The National Treasure
By Amal Ghazali
I absolutely adore travelling. My earliest memories of it were with my parents, my Dad hauling us all in our red, second-hand Toyota Corolla, and we would drive somewhere across the country. We were strapped for budget, so there were no overseas trips for us, but I remember visiting small towns and the beautiful Malaysian countryside and feeling exhilarated with the idea that it was such an adventure, to see unfamiliar places and trying different food and seeing different views. To all young parents out there, taking your kids out for adventures with you will be one of the best things you could ever do for them.
As I grew older and started exploring on my own, I continued travelling but my destinations always seemed to focus on places outside of the country. Perhaps it’s the youthful angst of wanting to see how far I could go, or perhaps it’s the idea of a completely different place with people living completely different lives that spell bounded me. In any case, I no longer explored Malaysia as much as I used to.
But last month I was presented with the opportunity to do so, and I managed to visit two of Malaysia’s most beloved national parks - the Bako National Park in Sarawak with my friends, and the Royal Belum National Park in Perak with my Mom.
Mother Nature’s Treasure
It was one of those feelings of disbelief, realising that these beautiful natural reserves have been in my own backyard all these while, and I had not, until now, uncovered it. Do we even notice how beautiful this country is? I went for hikes by the coastlines of Bako National Park and saw amazing rock formations emerging from the blue sea, in all shapes and sizes. I enjoyed some sunshine by the empty serene beaches before getting jumped by a couple of harmless boars scavenging around for breakfast. I read a book while watching the sun set behind the green hills of Royal Belum forest, its late evening orange streaks staining the soft ripples of the lake. My Mom and I saw a wild elephant foraging for food and it was magnificent.
I’ve always thought that I knew enough about the country’s natural wonders, but through these experiences I discovered even more fascinating information about this place I call home. Bako National Park is the oldest rainforest reserve in Sarawak, and it contains almost all types of plant life the Borneo Island has to offer. I found out that it was also a habitat for salt water crocodiles, something that I never even knew Malaysia has. The beautiful rock formations obviously caught my eyes (I’m a geoscientist), and I found them to be equally as wonderful as the ones I would see in other places around the world. At Royal Belum forest, a local told us about the existence of salt licks - they are basically spots around the jungle with condensed layers of natural salt on the floor of the jungle, of which wild animals such as tigers, monkeys and deer would visit to lick the salt in order to nourish themselves with the minerals that their bodies would otherwise lack from their usual diet. Who knew?
However, through my amazing visits to both national parks, I also came to learn about some hard facts of human interventions within these tropical havens. The obvious ones such as deforestation was not completely new to me, but it was how the little things that we do and deem harmless can impact these natural treasures in a big way. I was raised in the countryside so I was well aware of some common practices such as using ‘mercun bola’ (small firecrackers accessible to everyone) to scare away wild animals while you’re camping or fishing in the forest area. Unfortunately, I learned that this seemingly small act will scare the animals away from the area, sometimes for long periods of time, hindering them space for their habitat, and in the long run will affect the entire ecosystem. Even illegal recreational fishing in certain areas of the reserve could create a big imbalance in the circle of life there, as evidenced by the fast declining rates of some species of fish in our national parks.
Preserving Our Natural Wonders
When my Mom and I saw that lone male elephant, lifting branches with its trunk and minding its own business, I thought about what a wonderful privilege it is, to live in a country where we are living just next door to a lush green paradise, coexisting with these amazing creatures. They are on the fast track to extinction, and yet as cohabitants, there seem to be not aggressive enough governance and actions from us to preserve these natural wonders that are gifted to us. I, for one, will shamefully admit that I am yet to actively participate in initiatives to ensure the longevity of our rainforests and wildlife.
But exploring Malaysia’s national parks has truly opened my eyes to what this country has to offer, from beautiful coasts, majestic waterfalls, enchanting canopy forests to the kaleidoscope of wildlife, some of which you can never see anywhere else in the world. More importantly, the experience has shown me how vital our actions are as Malaysians in ensuring their preservations, not just through small, environmentally-friendly acts, but also in large-scale, long-term laws to induce a more significant impact in making sure this country continues to be a home for our extensive and wonderful ecosystem.