By James Gough
Kinta Nature Park, a heritage from the tin mining industry in the Kinta Valley, is acclaimed to be one of the biggest bird sanctuaries in the country. Its existence is however threatened by the incursions of commercial activities. Wildlife conservationists are worried and want the authorities to do something to protect the park quickly. The park emerged after mining operations ceased and the ponds surrounded by secondary jungle began to attract more than 130 species of birds. One of the islands in the cluster of 14 pristine ex-mining ponds has also become the largest heronry in the country. It will be a waste if the potential of developing the area as a tourist attraction is ignored. It could be the best place for bird-watching. Almost 60% of the birds are listed as totally protected or protected under the Protection of Wild Life Act 1976.
The threat to the existence of the park is very real. There have been reports of instances where a whole pond with five breeding species of 2,000 water-birds is located, had been fenced up with the intention of starting commercial fish farming.
Other commercial activities in the area included sand extraction and duck farms. Although the authorities are readily admitting that such activities are illegal, somehow they have been operating there for years.
There are at least 2 huge duck farms in the area and the nutrient run-off from that is very damaging to the freshwater ecosystem. Sand mining appears to be sporadic. School groups which were there have counted at least 5/6 truck loads per hour leaving the area, causing a real problem for the many bee-eaters that nest in the area (bee-eaters nest in sand banks). As the sand banks get destroyed, so are the bee-eaters.
Ten years have passed since the Perak Government announced that the park is in the process of being gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary, yet nothing has been done. If all goes well, it will be officially gazetted as a State Nature Park soon.
According the state chairman of tourism, Dato’ Hamidah Osman, the plan has been approved. “ Now we have to identify which department is going to manage the park as it requires manpower for maintaining the park, keeping the visitors’ area clean, tidying the parks and also enforcement of the rules governing nature parks.
“Once the park is gazetted we will mark the boundary and stop all commercial activities within, similar to what is being done at Royal Belum.”
The Kinta Nature Park is located 6 km south of Batu Gajah. It is a strip of land wedged between the Kinta River on the west and the railway track to the east. The Kampar River is on the south. It covers an area of 900 hectares of mining land that had been dredged for tin. By mid 1980’s when the tin industry collapsed, the land was left idle allowing it to rejuvenate and heal itself. In time it began attracting water-birds and had become a habitat for a variety of wildlife.
One of the ponds, Lake Pucung, is over 41 ha wide. It is where the visitor’s area and observation tower can be found overlooking an island, where five major families of herons and egrets have made it a permanent home.
The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) in the mid nineties, being aware of the potential biodiversity of this location, made a proposal to the relevant state authorities to set aside the area as a gazetted nature park to be used for recreation, tourism and education.
According to Mr Lee Ping Kong, MNS vice-chairman, the State Government in 2001, then under Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Tajol Rosli, approved the creation of the Kinta Nature Park. At the same time the state government built the existing infra-structure such as, the observation tower resting huts and public toilets at a total cost of RM625,000 and indicated it would subsequently gazette the area as a nature park.
Unfortunately till today, the park has yet to be officially gazetted which “is a cause for concern for MNS”, said Lee. “Illegal commercial activities must be stopped. Sand mining contributes to deforestation ,while duck farming and fish harvesting affects the supply of food; all of which severely affects the ecosystem within the park.”
According to Lee the number of birds recorded nesting on Pucung Island a year ago numbered 3,000. With the disruption to the ecosystem MNS has noted a drop “of more than 50% of the bird population.” The park is also a safe haven to a large number of small mammals such as otters, and civet cats (musang) and has a record of 80 species of flora and fauna, one of which is the endangered Vanda Hookeriana, a parent species of the orchid Vanda Miss Joachim.
A quick check with the District Officer of Kampar, Encik Ahmad Kamaruzamman Hisham, who has jurisdiction over the park, revealed that his office had stopped issuing sand mining licenses two years ago. As for the duck farms, Ahmad claimed, “There are no duck farms. If there are please make a report to us and we will take action.”
According to Lee, due to its size MNS had proposed the park to be divided into three zones which would cater for the public such as the current visitors centre, another zone for recreational activities like camping and hiking, and a third zone for natural habitat. “If the park is able to recover and rejuvenate naturally it has the potential to be similar to an open zoo where visitors can drive in and view animals living in their natural habitat. It would be our contribution to future generations.”
Eco-Resort Director, Bridget Hedderman who operates the Roots Eco-Resort at Tanjung Rambutan, has included the nature park as one of her tour destinations, and describes the park as “completely amazing. It’s the largest heronry in Malaysia and it is easily accessible”, Bridget rated the site at 9 out of 10 in quality. Over the last four months Bridget has exposed three groups of students from Singapore, Hong Kong and locally to the park.
Jek Yap of Kinta Heritage told Ipoh Echo that Kinta Heritage has committed to maintaining cleanliness of the park and will send a clean-up crew twice a week to clean the toilets and other public areas. The gazetting of the park is also timely and would be a positive factor should the proposal to turn the Kinta Valley into a tin heritage site become a reality.
According to Hamidah the park is “an environment that cannot be created. In fact we can package this park together with the dredge which is just a few km from the southern boundary of the park and promote it as a living heritage”.
Apparently Lee is not the only person who sees potential in gazetting this park as a nature park. Ipoh Echo hopes that all the promises made will become reality soon.