TED Case Studies

Case 519: MALAYPRK: Taman Negara Rain Forest and Tourism

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I. Identification

1. The Issue

The Taman Negara rain forest in Malaysia is said to be the world's oldest rain forest. Untouched by ice age glaciers, the rain forest has stayed essentially the same for the last 130 million years. Within its confines is Gunung Tahan, the highest mountain in west Malaysia. This case study examines the impact of tourism on the Taman Negara rain forest and its ancestral inhabitants.

2. Description

This section describes the case issues in several parts:

The Taman Negara rainforest is said to be the oldest rainforest in the world. It was the first park of any type in Malaysia. The oldness of the area is due to its southerly location which left it untouched by the ice ages and the glaciers. Thus, the forest is thought to be 130 years old. (About Malaysia Parks, Chapter 1, "Taman Negara: The National Park", pp. 1-29)

"There is evidence that during the period of the Middle Stone Age (about 8,000 to 2,000 bc), Mesolithic people lived in rock shelters and caves in the limestone hills of the Malay peninsula." (Malaysia, "History: Beginnings", p. 25.) These people are thought to have been the ancestors of Negrito aborigines and now are known as the Semang and Jakun peoples.

Around 2,500 bc, proto-Malays migrating from today's Yunan province in China, possessed higher technologies and weapons that the Negritos and forced them into the hills and mountains. Around 300 bc the Deutero Malays brought iron tools and weapons and are the most immediate ancestors of today's Malaysians.

"Through trade, the early inhabitants of the Malay peninsula were exposed to earlier civilizations. Located as the convergence of two major sea routes linking the great markets of India and China, the peninsula was convenient stop-over for Indian ships travelling further east." (Malaysia, "History: Beginnings", p. 25.)

Indian traders entered the area about 2,000 years ago. Trade, however, was limited because of the threat of sea pirates operating in the area. Muslim traders brought Islam to Malaysia in the 13th century and by the 15th it had become the most dominant religion in the area. The port of (modern) Singapore (formerly the island of Tumasek), has been a conduit for trade for more than 500 years and brought silks and porcelain from China, spices from the East Indies, precious metals from Malaysia and valuable stones from India and Burma. (Malaysia, "History: Beginnings", p. 27.) This port was part of the Malacca Kingdom that controlled parts of modern-day Malaysia and Indonesia. This changed quickly in 1511 when the Portuguese invaded. One important source of the spread of Islam was its relation to spice trade.

A tourist travelling to the Taman Negara rainforest in Malaysia might engage in following types of activities.

Visitors to the park stay in a hostel with 8 beds per dorm. "Most people go to Taman Negara for jungle treks, fishing and boat trips along virgin jungle rivers where you can picnic and swim. The more adventurous can trek up Gunung Tahan, the highest mountain in east Malaysia", at 2187 meters or 7174 feet. (About Malaysia Parks, Chapter 1, "Taman Negara: The National Park", p. 1.) It is actually the sixth highest mountain in Malaysia, but the top five are all on the island on Borneo, in the provinces of Sabah and Sarawak.

The park headquarters "is at Kuala Tahan, a small river-side settlement on the edge of the part...Kuala Tuhan is the site of the Taman Negara Resort, a 15-acre area, containing accommodation (chalets, hostel and campsite), restaurant and provision shops. Immediately across the river from the resort is a small village with or accommodations for visitors and two floating restaurants.

About 44,000 visitors come the resort each year. (About Malaysia Parks, Chapter 1, "Taman Negara: The National Park", p. 3?.)

3. Related Cases

Malaysia Wood Logging Ban
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Vietnam Logging and Deforestation
Bali Tourism Impacts
Jamaica Tourism Impacts
Mount Everest and Tourism
Kenya and Tourism
Cambodia Wood Trade and Deforestation

4. Draft Author:

Jim Lee, June, 1999

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status:

Agreement and Allegation

6. Forum and Scope:

Malaysia and Unilateral

7. Decision Breadth:


8. Legal Standing:


III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: Asia

b. Geographic Site: East Asia

c. Geographic Impact: Malaysia

10. Sub-National Factors:


Taman Negara Park covers over one-half of Malaysia's Pahang state. Aside from this main center, there are also outlying areas and hides for further exploration. A restaurant in a resort complex serves a buffet of Western and Malay foods while floating restaurants across the river specialize in varying degrees of Chinese and Malay food.

