We are writing to add a few comments to the excellent article by Vivien Lian with images by Maggie Chan in Wanderings: Have You Been to Gua Air in Simpang Pulai?, Ipoh Echo, June 16, 2019, Issue 306.

In October 2018 the Kinta Valley became Malaysia’s second Geopark in recognition of the geological, scenic and touristic values of the iconic karst limestone hills. Far less obviously the insular characteristics of the karst biodiversity in the Kinta Valley have similarities to Darwin’s findings in the Galapagos Islands that led, together with Alfred Russel Wallace’s observations from Malaysia and Indonesia, to Darwin and Wallace jointly proposing their Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

What are these characteristics? First, the karst flora is highly endemic with some species known from only a few hills or even a single hill (Kiew et al., 2014). There is also a highly endemic fauna: for example, the Critically Endangered trapdoor spider Liphistius kanthan is known only from a single cave (Whitten et al., 2013). Likewise, a recent study of twelve karst hills (Foon et al., 2017) found 122 species of snails of which 30 are potentially new to science and 34 that are unique to single hills. Small populations of endemic species with distributions restricted to a single hill or cave are easily lost and then gone forever. Similarly, complex cave ecosystems can be destroyed by activities that result in disturbance and then loss of the cave-dwelling bats that bring the sun’s energy and nourishment into a cave in the form of guano.

Looking to the recent geological past we know from fossils found in cave deposits in Selangor that Orangutan were present in Peninsular Malaysia in the Late Pleistocene 33,000 to 57,000 years ago (Yasamin Kh. Ibrahim et al., 2013), but we do not yet know when or why they disappeared. Also from cave deposits, we know that around 25,000 years ago, during the Last Glacial Maxima, savanna grassland forests were present in Peninsular Malaysia (Wurster et al., 2010). Can the evolution of the karst landscape of the Kinta Valley, the evolution and endemism of the karst flora and fauna, and the disappearance of the Orangutan all be related to the profound and rapid oscillations in climate that occurred globally over the last two million years? In this context, the caves of the Kinta Valley can be considered nature’s time capsules. Investigation of the cave deposits could provide answers to the above questions and also tell us about conditions when modern humans first arrived here perhaps 70,000 years ago. Such investigations are only possible if the cave deposits remain undisturbed.

Taken alone the endemic fauna and flora of karst hills or the knowledge that cave deposits could provide answers to many questions on the recent past and on human arrival in Malaysia would justify careful stewardship of the hills and caves. Taken together they provide a compelling rationale for the first priority of the Kinta Geopark to be to protect the hills and caves from developments that could disturb the endemic flora and fauna, disrupt sensitive cave ecosystems, or destroy the geochronological record preserved in cave deposits. Accomplishing this will require input on a case-by-case basis from a broad spectrum of researchers before developments on even the most modest scale are permitted. The motto should be “let’s find out what we have before it’s lost”.

The existing hill quarries of the Kinta Valley conflict with the desire to conserve the many aforementioned values. However, cement is a basic ingredient of large scale infrastructure development so banishing quarries from Kinta would simply shift the destruction to hill quarries elsewhere with similar losses of flora, fauna and other scientific and cultural values. It might also result in the loss of an industry that generates employment for a skilled workforce and provides significant economic returns to Perak. Fortunately, as noted in the article by Vivien Lian there is a vast limestone resource buried beneath the disturbed flatlands of the Kinta Valley that could be quarried for cement production. It would be prudent at this time to better define the hidden limestone resource and to establish limestone mining reserves for future use.

Junn Kitt Foon et al., 2017. Diversity and biogeography of land snails (Mollusca, Gastropoda) in the limestone hills of Perak, Peninsular Malaysia. ZooKeys 682.1–94.
Kiew et al., 2014. An uncertain future for the plants of Gunung Kanthan, Perak, Malaysia. Cave and Karst Science, 41, No.3, 120–128.
Whitten, et al., 2013. Liphistius kanthan. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: e.T46534481A76124022. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T46534481A76124022.en
Wurster, et al., 2010. Forest contraction in north equatorial Southeast Asia during the Last Glacial Period. PNAS August 31, 2010, 107 (35) 15508-15511; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1005507107
Yasamin Kh. Ibrahim et al., 2013. First discovery of Pleistocene orangutan (Pongo sp.) fossils in Peninsular Malaysia: Biogeographic and paleoenvironmental implications. Journal of Human Evolution 65, 770-797.

K. Fletcher & Donna Baylis