Strengthening the Protected Areas System of Peninsular Malaysia

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Southeast Asia > Malaysia


The objective of the project is to facilitate the establishment of new protected areas, particularly within the northern forest complex of Peninsular Malaysia, and to improve the management of existing protected areas in Malaysia. Efforts to establish new protected areas will be focused on national and state parks as they offer the best combination of legal security, management presence and relatively effective management.

The proposed Royal Belum Park (117,500 ha), the proposed Stong State Park (21,950 ha) and the Ulu Muda forests (ca 120,000 ha) are the three main areas that are targeted for protection. The first two are well into the process of park establishment with the relevant legislation in place for gazettement of the parks.

The project will work closely with the State Governments of Perak and Kelantan, and their related agencies, in order to achieve this objective. In the case of the Ulu Muda forests, the project will concentrate on securing commitment from the Kedah State Government to protect the area and promote sustainable nature tourism activities. In order to bring about more effective management of existing protected areas, this project will capitalise on the good existing working relationship with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.


The natural forest cover in Peninsular Malaysia is estimated to be 5.88 million ha or 44.6% of Peninsular Malaysia’s total land area (13.16 million ha) (FDHQ, 2003), most of which is in the Permanent Reserved Forests (PRFs) managed by the Forestry Department.
Forest cover consists of dryland tropical rain forest (94.11% of forest cover), peat swamp forest (4.06%), and mangrove forest (1.83%).
Dryland tropical rain forest is further subdivided into several vegetation types including lowland dipterocarp forest, hill dipterocarp forest (for Peninsular Malaysia), mixed dipterocarp forest (for Sabah and Sarawak), montane forest, mangrove forest, peat swamp forest, heath forest, beach or coastal forest and forest on limestone. Most of the remaining forests in Peninsular Malaysia are hill dipterocarp forests and montane forests. Very little of the once large expanse of lowland dipterocarp forests still remain.

The establishment of new protected areas is focused on the large contiguous forest complex in northern and central Peninsular Malaysia, with emphasis on the proposed Royal Belum Park in Perak, the proposed Stong State Park in Kelantan and the Ulu Muda forests in Kedah. This large forested landscape offers the best chances of conserving viable populations of threatened large mammals such as the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), the Seladang (Bos gaurus) and the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni). Other areas within this landscape with potential for the establishment of protected areas include the Temengor Forest Reserve in Perak, the Gunung Basor Forest Reserve in Kelantan, Gunung Aais Forest Reserve in Pahang and Gunung Tebu Forest Reserve in Terengganu.

In addition, attention will also be given to certain areas outside of this focal area, but which harbours threatened but outstanding or unique biodiversity. This includes habitat types that are still under-represented in the protected areas system, such peat swamp forests, freshwater swamp forests, coastal forests and limestone hills.

The project’s secondary objective of improving the management of protected areas is targeted towards existing terrestrial protected areas in Peninsular Malaysia.

Coverage of Protected Areas in Malaysia
In Peninsular Malaysia, terrestrial protected areas are mainly managed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and the Forestry Department, but increasingly the various state governments are also becoming involved in protected area management. The States of Johor and Perlis now have their own protected areas while Kelantan and Perak are in the process of gazetting protected areas. In Sabah, the terrestrial protected areas are managed by Sabah Parks, the Sabah Wildlife Department, the Sabah Forestry Department and the Sabah Foundation (a state-owned agency). In Sarawak, all marine and terrestrial protected areas are managed by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation.

Protected area coverage (Categories I and II under IUCN) for Malaysia in 1998 was estimated to be about 6.42% of the total land area (MoSTE, 1998). The extent of terrestrial protected areas was reported to be 751,413 ha corresponding to about 6.06% of the total area of Peninsular Malaysia as of 1996 (DWNP, 1996).

However, various figures are provided by different sources, depending on the interpretation of what constitutes a protected area. This remains a contentious issue because the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) usually refer only to Categories I and II when they talk about protected areas but Forestry Department staff sometimes also include Permanent Reserved Forests (PRFs) in their definition of protected areas. For example, Thang (undated) included protection forests within PRFs, totalling 3.21 million ha, into his definition of protected areas so that the protected area coverage in Malaysia totals about 5.36 million or about 16.3% of the country’s land area. “Protection forests” gazetted under the National Forestry Act (1984) are subject to the same degazettement process as production forests, and therefore do not enjoy a better protection status.

Some foresters also have the tendency to include production forests within their definition of protected areas. At best, production forests within PRFs can only qualify for IUCN category VI (managed resource protection area), but even so, their primary purpose is the sustainable production of timber and not the long-term protection and maintenance of biodiversity.

