By Mariam Mokhtar
The limestone hills of the Kinta Valley come in all shapes and sizes and Ipoh is home to imposing karst outcrops and craggy jungle-topped limestone monoliths. Some hills are cloaked in virgin jungle but all are rich in flora and fauna – serows, monkeys, birds, orchids and ferns. These hills have a unique natural beauty and are appreciated by many people.
Why are quarry operators exploiting Ipoh’s impressive natural backdrop to extract limestone, marble, lime and aggregate for use in road-building and the construction of houses?
Why are the few allowed to destroy what remains one of Ipoh’s last natural heritage which have stood for millions of years but have fallen prey to man’s greed and folly?
Millions of Years Old
According to scientists, the limestone in Peninsular Malaysia may have originated from various geological periods between the Silurian/Ordovician times (505-410 million years ago) and the Triassic period (245-208 million years ago).
The oldest limestone massifs, formed about 450 million years ago, appear to be located in the Klang Valley, north-eastern section of the Kinta Valley, parts of Langkawi and the Perak-Thai border whilst the youngest (about 220 million years ago) straddles the Pahang-Kelantan border.
The Kinta Valley is the largest limestone massif, stretching from Tapah in the south to Lintang in the north with lpoh right in the middle.
Authorities date the Kinta limestone from Devonian to Permian (410-245 million years ago), a history of close to half a billion years.
When these rocks were formed, there was no life on land – all life being contained in the sea in the most primitive form.
The hills witnessed and possibly contributed to the colonisation and evolution of life on land and also bore witness to several cataclysmic events that almost annihilated life on earth about 255 million years ago.
People’s Lament Rising
Lately, various people have been writing to the national newspapers, or contacted this paper and even started a campaign on Facebook, lamenting the loss of Ipoh’s limestone hills.
One reader wrote, “Lately, I have noticed that quarries in Ipoh are slowly but surely pounding away at the limestone hills. It is dramatically visible to anyone on the North-South Expressway in the vicinity of the Tambun toll plaza.
“I remember when I was a primary school pupil, I used to be fascinated by the various shapes of the numerous limestone hills in Ipoh. Some looked like the belly of a fat person, some resembled a dragon’s curved body, one had a large tree growing on it that resembled a horse rider with a cape ala’ Zorro!”
Other Ipohites, even those who reside outside of Ipoh and who return from time to time, share similar concerns.
“I am not sure if any government department or environmental body is monitoring these quarries as I believe within a few years the landscape of Ipoh will be changed forever, with all limestone hills within sight destroyed, all for the sake of limestone extraction, pure profit-driven motives.
“If you were to drive past the huge quarry on the southern part of the Tambun toll plaza, it resembles a war zone with hills that look like they had been bombed indiscriminately.
Preservation Efforts Lacking
Many people are unsure if the limestone hills are preserved and gazetted as ‘Protected areas under the National Park Act 1980 and Wildlife Protection Act 1972’. If they are, then the lack of conservation efforts have resulted in the hills being destroyed by uncontrolled or poorly managed excavations by developers. Who enforces these laws?
The importance of preserving the hills for recreational and educational purposes has been acknowledged in the Draft Structure Plan (Amendment) of the lpoh City Council 1998-2000. Quarry lease locations in the Kramat Pulai areas cover Gunung Rapat, Gunung Terendum, Gunung Lanno and other small hills.
Many people are increasingly worried that the limestone hills are being demolished indiscriminately: “Why hasn’t anyone complained about this matter? Is it because they are used to the unsightly scenery and just couldn’t care less about it?
One former Ipohite, Idris said, “I can only assume that limestone hills which house temples or have cave paintings will be saved. I hope the relevant bodies can put a stop to the blatant destruction of the limestone hills around Ipoh.
Profit from Destruction of Legacy?
“Yes, quarries need to operate and the Perak government needs the income from taxes derived from these quarries, but if done at the expense of destroying the venerable charisma of Ipoh’s landscape, one needs to stop and ask where this detrimental action will eventually lead us,” said Idris, a businessman who frequently travels to and from Ipoh.
So are we Ipohites going to sit around and watch how a few people profit from the destruction of our legacy?
When will the state administration acknowledge that these limestone hills are our natural heritage? When will the state actively promote the conservation and preservation of these outcrops and the diverse ecosystems they support?