July 5, 2016

Big Trouble in Pahang’s Mossy Forest

Big Trouble in Pahang’s Mossy Forest

The Mossy Forest in Pahang's Cameron Highlands evokes a fairytale realm. That has not stopped it from being despoiled by tourists, many of them Malaysians. Photo Credit: Cameron Service

In the Mossy Forest of the Cameron Highlands in Pahang, moss-covered tree trunks with gnarly roots vie for space amidst thick growths of lichens and ferns in a scenic landscape of lush vegetation that, at the highest altitudes, is frequently shrouded in atmospheric mists and clouds. Here and there bright orchids catch the visitor’s eye while exotic birds flit about in the branches.

Inviting? Most certainly. That, though, can be a bit of a problem – for the local environment, that is. The forest, in Gunung Brinchang, is one of Pahang’s most popular tourist destinations, but the picturesque forest’s very popularity has been threatening some of its flora. Ramakrishnan Ramasamy, president of the local environmentalist group Regional Environmental Awareness of Cameron Highlands, blames tour operators.

Piles of trash discarded by visitors near a boardwalk litter a scenic part of the Mossy Forest. Photo Credit: The Star Online

Piles of trash discarded by visitors near a boardwalk litter a scenic part of the Mossy Forest. Photo Credit: The Star Online

Rather than keep the flocks of tourists on well-trodden designated walkways to stop them from trampling all over sensitive species of moss, local tour operators often allow visitors to roam freely on the mossy carpets covering the ground. These tour operators “are setting a bad example when it comes to protecting Cameron Highlands’s fragile nature Instead of guiding tourists to walk on the boardwalk, they allow tourists to trample on the sensitive moss in [the] Mossy Forest,” he told the New Straits Times. “Some tourists even climb trees in the forest, when they should stay on the boardwalk.”

As if that was not bad enough, visitors frequently think nothing of picking plants or littering in the forest, which has ended up suffering from the usual impacts of mass tourism. Last October, Pahang’s Forestry Department closed the forest for six months in what has proved to be an unsuccessful effort to clean up all the trash and to allow the local fauna to recover. Many of the worst offenders are Malaysians themselves. There they are, befouling the forest by trampling over the moss, damaging plants, and casually dumping plastic wrappings and empty bottles all around.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Far from protecting this unique national and natural treasure, many Malaysian tourists, whether through ignorance or negligence, end up damaging the famous forest and its plants. Malaysian tourists “don’t listen to us but European and Middle-Eastern tourists do,” one local guide lamented last year. “Sometimes, the foreigners even help clear out the trash.”

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