Preferred Types of Protected Area :
Given the existing situation, most conservationists in Malaysia only focus on Categories I and II which are sometimes referred to as Totally Protected Areas (this term is officially used in Sarawak). There seems to be a general consensus that Categories I and II in Malaysia include national parks, state parks, wildlife sanctuaries, wildlife reserves, virgin jungle reserves and special conservation areas (such as the Maliau Basin and Danum Valley in Sabah). State parks in Peninsular Malaysia, such as the Perlis State Park, are actually “national parks” using IUCN classification, but are officially recognised as “state parks” to emphasise the fact that these parks are administered by the State authorities, rather than the Federal, government.
Wildlife sanctuaries managed by DWNP and constituted under the Protection of Wild Life Act 1972 are on paper the best protected because only habitat and species protection, monitoring, research and education activities are allowed to be carried out in these areas (qualifying for IUCN’s Category I). However, in reality, DWNP only focuses on a few flagship areas such as the Krau Wildlife Sanctuary and Sg. Dusun Wildlife Reserve (formerly a Sumatran rhinoceros breeding centre). Most wildlife reserves and sanctuaries do not have a management presence and some have even been degazetted or developed into other land uses. The DWNP-DANCED (1996) study found that 212,00 ha of protected areas in Peninsular Malaysia, most of which were wildlilfe reserves, had been degazetted. Many wildlife reserves are also double-gazetted but this does not mean that these areas are more secure. In most cases where there is double gazettement, this has been to the disadvantage to the long-term security of a particular area. This is because wildlife reserves that are double gazetted are also also PRFs which is subject to logging (DWNP-DANCED, 1996).
Virgin jungle reserves (VJRs) managed by the Forestry Department in Peninsular Malaysia cover a total area of 18,399 ha (Laidlaw, 1999). They are often included in statistics for protected areas because of they are in principle pristine areas and are classified as protection forests under the National Forestry Act 1984. However, as discussed above, in reality the protection forest status offers no extra protection for VJRs and indeed a substantial number of these VJRs have been degazetted (Laidlaw, 1999).
Therefore, it is recommended here that WWF-Malaysia’s Forest Programme in Peninsular Malaysia should only focus on national and state parks (Category II) in relation to the gazettement of new protected areas. Only national and state parks offer the ideal combination of legal security, clear management presence and relatively effective management (MoNRE, in preparation). However, in relation to this project’s objective of improving the management of existing protected areas, all Category II protected areas will be considered.
There are currently 24 terrestrial national and state parks in Malaysia under the management of five different park authorities, covering a total area of 931,427. The total number of national and state parks in Peninsular Malaysia is 499,471 ha, representing only 3.76% of the Peninsular’s land area.

Justification :

Protected areas have often been referred to as the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation and have always been an important part of WWF-Malaysia’s conservation agenda. For example, one of the first technical reports produced by WWF-Malaysia was on the proposed Klias Peninsula National Park (Wells et al., 1975). However protected area issues have so far not had the benefit of a focused and integrated approach.
There is now increased awareness among policy makers and the general public about the importance of protected areas. An increasing number of national and state parks being proposed in Peninsular Malaysia but State governments need a lot of guidance and technical inputs in the establishment of new parks. WWF-Malaysia has benefited from its involvement in the Perlis State Park Project (2000-2003) and the recent management effectiveness assessment of national and state parks in Malaysia. As a result, WWF-Malaysia has a good working relationship with the Conservation and Environmental Management Division of MoNRE and has established useful contacts within the Forestry Department and the DWNP.
This project will function as an umbrella project for other projects whose primary purpose is to aid the establishment of new projects. Successful fundraising will enable separate projects to be set up for the development of comprehensive management plans and the assistance for its implementation. One such project which is already on-going is the Stong State Park Project and there is a possibility that if there are a few more projects of this sort, this project could grow into a full-blown programme along the lines of the Tigers Alive Project (MY0163)


The overall goal of the project is the establishment and maintenance of viable, representative networks of protected areas in Malaysia’s threatened and most biologically significant regions by 2010. This corresponds with target 1 of WWF-Malaysia’s Forest Programme.

The purpose of the project is to facilitate the establishment of new protected areas, particularly within the northern forest complex of Peninsular Malaysia, and to improve the management of existing protected areas in Malaysia.


The main outpouts from this project are:

Output 1: The Royal Belum Park is legally gazetted and guided by a management plan by 2008.
Output 2: The Stong State Park is legally gazetted, operational and guided by a management plan by 2008.
Output 3: Commitment to protect Ulu Muda by the Kedah State Government is increased and pressure from unsustainable tourism activities in the area is stabilised.
Output 4: Threatened and unique ecosystems are better represented in land-use planning, and protected area system planning and establishment processes.
Output 5: Coordination between protected area authorities and management effectiveness of existing protected areas improved by 2008.

Project Sustainability:

This project is proposed to be a long-term initiative by WWF-Malaysia as there is a very wide scope for the establishment of new protected areas in Peninsular Malaysia, as well as the improvement of the management effectiveness of protected areas area concerned. If funds are not available from WWF Malaysia , funding from other sources should be looked into in order to sustain the project beyond 2008.

Should there be a next phase, other new proposed protected areas identified during the present phase will be elaborated upon and targeted for legal gazettement and for the preparation of management plans. Efforts to improve coordination and management effectiveness of existing protected areas will also be stepped up.

During the course of the project, the Senior Scientific Officer (Protected Areas) will be building the capacity of the newly recruited Scientific Officer.

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