Forest CoverTotal forest area: 20,890,000 ha % of land area: 63.6%
Primary forest cover: 3,820,000 ha % of land area: 11.6% % total forest area: 18.3%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: -140,200 ha Annual deforestation rate: -0.7% Change in defor. rate since '90s: 85.1% Total forest loss since 1990: -1,486,000 ha Total forest loss since 1990:-6.6%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests Annual loss of primary forests: n/a Annual deforestation rate: n/a Change in deforestation rate since '90s: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990:0.0%
Forest ClassificationPublic: 93.4% Private: 6.6% Other: 0% Use Production: 56.6% Protection: 18.2% Conservation: 5.4% Social services: n/a Multiple purpose: 19.8% None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 20,890,000 ha Primary: 3,820,000 ha Modified natural: n/a Semi-natural: 15,497,000 ha Production plantation: 1,573,000 ha Production plantation: n/a
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 1,573,000 ha % of total forest cover: 7.5% Annual change rate (00-05): -17,200,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: 5,661 M t Below-ground biomass: 1,359 M t
Area annually affected byFire: 1,000 ha Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 2,650 Critically endangered: 50 Endangered: 99 Vulnerable: 403
Malaysia's deforestation rate is accelerating faster than that of any other tropical country in the world, according to data from the United Nations. Analysis of figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that Malaysia's annual deforestation rate jumped almost 86 percent between the 1990-2000 period and 2000-2005. In total, Malaysia lost an average of 140,200 hectares—0.65 percent of its forest area—per year since 2000. For comparison, the Southeast Asian country lost an average of 78,500 hectares, or 0.35 percent of its forests, annually during the 1990s.
The Malaysian government failed to provide FAO with figures showing the change in extent of primary forests during the period. Primary forests—forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities—are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.
Declining forest cover in Malaysia results primarily from urbanization, agricultural fires, and forest conversion for oil-palm plantations and other forms of agriculture. Logging, which is generally excluded in deforestation figures from FAO, is responsible for widespread forest degradation in the country, and green groups have blamed local timber companies for failing to practice sustainable forest management. In late 2005—despite photographic evidence suggesting otherwise—the Samling Group denied claims from NGOs accusing the timber giant of recklessly harvesting timber in one of its Sarawak concessions on the island of Borneo.
Forest cover has fallen dramatically in Malaysia since the 1970s. While FAO says that forests still cover more than 60 percent of the country, only 11.6 percent of these forests are considered pristine.
During the 1980s, rampant logging in the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak allowed Malaysia to temporarily outpace Indonesia and become the world's largest exporter of tropical wood.
On paper, Malaysia has probably one of the best rainforest protection policies in developing Asia, but in practice logging still carries on as it always has. The majority of Malaysia's remaining forests are managed for timber production, and each state is empowered to formulate forest policy independently. During the past two decades, sustainable forest management has been non-existent. While Malaysia has the policy framework for sustainable forest management in the form of the National Forestry Act of 1984, it has failed to enforce the legislation.
Peninsular Malaysia's primary forests are mostly gone, though some magnificent forest still exists in Taman Negara, a national park. Scientists believe that at 130 million years old, the rainforests of Taman Negara are the oldest in the world.
Most of Malaysia's remaining primary forest exists on the island of Borneo in the states of Sabah and Sarawak, but the majority of the forest area in Malaysian Borneo—especially the lowlands—has been selectively logged, resulting in reduced biodiversity. Loggers are now operating in more marginal areas on rugged mountain slopes, which increases the risk of soil erosion and mudslides. In Sabah (Northeastern Borneo), cutting has slowed over the years after a period of rapid deforestation. Timber production appears to have shifted to Sarawak (Northwestern Borneo), where about half the forest cover is slated for logging. About 8 percent of the land area in Sarawak is designated as reserves, but these protected areas are generally understaffed and threatened by illegal logging and encroachment by colonists who settle along logging roads.
In the 1980s, through roadblocks and sabotage of logging equipment, the indigenous Penan of Borneo attempted to stop logging in their traditional homeland. Their protests were ruthlessly and savagely put down by the Malaysian government, which blocked media access to the region until the unrest was settled and the forest dwellers cleared. The attacks on the Penan brought international attention to the logging of Borneo's forests but appear to have had relatively little long-term impact, since logging increased dramatically in the following years.
Decades of mining in peninsular Malaysia have left a heavy mark on the environment. Deforestation, pollution of rivers, and siltation have resulted in agricultural losses, and road projects have opened new areas to colonization.