11. Type of Habitat:


IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure:

Import Standard One suggestion has been a fee on visitors to the park, but at differential rates for foreign visitors and native Malaysians. If tourism is trade, this might be called a case of discrimination and in violation of the WTO services agreement.

Malaysia's National Forest and Wildlife Protection Department has established a program to promote eco-tourism in 17 parts of the country. Taman Negara was one of the identified areas. Some tourism is also being targeted towards sports fishing and sports hunting. In fact, the department is hoping to decrease poaching in protected areas. About 5,000 cases occur each year but only about 200 end up in court. (Star, Kuala Lumpur, July 11, 1999, p. 6.)

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts:


14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: Yes Tourism

b. Indirectly Related to Product: Yes Wood Products

c. Not Related to Product: No

d. Related to Process: Yes Deforestation

15. Trade Product Identification:


16. Economic Data

17. Impact of Trade Restriction:


18. Industry Sector:


19. Exporters and Importers:

Many and Malaysia Through the Malaysia Timber Council, Peninsular Malaysia imported 149,551 cubic meters of logs in 1988, Most of these logs came from Sarawak, but other logs were also imported from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Central African Republic, Myanamar, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. (Annual Report 98, Malaysia Timber Council, Kuala Lumpur, 1999, p. 99.) With rising timber prices there is some pressure to allow more timber harvesting on peninsular Malaysia. This would not happen in the Taman Negara National Park, but it could happen around the edges of the park (this is occurring to some extent already).

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type:

Deforestation Visitors to the park should be prepared for the reality that they may be bitten by leeches at any time of the year. November through February is rainy season when the leeches are most abundant. You will also not see any animals unless you go out into the hides and the tigers, elephants and rhinoceros are extremely rare.

Taman Negara is the largest national park on peninsular Malaysia and the oldest, being established in 1938.

The highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia is within the park at Gunung Tahan.

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species

Many The park lowlands are mostly dipterocarps, with oaks and laurels at middle elevations and dwarf montane vegetation at the highest levels. Birds are most plentiful, with 250 species found. Mammals include rare tigers, sun bears, leopards, elephants and rhinoceroses. More common are the sambar deer and wild pigs and an occasional water buffalo in and around the major rivers.

Taman Negara is said to be the world's oldest rain forest, in part because it has been untouched by the ice ages due to its location at the equator. It is the largest park in Malaysia. The park center of activities is around the confluence of Lebir and Pertang Rivers. (Malaysia's Green Attractions, Malaysia Timber Council, Kuala Lumpur, no date (received 1999).

Popular species for fishing include sebarau, tengas and kelah. Bird watching is popular, with over 300 species to choose form, especially hornbills and woodpeckers.

22. Resource Impact and Effect:

High and Product

23. Urgency and Lifetime:

Low and 100s of Years

24. Substitutes:


VI. Other Factors

25. Culture:

Yes On a site visit to the park in July 1999 I travelled with two graduate students, Adam Smith and Jo Dickison, from the Taman Negara central area to meet the Orang Asli, a people said to be almost neolithic in terms of their stay in Southeast Asia. They called themselves the Batek. They surely preceded the modern Malaysian (or called Deutero-Malays) and relatives of these people are thought to have existed in the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. We went with a local guide although the hotel had a similar tour that was slightly more expensive.

The hotel was owned by a large corporation and employed government- certified forest "agents", who were non-native to the area but received some training. Across the river from the hotel were four floating restaurant's that served a variety of Malay and Chinese foods. Strangely, the most expensive fish was that which came from the river's waters directly underneath us. In one respect, I was relieved to see that the local fish was so expensive. At lunch on the floating restaurant on the river we always watched the river after we order. One several occasions after ordering chicken dishes we noticed a trail of entrails and skins floating by prior to the arrival of our meal but after the order was taken.

