By Jerry Francis

It has been 17 years since the first move was made to gazette the Kinta Nature Park in Batu Gajah, but nothing has been done since. Now, only about half of one of Malaysia’s biggest bird sanctuaries is available to be gazetted as a nature park. The rest of the estimated 810 ha – a heritage from the tin mining industry in the Kinta Valley, has been encroached by commercial activities.

Let us hope there will be no more delay in gazetting it before every hectare of the land has been given or taken up for other purposes.

However, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. After a meeting with the Perak chairman for Tourism, Dato’ Nolee Ashilin binti Mohammed Radzi recently, there were some indications that the park would be gazetted soon. This is as a result of environmentalists and media persistently keeping up the pressure on the authorities about the proposal to gazette the nature park.

Nolee said the State Executive Council had approved 396 ha of the bird sanctuary to be gazetted as the Kinta Nature Park. “It will be managed by the Perak State Park Corporation, which was established some years ago to maintain the Belum Park in the Grik District,” she added.

A meeting with the stakeholders was held recently and it was agreed that part of the area is to be allotted to TNB and the State Religious Department.

The bird sanctuary emerged after mining operations in the area ceased in mid 80s and the ponds surrounded by secondary jungle began to attract more than 130 species of water birds. At one of the cluster of 14 pristine ponds, Lake Pucung, five major families of herons and egrets have made one of the islands as their permanent home.

Almost 60 per cent of the birds are listed as totally protected or protected under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1976. Realising its potential, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Perak, in 1998 proposed to the authorities that an area of the ex-mining land be set aside as a nature park.

The objectives are: (1) to maintain biodiversity by conserving habitats for fauna and flora, (2) to rehabilitate ex-mining lands for recreation, tourism and education, (3) to protect a scenic landscape synonymous with the Kinta District of Perak, (4) to protect a tin-mining heritage of Perak, and (5) to protect mining pools which are important water resources for the future.

This idea was keenly supported by the then Kinta District Officer. In 2001, Kinta Nature Park (KNP) came into being in an area just outside Batu Gajah and RM625,000 was spent on basic infrastructure, including a viewing tower, toilets and rest huts. But nothing happened after that and the proposed project floundered, with facilities falling in disrepair.

It is easily accessible from the Simpang Pulai-Batu Gajah Road. A good sandy track cuts through the area. On a visit to the bird sanctuary recently, I found most of the ponds are fenced up with “No Trespassing” signs.

Apart from cultivations, there are duck farms. A major resort development project is also underway.