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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2021



  Taman Negara  
    ... malaysia's first national park  


River trips take the visitor into the heart of
Taman Negara's magnificent forests.

In the heart of the Titiwangsa Mountain Range, which makes up the central spine of Peninsular Malaysia, lies the country's most important protected area called Taman Negara (which means 'National Park'). The park comprises over 4,000 square kilometres of primary forest, mountain peaks, swift-flowing rivers and cascades.

Parts of the area were first protected in 1925 as the Gunung Tahan Game Reserve, named after the area's highest peak. In 1939, while under British jurisdiction, the protected area was expanded to encompass parts of the states of Pahang, Trengganu and Kelantan and was renamed King George V National Park. After Malaysia's independence, in 1957, the area assumed its current title of Taman Negara.


En-route to the cascades at
Lata Berkoh. 


River Trips

The easiest and most popular way to see Taman Negara is to hire a boat and crew at Kuala Tahan, the entry point to the park and the area zoned for accommodation. The 8 kilometre boat ride to the cascades at Lata Berkoh passes through some of the most magnificent tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia. Huge forest giants line the river banks, their massive trunks leaning over the river at a remarkable angle in an effort to reach the sunlight. In places these huge trees have crashed into the river where the strong current has undercut the river bank. Festooned with epiphytic ferns, mosses and orchids, the age of these wonderful trees can only be guessed at.

Other river trips easily arranged at the park headquarters include visits to Sungai Melantai and Sungai Keniam further north. Unless recent rains and landslides have muddied the waters upstream, many of the rivers of Taman Negara are invariably crystal clear and refreshingly cool. Fishing is allowed in the park, but it takes a skilled angler to catch the famed Sebarau fish which inhabit these waters.

Walking the Forests


Left : A cup mushroom
Right : The exquisite form of Sterculia sp.

Walking trails lead to a number of mountain peaks. Serious trekkers can attempt the 55-kilometre trail to Gunung Tahan, which needs a good deal of commitment and stamina. Day walkers can aim for the nearby peak of Bukit Teresek, just 2 kilometres from the headquarters, and a longer return trail taking about 4 hours may be attempted. Walking along the forest trails should not be taken lightly - the paths are criss-crossed by numerous tree roots and are often muddy and slippery.  

Walkers and hikers invariably fail to see the detail in the rainforest; it is better to walk slowly and quietly and to keep an eye out for the smaller forms of nature.

Night Hides

Those who visit Southeast Asia's tropical rainforest for the first time are often disappointed by the apparent lack of large mammals such as Tiger, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Sun Bear etc. These larger species are extremely difficult to locate on account of their sensitivity to disturbance. However an overnight stay at one of Taman Negara's hides, strategically located close to natural salt licks, is often rewarded by the sight of such mammals as the Asian Tapir or the Asian Elephant. Even if such species are not seen, simply to hear the incessant calls of nocturnal insects, frogs and birds in the heart of the forest is an experience in itself.


Papilionid butterflies :
Above: Fivebar Swordtail
Right : Common Clubtail


Insect Life

The diversity of insects in tropical forests is huge ... species probably number in the millions. Most easily seen are butterfly species such as the Five-bar Swordtail, which congregate at areas such as campsites, banks of streams, or along paths where foodstuffs have been dropped. 

Perhaps the most numerous insects are the ants and termites. These form extensive colonies located underground or in rotten tree trunks. Witness the millions of busy termites which follow trails snaking across the forest floor, and you will then grasp how key these species are to rainforest ecology. Their role is to digest rotting wood and to return the nutrients to the soil; without this function it is probable that the forests would not survive, for each new tree needs the nutrients of fallen, rotten trees in order to grow.

The Oriental Mole Cricket Gryllotalpa
orientalis (left) and the Giant Forest Ant
Camponotus gigas (above).

The Giant Forest Ant Camponotus gigas is a rather solitary species which prefers to scavenge the forest floor. Some specimens can reach over one inch in length, but despite this huge size they are harmless and will not bite humans. 

At night the loud, reverberating call of the Oriental Mole Cricket Gryllotalpa orientalis may be heard. This species inhabit burrows excavated in sandy soils from where they make quick attacks on passing prey.

Exotic Birds - Great Argus, Masked Finfoot, Rhinoceros Hornbill


Left : The uncommon Masked Finfoot Heliopais personata can be seen
along Taman Negara's river banks.
Right : The Long-billed Spiderhunter Arachnothera robusta is a regular visitor to the exotic blooms of the Indian Coral Tree Erythrina variegata

For many the attraction of Taman Negara is the abundant bird life, reckoned to comprise over 350 species. Though many forest species live secretive lives, either foraging in the undergrowth or hiding up in the canopy, at times these species may visit more open areas when there are flowering or fruiting trees. Perhaps the easiest place to spot a diversity of birds is right at your resort, where trees attractive to birds may have been planted; birds will be active at these sites early in the morning.


Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros


The lucky and observant visitor may encounter such exotic species as the Crested Fireback (a type of pheasant) and the Great Argus as it performs in its dancing ground. Hornbills are often seen, including the Wreathed, Great and Indian Pied Hornbill; the Rhinoceros Hornbill is perhaps the most dramatic of all, with its huge red, orange and yellow casque. During the winter migration season, when birds from North Asia move south to warmer climes, the rare and unusual Masked Finfoot may be sighted along the banks of Taman Negara's rivers. Keep an eye out too for the attractive Black and Red Broadbill, and other Southeast Asian forest birds including Leafbirds, Trogons, the Asian Fairy Bluebird, Barbets, Minivets and Woodpeckers.

Common Lizards and Frogs of Taman Negara ...

Hundreds of species of Reptile and Amphibian inhabit the lowland rainforest of Peninsular Malaysia. The short-term visitor may catch sight of a handful of the more common species, as shown in the photos below. 


From left to right : Large Forest Gecko, Clouded Monitor, Spotted House Gecko,
Four-lined Tree Frog. Click on the image for more details

Other features

Taman Negara is also home to one of Malaysia's aboriginal groups, the Batek. As with other Orang Asli (or 'Original People') they traditionally led a nomadic lifestyle in the forests, hunting game with blowpipes. In recent years they have been settled by the government in villages, and visits to these settlements can be arranged.

The park also has a number of caves, some of which are open to the public. Many species of bat roost in these caves and these secretive mammals are easily disturbed, so excessive numbers of visitors should not be encouraged.

Near the park headquarters there is also a canopy walkway allowing a closer look at the ecology of the treetops. At 400 metres in length this is reputedly the longest in the world, though in recent years it has suffered through lack of proper maintenance. A good deal of concentration is needed to keep one's focus on the flora at canopy level, and not be distracted by the swaying walkway.