At the downstream slot of four floating restaurants was "Won's". Won, the father, smoked cigarettes and drank tea or coffee all day. His son, also known as Won, was in charge of the restaurant. Won was also a small-time businessman in the area and had traded products with an ancient people who lived in the park called the Orang Asli.

Won the son was also our guide to the Orang Asli. Since he traded with them, for products such a rice and cooking utensils, Won had developed a relationship with the tribe. Won the son ran his own unsanctioned tours even though he was in competition with legal tour guides. The "legal" tour guides, government employees, had less knowledge of the area since they rotated in and out. Won had lived here all his life.

Won took us upstream from the site in a motor boat with a refreshing spray of water. Where a small creek emptied into the river we saw some children and women swimming and bathing. We walked past them and hiked a short distance inland up a hill.

Won walked into the village and said something to a women I thought could be an African. She went off and brought back an old men in a cap that said "England", a pair of slacks and a t-shirt but no shoes. The chief inherited his position but in some sense can be voted out of offense for malfeasance. He has nine children and wants another, but his wife refuses and tells him to find another wife. I offer him cigarettes and he never refuses. Won says that they all smoke and indicates that the child, perhaps 5 years old, would like a cigarette. This, I could not do.

There were 11 families in the grouping but there seemed to be a population explosion, perhaps aided by the government health workers and regular visits.

The village was laid out in a spiralling out ring, starting with some key structures or homes. In general, they do not cut wood or kill animals except for direct consumption use. They are permitted by law to kill an elephant although monkey is probably to most consumed meat. Outside some roots they ate and some leaves they smoked, monkey was a major food item along with various birds, tapirs, some fish that are caught by hand at the river in the roots of enormous trees, and surely some reptiles here and there. I noticed bags of rice that probably were bought from Won.

One interesting note was that I asked almost everyone I encountered if they had heard of or seen a computer. In fact, Won had to describe a computer, calling it a television with a keyboard.

The number of the tourists to the park have doubled in five years and it shows. The first tour we went on was a "Night Walk" to see wildlife (not free). On the trip 10 insects were found (including tarantula, huntsmen spider, millipede, walking stick, a cicada and a green and brown grasshopper. In the time we saw the 10 insects we also saw 50 tourists.

This particular group of Orang Asli, or "original people", are known as the Batek. The orangutan is known in Malay (or Bihasa) as the "forest people". "Bi-yoong" is the chief of the Batek and talked to us and smoked my cigarettes. He was part of a dynastic chain of chiefs. Each year the chief of each Orang Asli tribe travelled to Kuala Lumpur to meet with government officials and discuss policy. Most importantly, it was where the tribes learned the amount of government assistance they would receive in the upcoming year. Bi-Yoong liked the trips because he was especially fond of air conditioning.

Bi-Yoong was about 5 feet tall and wore trousers and a tee shirt, with a hat that said "England". The tribe stayed in one place until three things occurred.

1. Death in the Tribe

2. Attacks by Wild Animals

3. Lack of Resources

One of the young men in the village had gone to school and could speak some Bihasa and English and learned a little Japanese from tourists. He had a notebook of corresponding words he studied.

Most homes were largely pole structures with palm leafs roofs, some of the houses had plastic coverings. In the camp were a few metal knives and axes, align with an occasional pan and kettle. Lines of clothes hung out to dry and it appeared that only a few women owned or wore bras and these were the highest in stature in the tribe.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues:


27. Rights:

No Neither the chief nor any of the educated Batek had ever hear of a computer, although they had ridden in air conditioned buses, a definite plus in their minds, and flown in an airplane. There is also sport fishing upstream from the tourist complex

28. Relevant Literature

About Malaysia Parks, Chapter 1, "Taman Negara: The National Park"

Annual Report 98, Malaysia Timber Council, Kuala Lumpur, 1999

Malaysia, "History".

Malaysia's Green Attractions, Malaysia Timber Council, Kuala Lumpur, no date (received 1999).

Star, Kuala Lumpur, July 11, 1999

August, 1999