Royal Belum State Park was legally gazetted as a State Park on 3 May 2007. The Park encompasses a total area of 1175 square km in the northernmost region of Perak. The Park lies within the Belum Forest Reserve which itself is part of a much larger tract of contiguous forest spanning 4000 square km known as the Belum Temengor-Stong forest complex. RBSP is bordered by Thailand to the north, the state of Kelantan to the east, and Sungai Gadong in the west. The east-west highway (also known as the Gerik-Jeli Highway) runs along its southern border, bisecting the forest complex and separating the park area from Temengor FR to the south. The nearest town of Gerik lies about 15- 20 km to the southwest. The managing authority is the Perak State Parks Corporation (PSPC).
“Royal Belum State Park has been established for the preservation and protection of wildlife, plant life, and objects of geological, archaeological, historical and ethnological and other scientific and scenic interests through their conservation and utilisation to promote the education, health, aethetic values and recreation of the public.”
During WWII, the forests in this area were used as a retreat for the communist guerillas who were initially opposing the Japanese. Once the war was over the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was outlawed but continued to use the area as their base against the new government during (and following) the period of active conflict known as the Emergency of which lasted from 1948 to 1960. For a long time after WWII, Belum was a security area due to the presence of the CPM guerillas. Only after the CPM laid down their weapons in 1989 were some of the restrictions to access lifted.
As part of government efforts to bring development to the region, construction of the east west highway began in 1970. Completed in 1982, it linked Gerik and Jeli in Kelantan. The second major development was the construction of the Temengor Dam along Sg. Perak in 1978 for hydroelectric power generation and to regulate the supply of water to northern Perak. Temengor Lake which was created by this process is more than 100 metres deep in some places. It spans 152 square kilometres. The lake contains 30 economically valuable species of freshwater fish and is a popular spot for anglers. Periodic restocking is carried out of Tor Tombroides, temoleh, and tengas.
A haven for biodiversity
The forests of Belum forests have long been regarded as a haven for biodiversity. The significance of the area for biological diversity was acknowledged as early as 1968 when a Wildlife Reserve was first proposed. Since then, a series of expeditions and studies by national institutions and nature conservation organizations have been carried out which continued to emphasize the importance of the area to safeguard rate and threatened biodiversity and ecosystems. These concerted efforts played a role in the Park’s eventual establishment.
The flora of Royal Belum is remarkable as it has features of two distinct botanical regions. The majority of species found are characteristic of the tropical rainforests of Peninsula Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo, while a minority are more typical of the seasonal tropical forests of the Thai and Burmese region. Several scientific expeditions have been held to document the diversity of this area, however, these have only scraped the surface of diversity of flora and fauna found here.
The first Belum expedition revealed an abundance of wild fruit trees – durians, mangoes, jackfruits, rambutans and many more which is undoubtedly one of the factors which has contributed to the abundance of wildlife found here. A total of 302 plant species were recorded in the second Belum expedition including many endemic species. Three species of Rafflesia are found here – Rafflesia azlanii, R. cantleyi, and R. kerrii – making Royal Belum an important centre for Rafflesia conservation. It is the only accessible PA for all three Rafflesia species.
Royal Belum is also highly significant for the conservation of big mammals. The area was once thought to have a viable population of rhinos however more exhaustive studies over a length of time by WWF Malaysia and other research partners has found that if rhinos are still present – the population is probably not viable.
There is a good population of elephants and it is estimated that this area supports 10 to 20 per cent of the wild elephants in Peninsula Malaysia at any given time. Other large mammals known to be found here include the Malayan tiger, Malayan tapir, sambar and barking deer, wild pig, and Malayan sun bear. Small mammals such as otters are sometimes seen fishing along the rivers and streams.
Three species of gibbons have been recorded here – the white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar), the agile gibbon (Hylobates agilis) and the siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus). Other noteworthy discoveries have been two species of orange-coloured bats – Metrocoris nigrofascioides and Perittipus vicarians.
Royal Belum is especially well known for its hornbills. All ten species of hornbills found in Pensinsula Malaysia have been recorded here, including large flocks of plain pouched hornbill (Rhyticeros subruficollis). The seasonal occurrence of large numbers of hornbills flying together is a phenomenon that is unique to this area, something that has not been observed anywhere else. Royal Belum has been recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) for this reason.
“August seems to be the best month at Belum for fruiting trees and it is probably no coincidence that this is also the time when big concentrations of hornbills start to appear. From time to time between August and the end of the year, small flocks of Wreathed Hornbills gradually come together and head for a common roosting area.” (WWF Malaysia 1998)
Parts of Royal Belum are being developed as a destination for nature tourism. The Park attracts a significant number of local and international tourists that come to appreciate these ancient forests. Tourism is mainly centred on Pulau Banding which is literally an island of forest in the middle of Temengor Lake. Belum Rainforest Resort offers comfortable resort accommodation and also a houseboat which brings visitors to sites of interest. Perak State Park Corporation has also set up a number of campsites and more basic chalet accommodation. Less than 10 per cent of the Royal Belum is accessible to visitors. The rest of the Park is intended to be undisturbed and to be used for research, conservation and ecosystem services.
Settlements and communities
Indigenous communities have long resided within this area. They are mainly Orang Asli from the Jahai sub-group who sustain their livelihoods from the surrounding forests and rivers. They use their traditional ecological knowledge cultivated over generations to harvest forest products which are seasonally abundant. Some of the local community have become involved in tourism-related services, and others are also working for PSPC to help care for the Park.
Royal Belum State Park does not yet have a Management Plan, although the interim Management Plan prepared by WWF Malaysia in 2010 provides a general framework for efficient management of the park and actions to promote the recognition of its biological, social and economic resources. The interim Management Plan also provides some guidance on the protection of Royal Belum and its resources and recommendations for the active participation of relevant stakeholders, and improving the standard of living of the local community and their level of conservation awareness.
The ability to protect such a large conservation area is a daunting challenge. Poaching of wildlife and forest resources by both locals and Thai nationals is a recurring concern, and the PSPC does not yet have sufficient resources and trained enforcement personnel to control these incursions.
The PA Financing Project aims to enhance the management effectiveness of Royal Belum State Park by working with the park’s managers to develop a Management and Business Plan to guide effective PA management while exploring approaches to increase funding and resources needed to implement these Plans.