Despite the government's pro-environment overtones, the heavy-handed Malaysian government tends to side with development more than conservation. As of 2004, no court had ever ruled favorably in a major case on behalf of the native forest peoples displaced by rainforest destruction. In the 1990s, the government overturned a High Court decision that would have prevented Bakun dam, a huge hydroelectric project that would flood 170,000 acres (69,000 hectares) of forest. The $2-billion-dollar project has since been plagued with cost overruns and delays. It now appears that the dam—scheduled for completion in 2003—will only be expected to begin generating electricity in late 2009. Further, the local Sarawak market has no need for the power, and undersea transmission lines that would have connected the dam to peninsular Malaysia will not even be laid. Some local commentators say the only purpose behind the project was to benefit Sarawak politicians and their cronies.
Cronyism extends into other industries as well, including palm oil. Malaysia is currently the world's largest producer of palm oil, and many of the largest producers have strong political ties. Promoted by incentives which give plantation owners a 100 percent tax exemption for 10 years, thousands of hectares of forest have been cleared for palm oil and other types of plantations. While plantations on cleared and degraded forest lands are ecologically and economically beneficial, clearing natural forest for plantations results in increased erosion and biodiversity loss.
Like Indonesia, the Malaysian government sponsored transmigration programs to open up rainforest for cash crop production. Between 1956 and the 1980s, Malaysia converted more than 15,000 square kilometers of forest for resettlement programs.
Periodic fires, usually coinciding with the el Niño events, burn thousands of hectares across Malaysia, especially on the island of Borneo. The haze from these fires and the fires in Kalimantan (Indonesia) cause serious pollution and health problems in Malaysia.
Back in the 1990s, the Malaysian government reacted to fires by ordering media blackouts to avoid spooking tourists and inciting panic over the health impact. Today this has changed as the government increasingly blames Indonesia for failing to control wildfires.
Malaysia is home to some 15,500 species of higher plants, 746 birds, 300 mammals, 379 reptiles, 198 amphibians, and 368 species of fish.
On paper, more than 30% of Malaysia's land area is under some form of protection, although some "conservation" areas are specifically managed for logging.
Hunting is a greater threat than logging for most wildlife in Borneo
(12/16/2014) Persistence is the key factor in the two most common human stressors on tropical wildlife. In Malaysian Borneo, hunting continually diminishes wildlife populations, whereas the negative impacts from selective logging are more transient, according to a recent study in Conservation Biology.
Tradeoff: Sabah banks on palm oil to boost forest protection
(12/05/2014) Last month Sabah set aside an additional 203,000 hectares of protected forest reserves, boosting the Malaysian state's extent of protected areas to 21 percent of its land mass. But instead of accolades, Sabah forestry leaders were criticized for how they went about securing those reserves: allowing thousands of hectares of deforested land within an officially designated forestry area to be converted for oil palm plantations
Musim Mas says its palm oil will be deforestation-free
(12/04/2014) Singapore-based Musim Mas has established a new sustainability policy that it says will eliminate deforestation, peatlands conversion, and social conflict from its palm oil supply chain. The company, which operates plantations in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, has been under pressure from environmentalists to join a growing number of palm oil producers and traders that have made zero deforestation pledges.
Is captive breeding the final resort for the Sumatran rhino?
(12/03/2014) Nearing extinction, the Sumatran rhino is running out of options. A native of Indonesia and Malaysia, the Sumatran rhino has declined in the past 30 years from an estimated 800 individuals to no more than 75 remaining today. So far there have been three ad hoc meetings held in 1984, 1993, and 2013, each attempting to develop policies that would potentially save this critical species.
Human infections by 'monkey malaria' increasing as forests disappear
(11/10/2014) 68% of malaria hospitalizations in Malaysia last year were caused by a once-rare strain of the disease traditionally limited to macaque monkeys. However, as deforestation has put humans and wild animals in closer proximity, Plasmodium knowlesi infections and deaths have increased rapidly. The strain is now responsible for three times the severe malaria infections in Malaysian Borneo than P. falciparum—the world's deadliest form of the parasite.
When cute turns deadly – the story of a wildlife biologist who was bit by a venomous slow loris, and lived to tell the tale
(10/24/2014) Slow lorises are YouTube stars. A quick search on the website will greet you with several videos of these endearing little primates--from a slow loris nibbling on rice cakes and bananas, to a loris holding a tiny umbrella. Lady Gaga, too, tried to feature a slow loris in one of her music videos. But the loris nipped her hard, and she dropped her plans. This was probably for the best, because the bite of a slow loris is no joke. Being the only known venomous primate in the world, its bite can quickly turn deadly.
Beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products from 8 countries responsible for 1/3 of forest destruction
(10/23/2014) Four commodities produced in just eight countries are responsible for a third of the world's forest loss, according to a new report. Those familiar with the long-standing effort to stop deforestation won't be surprised by the commodities named: beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products (including timber and paper). Nor will they be very surprised by most of the countries: Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Saving Asia's other endangered cats (photos)
(10/21/2014) It's no secret that when it comes to the wild cats of Asia—and, really, cats in general—tigers get all the press. In fact, tigers—down to an estimated 3,200 individuals—arguably dominate conservation across Asia. But as magnificent, grand, and endangered as the tigers are, there are a number of other felines in the region that are much less studied—and may be just as imperiled.
Walking the walk: zoo kicks off campaign for orangutans and sustainable palm oil
(10/20/2014) If you see people wearing orange this October, it might not be for Halloween, but for orangutans. Chester Zoo’s conservation campaign, Go Orange for Orangutans, kicks off this month for its second year. The campaign aims to raise money, and awareness, for orangutans in Borneo, which have become hugely impacted by deforestation often linked to palm oil plantations.
To become less damaging, target non-forest lands for palm oil, says book
(10/16/2014) Palm oil production has been spectacularly profitable but ecologically disastrous across Southeast Asia, consuming millions of hectares of indigenous lands, rainforests, and peatlands in recent decades. That paradox has made the crop highly controversial despite its importance in providing a high-yielding source of vegetable oil. A new book, published freely online by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), weighs in on the debate and concludes — like many before it — that the problem is not the crop itself, but how it is produced.
India plans huge palm oil expansion, puts forests at risk
(10/14/2014) The world's largest importer of palm oil, India is seeking to slake its thirst domestically. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that India has the potential to cultivate oil palm in 1.03 million hectares of land--nearly the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut--and produce four to five million metric tons of palm oil per year.
Helping orangutans survive: new project aims to connect habitat fragments in Kalimantan (PART II)
(10/08/2014) Two decades ago, a project to convert one million hectares of forest to rice paddies was undertaken by the Indonesian government in southern Kalimantan. The project was a massive failure and was eventually abandoned, but not before it destroyed critical orangutan habitat. Now a new project is trying to knit together what's left and turn the area's isolated orangutan populations into one of Borneo's largest.
Report rates palm oil companies on sustainability commitments
(10/05/2014) A new report published Forest Heroes, an advocacy campaign pushing for an end to deforestation, ranks global palm oil companies on their sustainability commitments. The Green Tigers, authored by Glen Hurowitz, reviews the recent history of environmental policies in the palm oil sector, beginning with the formation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004 through the wave of comprehensive zero deforestation commitments in 2013-2014.
Termites suffer in logged forests and palm oil plantations
(09/25/2014) Ants appear more resilient to forest degradation than termites. Scientists have long studied how birds, mammals, and amphibians respond to forest degradation, but what about the most abundant animals in the forest? Insects. A new study in Biodiversity and Conservation looks at how ants and termites reacted to forest changes in Malaysian Borneo.
Malayan tiger population plunges to just 250-340 individuals
(09/16/2014) Malaysia is on the edge of losing its tigers, and the world is one step nearer to losing another tiger subspecies: the Malayan tiger. Camera trap surveys from 2010-2013 have estimated that only 250-340 Malayan tigers remain, potentially a halving of the previous estimate of 500 individuals.
Bizarre lizard newest victim of reptile pet trade
(09/15/2014) If you've never heard of the earless monitor lizard, you're not alone: this cryptic lizard has long-escaped the attention of the larger public. But over the past couple years its bizarre appearance has been splashed across social media sites for reptile collectors. While this decidedly-quirky attention may seem benign, it could actually threaten the species' existence.
Elephants pay the price for palm oil in Malaysian Borneo, impact may reach far beyond reported kills
(09/10/2014) More than a dozen elephant kills were reported in Sabah in 2013 alone, but it is unknown exactly how many have lost their lives in recent years as palm plantations encroach further and further into the rainforest. What is clear is that if the loss of their forest habitat continues to drive conflicts with humans at the rate it is now, Borneo elephants’ long-term survival may be in jeopardy.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.