Trees, Tigers and Too Many Kids–One Is Enough

The famous author Agnes Newton Keith, who wrote Land Below the Wind and other books about her life in Sandakan, was married to Harry Keith, Conservator of Forests for North Borneo (now Sabah, Malaysia).

A huge log being placed on a railroad car at B...
A huge log being placed on a railroad car at Batottan, British North Borneo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Harry was a dedicated official and passionate about the need to sustainably manage North Borneo’s forest reserves. The British North Borneo (Chartered) Company, which was running the territory at the time, derived the bulk of its income from the sale of logging permits. No doubt Borneo’s vast forestry reserves seemed inexhaustible but even as early as the 1940s, Harry could see that continued rampant logging activity was not sustainable.

Despite his best efforts however you would have to conclude that he and his successors ultimately failed in their role as conservators of forests because Sabah today is pretty much logged-out.

How can that be you might ask? Isn’t it true that 48.8% of Sabah’s total land area (7,362,000 ha) is classified as Forest Reserve? That is true but of that total, only 342,216 ha (4.6% of Sabah’s total land area) is classed as Protection Area in which logging is not permitted. A further 90,386 ha (1.22%) is considered as Virgin Jungle Forest where logging is strictly prohibited but in practice illegal logging has taken place.  The majority of the Forest Reserve is categorized as Production Forest and can be, and has been,  ‘selectively logged’ under licence.

This WWF graphic illustrates what is happening all over Borneo. (Sabah is in the top right corner.)


When Harry Keith retired in 1950, North Borneo’s forest cover was still fairly intact but by the 1980s logging was at its peak and Sabah was exporting 12 million cubic metres of timber per year, much of it to Japan to be turned into plywood and disposable chopsticks. Presumably  the remains are now lying rotting in Japanese landfills. An ignoble end to once mighty trees!

Some trees have fared better. It is said that logs from Sandakan were used in the construction of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.


By the early 2000s, Sabah’s timber exports had dwindled significantly mainly due to depletion of forests and Japanese and other lumber trading firms had moved on to new sources like Papua New Guinea.

I do not wish to sound too gloomy. Forests can recover. If all humans left Sabah tomorrow the jungle would return to its former glory in 250 years or so. But that is too long a time horizon for businesses to consider and as for politicians, they know that future generations do not have a vote so who cares if their world is wrecked?

As for the future of wild animals, I’m afraid I am very pessimistic. They are doomed. Already they are virtually extinct outside of zoos and wildlife parks, not just in Borneo but all over the developing world. The only creatures which can thrive in today’s overcrowded world are rats, cockroaches, flies and ants.

WWF Logo

Organizations like WWF are wasting their time. The battle for pandas, tigers, elephants, rhinos and the like is lost. Instead WWF should turn its attention to tackling the source of this and so many other problems, and that is global over-population. This is a glaring issue but no governments, apart from China’s, seem willing to do anything about it. On the contrary, many countries are actively encouraging their citizens to have more children.

In my view the United Nations should set a target to half the world’s population over the next 100 years or so. Every country should adopt a One is Enough child policy and use a combination of incentives and deterrents to achieve it such as:

  • removal of child benefits
  • free or subsidised schooling for first child only
  • lower income tax for those couples with only one child or no children

Ok, I admit I am being hypocritical here as I have three children but I have only recently become convinced that having a smaller world population would solve so many of the problems facing the planet. I’ll encourage my children to have one or less kids.

Klang Gates Quartz Ridge

Klang Gates Quartz Ridge

Running down the eastern outskirts of Kuala Lumpur is an impressive range of steep grey cliffs, 14km long and no more than 200 meters wide. These grey outcrops are made of quartz and the feature is said to be the largest pure quartz dyke in the world, formed millions of years ago by tectonic buckling of the earth’s crust. The most spectacular section runs for about 5km near the Zoo Negara and goes by the grand title of Klang Gates Quartz Ridge or Bukit Tabur in Malay.

Dragon's Back?

Yesterday I took my sons for a hike in this area. Thanks to an excellent website called Nature Escapes we had good directions for reaching the starting point of the trail. After a steep ascent up a hillside we walked through the wooded pathway on the spine of the ridge itself before climbing one of the sharp pinnacles along its length. We then retraced our steps back to the starting point – about 2 to 3 hours in total. The path is well marked and signs have been put up signs reminding hikers to take their rubbish home and avoid damaging the rocks and the flora and fauna. The signs seem to have worked because the trail is very clean. Well done Malaysia!

Ropes assist hikers over the tricky parts Quite tiring The last part was steep

There was no sign of the rare goat-antelope (the serow) which is said to inhabit this environment but does not appear to have been spotted here since 1985. The ridge is also home to many plant species, some of which are rare or unique to this area.

Moss and fungus?

WWF Malaysia’s website says that this valuable geological site deserves to be declared a World Heritage Site and a national monument. Certainly it merits strong protection since it is under threat from urban development. Being so close to the city and offering fine views of KL’s skyline it is prime real estate and residential developments have crept right up to the base of the ridge in places.

The bulldozers are getting closer!

In Malaysia, it is often the practice that when a site is being cleared for development, it is really cleared! None of this preserving old trees or designing the development to fit in with the natural contours of the site. Instead it is bulldoze every tree, scrape off every blade of grass (and the topsoil with it), flatten any small hills and fill in valleys to leave a nice level site for building on. (See the orange/brown scar in the photo above as an example.) Hopefully such practices would not be allowed to wreck such a pristine environment as the Klang Gated Quartz Ridge.

It's a beautiful spot.