History and conservation status
Belum Temenggor is believed to have been in existence for over 130 million years, making it one of the World’s oldest rainforests, an ecosystem older than both the Amazon and the Congo. This is compatible with the age of the mountain ranges of Malaysia, who were formed through orogenesis at the beginning of the Mesozoic era.
The forest reserve coverage is about 290,000 hectares (almost four times the size of Singapore) and with more than 146,000 hectares of virgin primary forest. The forest is divided into two sections: the Upper Belum (The Royal Belum State Park), which stretches to the Thai-Malaysian border covering 117,500 hectares of impenetrable jungle and the Lower Belum (Temenggor forest reserve) mostly covered by Temenggor Lake.
The Royal Belum State Park was legally gazetted by the Malaysian government as a protected area covering 117,500 hectares in 2007. It is managed by the Perak State Parks Corporation. The remain two-thirds of Belum Temenggor are unprotected. Temenggor (148,000 hectares), Lower Belum (or Banding, 16,000 hectares) and Gerik (35,000 hectares) Forest Reserves are managed by the Perak State Forestry Department. These designations do not constitute permanent protection, although NGOs have been lobbying to inscribe these areas to a protected park status.
The only inhabitants in the forest are still the native peoples called Orang Asli (aboriginal people). They live in their traditional way in bamboo huts, hunting small mammals using blowpipes, fishing and gathering plants and honey from the forest. They have been recently involved in the process of monitoring activities to support forest and wildlife conservation action.
Currently, there are several NGOs, international and local Malaysian, as well Universities and other organizations running forest conservation and scientific programs in the forest complex.
The lake at the center of Belum Temenggor is man-made and, unlike the forest that surrounds it, it’s quite recent. The area was flooded a few decades ago in the making of a dam of an electrical power plant. However, it served also the double purpose to limit the movements of a communist insurgency that marked a period of history of Malaysia commonly known as “The Malayan Emergency”, originated during the Cold War but protracted well into the ’70s. The communists were hiding in jungle areas, for training and resupplying. Particularly, many of them were stationed across the Northern border with Thailand. To seize supplies and stop the movements of the communist insurgents, the Malaysian government back then flooded the forest and ordered the construction of an highway – the East-West causeway and Jalan Baling-Gerik – which passes through Pulau Banding and Belum Temenggor. Such highway was subject to strict controls to secure the area. Despite the insurgency terminated long time ago, still nowadays the upper part of Belum has a strong military presence and there are Malaysian army checkpoints.