Monday, March 14, 2016

Taman Negara On The Comeback Trail

JERANTUT, March 14 (Bernama) -- Taman Negara in Kuala Tahan, here, is set to emerge as a more exciting destination for nature and adventure lovers, following the floods that ravaged the national park in December 2014.

Several resorts that were affected by the floods have long since revived their operations and they have been going all out to introduce new activities to woo visitors, whose numbers took a sharp dip last year.

According to Kuala Tahan Tourism Operators Association president Abdul Jalil Abdul Rahman, Taman Negara registered only 61,500 visitors last year, a substantial drop from 95,485 in 2014. He said the figures were based on the number of park entry permits issued by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

In the past, Taman Negara's annual visitor numbers averaged beween 80,000 and 100,000, with foreigners making up more than 50 per cent.

Taman Negara was closed in December 2014 after severe floods - caused by the highest ever rainfall recorded in the park since 1971 - inundated its infrastructure, resorts, campsites and chalets. It was reopened in February 2015.

Abdul Jalil told Bernama, recently that the plunge in visitor numbers last year was essentially due to the unprecedented floods. However, in their enthusiasm to introduce more exciting activities in the park to spur tourism, the authorities may resort to cutting down forests to pave the way for the new projects, which would render the area more vulnerable to flooding, he warned.

"We can't fight against the forces of nature, but the least we can do is make sure that new buildings or facilities are constructed in environmentally-friendly ways and without violating the principles of ecotourism.

"Instead of allowing constructions to take place on riverbanks, plant more trees instead, as they can reduce the risk of flooding," he said.

PROJECTS ON CATCHMENT AREAS

Reckless construction in forested and environmentally-fragile areas could have disastrous consequences, said Abdul Jalil, pointing to the extensive damage at the bank of Sungai Tembeling, following the December 2014 flood.

"The damage can be linked to the erection of a rocky embankment across the river, which diverted the floodwaters to one side and caused the bank to collapse," he said.

During the flood, nearly 100 people, including tourists, were marooned at the Mutiara Taman Negara resort, located not far from Sungai Tembeling, after the river bank overflowed.

Abdul Jalil said logging and land-clearing activities in Hulu Tembeling were also a cause for concern because forests act as a buffer and prevent floodwaters from rising rapidly in the event of heavy rainfall.

Observing that in certain water catchment areas, government land was being opened for projects, he said this was not in accordance with the National Physical Plan 2 (NPP2), which prioritised ecotourism.

(NPP2, drawn by the Department of Town and Country Planning and implemented in 2010, sets out the national strategic spatial planning policies and measures in respect to the general direction and broad pattern of land use in Peninsular Malaysia for the year 2020.)

A few months ago, Abdul Jalil was quoted as saying that the state government should strike out a proposal for a sturgeon farm in Kuala Tahan and Sungai Tembeling as it was against the NPP2.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

Meanwhile, Ministry of Tourism and Culture Pahang office Director Idros Yahya said Taman Negara needed more diversified activities relating to eco and adventure tourism to rev up the tourist numbers.

"At the same time, we also want the local community here to maintain all the products (forests) too, so that they can cultivate a love for nature and have this sense of belonging," he told Bernama, during a recent visit to Taman Negara organised by Han Rainforest Resort in collaboration with Tourism Malaysia.

The four-day visit for members of the media and tour operators was organised to let them know that the park had recovered from the flood and it was business as usual there.

Idros said the authorities were committed to preserving the beauty of the national park, adding that he was happy to note that several non-governmental organisations were also involved in conservation activities.

"Recently, there was a request to hold a forest run for 1,200 people but we had to reject it due to conservation purposes," he added.

MORE ADVENTUROUS ACTIVITIES

Han Rainforest Resort, meanwhile, is set to open an adventure camp in Taman Negara in a month's time to enable visitors to get closer to the park's rich array of fauna and flora.

Its Director Kenny Ng How Ann said in view of the drop in the number of visitors to Taman Negara, new activities would have to be introduced to lure them.

The camp, to be located on a 2.23-hectare plot in the secondary forest opposite Sungai Tembeling, will boast activities such as obstacle courses, abseiling, all-terrain-vehicle off-road family fun drive, flying fox and archery.

Ng's resort currently offers jungle trekking, boating, rapid-shooting, fishing, canopy walk, night safari and bird watching activities.

"We are hoping to attract the younger generation to our new adventure camp," he said, adding that the activities would help them to develop a deep appreciation for Taman Negara's 130 million-year-old virgin rainforest.

-bernama.

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