Being honest about Peraks tourist attractions

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In an article in one of the newspapers recently, it was reported that a British couple is writing a guidebook on 12 places of interest in Perak in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2007. The report states that the book will contain 'honest descriptions'.

Will they be honest enough to mention the destruction of Perak's 130-million-year rainforest at Belum Temengor? Will they be honest enough to mention that baby elephants are being separated from their mothers as herds run for their lives from the sound of chainsaws? How will the tourists feel if they heard about the deaths of baby elephants Mardos and Mat Chepor?

Even before the flooding in Johor and other states, environmentalists have warned that destruction of our rainforests will cause massive flooding, landslides and loss of natural water catchments. What is the point of giving millions of ringgit to flood victims after the damage has been done? Isn't prevention better than cure?

The irony is that this British couple earmarked Pangkor Laut Resort and Pangkor Island Beach Resort as 'Perak's jewels'. I visited these places only last year. I saw our prized hornbills trying to gain a foothold on puny trees, only twice the height of a bush. If they are found at places along roadsides, it is because their natural habitat is slowly being eradicated.

Belum Temengor forest is the only place in the world where 10 different species of hornbills congregate in the thousands. Tours can be arranged through environmentalists who have special knowledge on the forest to see these majestic creatures in their natural setting.

Instead of protecting and preserving this jewel called Belum Temengor - which is in our own backyard - we are wiping it out for timber. The revenue from timber is about RM34 million a year but that will run out once all the trees have been chopped down.

But environmentalists estimate revenue from eco-tourism and eco-friendly products from the forest will make the government RM1.2 billion a year. This revenue is eternal. How can we in all good conscience lure tourists over for Visit Malaysia 2007 by showing them photos of our exotic animals and wonderful rainforests when we are destroying them at an alarming rate?

We don't want our children to see depressed animals being hackled and forced to do ridiculous acts in zoos and popular resorts. We have taken away from these animals their homes, source of food and we are now we are taking away their dignity.

We want our children to go into the rainforests and experience the smell, sights and sounds of our beautiful plants and trees and observe with wonder and awe our majestic animals in their natural setting.

Only then can we be proud to invite tourists over to Malaysia.

The writer is a founding member of the Remembering Sheena Campaign, an environment conservation network.

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