ple, why chop down the forests of Ulu Muda in Kedah for short-term log­ging prof­its only to lose out on the cru­cial longterm wa­ter sup­ply that they pro­vide?

Why de­stroy the bio­di­ver­sity that has taken na­ture mil­lions of years to build up when it may hold fu­ture price­less cures for can­cer and other dis­eases?

Haze and pol­luted streams or rivers are some of the more vis­i­ble threats we have. Try drink­ing green, al­gae-cov­ered wa­ter in plan­ta­tions, as some of our ru­ral neigh­bours have to daily and you can see what I mean.

Pride in na­ture

Surely, we need our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and we should trea­sure it with as much pride as we have for our gleam­ing tall, new build­ings?

We have eco so­lu­tions and the world knows that we have them.

We talk about the strength of our en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, and lofty goals such as the Cen­tral For­est Spine project. Our uni­ver­si­ties pro­duce skilled stu­dents in the nat­u­ral sci­ences.

Yet, there is a gen­eral feel­ing that the fu­ture of the en­vi­ron­ment in Malaysia is bleak. Per­haps the push for “de­vel­op­ment” (for whom?) has been given so much pri­or­ity that hopes for con­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment have taken a back seat.

We need to re­dress this im­bal­ance and en­sure that our en­vi­ron­ment is given the pride and pro­tec­tion it de­serves.

To cel­e­brate Merdeka, we also have to ask what about the in­de­pen­dence and free­dom of our wildlife and forests?

The free­dom of an­i­mals to wan­der in the for­est and seas, to do their own thing with­out be­ing poached or poi­soned and the free­dom to roost in their habi­tats or homes with­out them be­ing chopped down.

Plus the free­dom of forests to give us Malaysians fresh air and drink­ing wa­ter.

Have a look at this short video – https:// tinyurl.com/wildMerdeka – and see how wildlife roam freely and hap­pily in our forests. They do cel­e­brate their lives in wild Malaysia mostly with­out any of us hu­mans watch­ing.

They also qui­etly dis­perse seeds so that we even­tu­ally gain the ben­e­fit of tall trees. Let us cel­e­brate them and help save them so that they con­tinue to be part of our fu­ture, in­stead of be­ing rel­e­gated to a his­tory of ex­tinc­tion.

At 60, yes, let us cel­e­brate, but let’s not for­get to share our fu­ture with wildlife and na­ture. Af­ter all, we Malaysians are known to be a gen­er­ous lot.

Se­la­mat Hari Merdeka and Malaysia Day to all, in­clud­ing the wildlife roam­ing our forests and seas. Thank you for all you have done to help your hu­man broth­ers in this coun­try.

Melvin Terry Gumal is the Di­rec­tor of Malaysia Pro­gram in the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety.

Per­haps the pris­tine forests of Ulu Muda, Kedah, de­serve to be hon­oured for their ‘pa­tri­otic’ role in giv­ing us fresh wa­ter? — AN­DREW SIA/The Star

A reef shark killed in 2016 by a fish­ing net in­side the Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man Park off Kota Kinabalu. More en­force­ment of marine park rules is needed. — Filepic

The Bornean Clouded Leop­ard should be con­sid­ered a pa­tri­otic part of our na­tional her­itage. — SEN NATHAN

Wild Su­ma­tran rhi­nos have be­come ex­tinct in Malaysia. Pun­tung, one of the last sur­viv­ing rhi­nos in cap­tiv­ity in Sabah is dy­ing from her can­cer­ous swelling. — Filepic

Don’t orang­utans also de­serve to be ‘Merdeka’ or free in their for­est homes? —AP

The ban­teng (wild cat­tle) has dis­ap­peared from Penin­su­lar Malaysia and is en­dan­gered in Bor­neo. — SEN NATHAN

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