History and conservation status
Belum Temenggor is likely to be in existence for over 130 million years. It’s 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, which appeared through orogenesis at the beginning of the Mesozoic era.
The forest reserve covers about 290,000 hectares which is almost four times the size of Singapore. In addition, it holds more than 146,000 hectares of virgin primary forest. The forest has two sides: 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 in 2007. It is the Perak State Parks Corporation that manages it. Though, two-third of Belum Temenggor is still unprotected. The Perak State Forestry Department manages Temenggor (148,000 hectares), Lower Belum (or Banding, 16,000 hectares) and Gerik (35,000 hectares) Forest Reserves. 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 the native, the Orang Asli (aboriginals). 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 participating 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. There was a flood in the area a few decades ago in the making of a dam of an electrical power plant. However, it had a double purpose : to limit the movements of a communist insurgency. This, has marked a period of Malaysia’s history, commonly known as “The Malayan Emergency”. Its origins comes from 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 across the Northern border in 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 a 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.