A forest sanctuary home to large and rare Rafflesia flowers in Malaysia has been destroyed, according to conservationists, who were shocked to find the grounds cleared with no explanation of what happened.
Identified by their red hues and putrid smells when in bloom, Rafflesia are large and rare parasitic flowers, found only in a few countries across Southeast Asia like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.
The plants have been wiped away by deforestation and logging, as well as ethnobotanical collecting for their supposed medicinal qualities.
A rare Rafflesia bud, now destroyed. Photo courtesy of Malaysian Nature Society - Terengganu branch
The recent discovery of the cleared forest area was made by members of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) in the coastal state of Terengganu. The NGO often works closely with local forestry officials and researchers to promote conservation of wildlife and forested areas.
“The destruction of the Rafflesia sanctuary in Tasik Kenyir is irreversible,” said Wong Chee Ho, a branch chairman of the group who also serves as a senior lecturer at the nearby Universiti Malaysia Terengganu.
“There’s simply nothing left.”
“The destruction of the Rafflesia sanctuary is irreversible.”
In a phone interview with VICE World News, Wong highlighted the importance of the forest, which served as a popular field research area. Birdwatchers also loved it and were drawn to the scenery to catch glimpse of rare hornbills and birds of prey, as well as deer, gibbons, tapirs, and even elephants.
“We are all upset because this particular patch of forest was fragile and served as an important habitat for Rafflesia flowers,” he said.
Aerial view of the destruction. Photo courtesy of Malaysian Nature Society - Terengganu branch
Wong last visited the sanctuary in early 2020 and was lucky enough to spot two flowers in full bloom, an extremely rare occurrence that happens once every few years. He has not been back since the pandemic hit and restrictions kicked in.
The development and what caused it remains a mystery to the group, which is attempting to get to the bottom of it.
“We don’t know yet if this was a mistake or was done on purpose, we are still waiting for feedback from the authorities but whoever did this never contacted the respective people involved.”
As news of the destruction trickled out, local nature lovers across Malaysia expressed their outrage at what had taken place.
Ardent hiker Nicholas Chin, who had long planned to visit the sanctuary, said that he knew of fellow hikers who would camp in jungles for days just to witness a Rafflesia in bloom.
“The Rafflesia flower holds a very special place in the hearts of many Malaysia hikers because to see one in full bloom is very, very rare,” he said.
“It’s sad when people don’t respect nature but how on earth can anyone think this is acceptable?”
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