Are We Doing Enough To Protect Our Limestone Hills?

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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?

5 thoughts on “Are We Doing Enough To Protect Our Limestone Hills?

  1. Heritage ????

    isn’t there a society for this ???

    Apart from warming a few seats and walking down a few backlanes, they might perhaps start a signature campaign to have these hills preserved !

  2. The rate of destruction going on in the limestone hills in Kinta valley is alarming.
    Yet, many a times, the state government just brush aside with many excuses that they have limited the issuance for quarry licences.
    To them quarrying is necessary for state revenue.
    Note that the State Government has all the authority to deal with these matters on resources/land/hills.

    Once the hills are gone, there are gone forever.
    One example is Gunung Terendum near the highway just before reaching Ipoh toll from KL (on the rigtht hand side) is just one example of a limestone hill complex totally destroyed beyond recognition.

    Another Limestone complex urgently needing attention is the Gunung Lanno complex, which is being destroyed at an alarming rate . The eastern sides are totally destroyed and now moving on to the northern sides.
    The hill complex has many caves and some are really interesting to explore and preserved. There is an ex-tin-mining cave there which was worth preserving as a heritage site but is now going to the quarries.
    The peak of Lanno was another challenge to reach as in the old days, the miners will go up to have a bird eye view of the Gopeng tin-fields.
    To see another loss of this marvellous heritage is a “big slap” on the faces of Ipohite and Kinta Valley.

    SOS!!!
    Urgent attention to Save Gunung Lanno :
    Strongly suggest to bring to the attention of the various NGOs and the community of Kinta valley (Ipoh, Simpang Pulai, Gopeng etc.)
    It has to be a community driven initiative.

  3. Liz,

    Regardless what is said and done, quarrying activities will continue. It’s a major revenue source for the state besides water and religious tithes obtained from the pious.

    Tajol had said plenty about quarrying but none of his edicts had seen the light of day. He did so to placate the environmentalists. Since their number is small it didn’t really matter to him. So don’t take his words seriously. And don’t take the words of the present MB seriously too.

    Quarry owners have obtained long leases of the land they are working on. Ending these leases is no easy matter as money and “kickbacks” are involved.

    The famous one-liner Tajol and his ilks use when cornered is, “The quarries are already there before the expressway/highway/road come”.

  4. My first comment was to question where Mariam got the info from about
    the age of the limestone, as it differs from geology textbooks that I have.

    Then I found that the whole paragraph entitled “Millions of Years Old”
    has been lifted directly from The Star, 2 Feb 2004, and printed word
    for word in this article in Ipoh Echo. The source was not mentioned.

    And the opening line seems to be the same as a line on my own website!

    The controversy about quarrying Ipoh’s limestone hills has raged for decades and will probably continue for decades to come – or until the hills are gone!

    There was an “interesting” piece in NST 27.01.04, and sadly the
    quarrying did not stop:

    Quarrying at limestone hills to stop
    IPOH, – Quarrying activities at limestone hills which are visible
    from the main roads or the North-South Expressway will be stopped
    immediately, Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali said today.

  5. Ipoh has lost its “wonders”. Travelling back to Taiping from KL, I enjoyed the luscious, green scenery from Tanjong Malim to Bukit Merah, Semanggol. Now, passing through Ipoh became a sight for sore eyes: hills being ravaged for the benefit of some people. It is quite ridiculous that at one point the PSDC stated: “we (the people) have to pay for the cause of development” but this is ridiculous. Ravaging mother nature is not the answer. Find a suitable and probable cause, I’d say.

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