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.
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.
Canada, Russia, Brazil lead world in old-growth forest loss
(09/05/2014) Every day, the world loses about 50,000 hectares of forest to agricultural clearing, road development, and other human activities, constricting true wilderness into smaller and smaller areas – along with the species that inhabit them. New analysis and maps released this week show these last vestiges are disappearing at a quick pace, with more than 104 million hectares degraded from 2000 to 2013.
Scientists name new endangered species after the company that will decide its fate
(08/24/2014) Scientists have discovered a new snail species near a cement quarry in Malaysia, which as far as they know lives nowhere else in the world. It lives on a limestone hill called Kanthan given as a concession to an international company Lafarge. The cement producer quarries the hill for raw materials. As a result, the scientists have named the species after the company that will decide if it goes extinct.
20 orangutan pictures for World Orangutan Day
(08/19/2014) August 19 is World Orangutan Day, a designation intended to raise awareness about the great red ape, which is threatened by habitat loss, the pet trade, and hunting. Once distributed across much of southeast Asia, today orangutans are only found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Both species of orangutan — the Sumatran and the Bornean — are considered endangered.
Forgotten species: the exotic squirrel with a super tail
(08/13/2014) With among the world's largest tails compared to body-size, the tufted ground squirrel just might be the most exotic squirrel species on the planet. Found only on the island of Borneo, this threatened species is also surrounded by wild tales, including the tenacity to take down a deer for dinner. New research explores the squirrel's monster tail and whether other tales about it may be true.
What is peat swamp, and why should I care?
(07/20/2014) Long considered an unproductive hindrance to growth and development, peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia have been systematically cleared, drained and burned away to make room plantations and construction. Now, as alternating cycles of fires and flood create larger development problems, while greenhouse gas emissions skyrocket, it is time to take a closer look at peat, and understand why clearing it is a very bad idea.
30% of Borneo's rainforests destroyed since 1973
(07/16/2014) More than 30 percent of Borneo's rainforests have been destroyed over the past forty years due to fires, industrial logging, and the spread of plantations, finds a new study that provides the most comprehensive analysis of the island's forest cover to date. The research, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, shows that just over a quarter of Borneo's lowland forests remain intact.
New palm oil sustainability manifesto met with criticism from environmentalists
(07/11/2014) This week several palm oil giants announced new environmental criteria for palm oil production. The companies say the initiative goes beyond the industry-leading standard set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), but two prominent environmental groups quickly disagreed, arguing the measure has substantial loopholes that will allow growers to continue destroying forests.
A fine line: new program predicts when human impact becomes too much
(07/03/2014) Scientists at Stanford University recently unveiled a new modeling program that can predict the response of the environment to the land-use changes of human communities. Using their model, they found that natural resources can support humanity – up to a certain point.
Malaysian citizens want govt to spend more to save native rainforests
(06/30/2014) As developing countries reach upper middle income (UMI) status, their populations are willing to pay increasing amounts toward tropical forest conservation, yet government spending on these programs lags far behind, concludes a study available today in the PNAS Online Early Edition.
Monkeys reset camera trap, capture first-ever images of flat-headed cats in park
(06/23/2014) Photo trapping is a popular technique for gathering images and information about elusive wildlife. Recently, camera traps captured the first-ever images of wild flat-headed cats in the Pasoh Forest Reserve, an unexpected find in the forestland southeast of Kuala Lumpur, according to a new report in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
Broken promises no more? Signs Sabah may finally uphold commitment on wildlife corridors
(06/23/2014) Five years ago an unlikely meeting was held in the Malaysian state of Sabah to discuss how to save wildlife amid worsening forest fragmentation. Although the meeting brought together longtime adversaries—conservationists and the palm oil industry—it appeared at the time to build new relationships and even point toward a way forward for Sabah's embattled forests.
The palm oil diet: study finds displaced orangutans have little else to eat
(06/20/2014) In a recent study, researchers assessed how orangutans have adapted to living among oil palm plantations on Borneo. They found that while orangutans have adapted to the island’s human-transformed landscapes better than expected, oil palm plantations are unable to sustain orangutan populations in the long-term.
Newly discovered snails at risk of extinction
(06/03/2014) A team of Dutch and Malaysian scientists has recently completed one part of a taxonomic revision of Plectostoma, a genus of tiny land snails in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, according to their article published recently in ZooKeys, it seems that these animals may be going extinct as fast as they are being discovered.
Facebook, Twitter to carry 24 hours of live rainforest animal sightings on Monday
(05/29/2014) Next week, the rainforests of Southeast Asia are going live. On June 2nd, 11 organizations in the region will be posting lives video, photos, and wildlife sightings over 24 hours on Facebook and Twitter (see #rainforestlive). Dubbed Rainforest: Live, the initiative hopes to raise awareness of quickly vanishing ecosystems and species.
Malaysian palm oil company stock drops after environmental complaint
(05/06/2014) Genting Plantations Bhd's stock price fell by more than two percent after the palm oil company's membership in the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was suspended due to a complaint by the Borneo Rhino Alliance for failing to abide by the body's principles on establishing new plantations, reports The Edge Financial Daily.
Will they hold on? Three new gecko species found in threatened habitat
(05/02/2014) Malaysia is set to lose ancient limestone formations to quarrying despite the discovery of new species of geckos in the area. The species are described in three studies recently published in the journal Zootaxa. One of the discoveries, Cyrtodactylus metropolis, is the first endemic vertebrate species discovered in the Batu Caves area.
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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.