The Best Forest Preserve
Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Malaysia, is associated with many superlatives.
The peak that gives the park its name is one of the tallest in Southeast
Asia (4,095 meters). Species found here represent over half the
families of flowering plants in the world. Among them: Rafflesia,
the largest flower on Earth, which can measure 90 cm across. The
mountain also holds more pitcher plants than any other part of the
world, and more fern species than all Africa.
Biun - Sabah parks.
In short, it is a botanists' paradise. That's a consequence of the
varied terrain, which ranges from tropical forests near sea level
to the sub-alpine scrub near the top of Kinabalu. Covering an area
of 754 square kilometers, it is small compared to other preserves
such as the Lore Lindu in Sulawesi. But there's more to Kinabalu
than its biodiversity.
What distinguishes the park is management. It has an active outreach
program, with natural history museums and a strong research and
education center. "It's like a living laboratory," says Jamili Nais,
assistant director of the Sabah Parks Board. Kinabalu's natural
treasures (rare orchids, birds and butterflies, for instance) are
a target for wildife poachers and illegal loggers. So enforcement
is a major concern. But while rangers constantly patrol its boundaries,
they also rely heavily on local villagers for tip-offs on any encroachment.
This emphasis on close ties with indigenous communities is reflected
in the park's research. One example: a project on the Kadazan peoples'
medicinal plants that will also promote sustainable use of resources.
The tourism management is also exemplary. When a visitor boom in
the late 1980s led to trampled terrain, the park restricted overnight
accomodation to avoid crowding, and dispersed visitors by developing
a hot spring facility. "Kinabalu sets the standard for effectively
managed parks in the region," says environmentalist Jim Thorsell,
who has monitored many of Asia's nature preserves.
By S.C. Chan
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