By Azman Zakaria
PUCHONG, April 11 (UPM) - Many may not realise, amid rapid development in the Klang Valley, there is a tucked away, valuable 'treasure' known as Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve, which is unnoticeably located in Puchong.
Now, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) through Faculty of Forestry, aims to promulgate its massive potentials as a forest model for education and research at the global level.
UPM Faculty of Forestry Dean, Prof Dr Mohamed Zakaria Hussin, said UPM aims to make this forest as a famous education and research centre all over the world.
"In the beginning stage, we are planning to implement it in Malaysia and Asia Pacific, prior to Asian level and beyond. Now we are attempting to make SISFEC as a premier tropical forestry education centre in the Asia Pacific region.
"We're doing various initiatives and efforts in attracting foreign researchers and encouraging them to write the results of their researches here," he said in an interview.
The forest’s original area covered 4,270.7 hectares which was gazetted as a closed forest reserve in 1906, but the size has since dropped to 1,176.1 hectares due to rapid development and industrialisation activities.
Beginning 1996, through an agreement, the Selangor state government granted a permission to UPM to manage and conduct activities related to education, research and forestry development for 99 years that will only end in 2095.
As a result, UPM managed to establish the Sultan Idris Shah Forestry Education Centre (SISFEC) for UPM students and staff. SISFEC was officiated by the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who is also the Chancellor of UPM in 2012.
UPM received allocations under the Ninth Malaysia Plan to build SISFEC main complex, comprising four blocks which include administrative offices, lecture halls and laboratories for the purposes of teaching, conducting research as well as training.
There is also an obstacle course circuit and forest tree nurseries in supporting educational activities, especially for the Faculty of Forestry students.
This forest is a home to 430 flowering plant species, 33 fern species, 127 timber species and 99 herb species. It is also a home to five out of 10 large mammal species in Peninsular Malaysia, 208 bird species including 35 endangered species and 30 migratory species, 14 small mammal species including slow loris, 13 bat species, 18 frog species, two reptile species and 10 fish species.
This species diversity is an attraction that draws researchers to conduct their multi disciplinary scientific studies here.
Prof Dr Mohamed Zakaria, said SISFEC is functioning as a Faculty of Forestry open classroom and laboratory, used by academic staff in conducting researches, also for development activities through environment-related programmes for school students and the community living around the Klang Valley.
it has also received an average of 4,000 visitors per year,comprising practical students, other university students who came for educational tours and participants from programmes organised by forestry community, government bodies and NGOs (NGO).
Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve is also unique since its location is bordering the large cities of Petaling Jaya, Cyberjaya, Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam, and deemed as the only lowland dipterocarp forest that still exists in pristine condition in the Klang Valley.
Forest and Plantation Section Head, Faculty of Forestry, UPM, Mohd Farhan Shahrin, said subsequently the forest should operate as a 'carbon sequestration' or carbon and toxic gas absorbent while supplying oxygen to the population, besides being the source of quality water from Sungai Rasau.
In the efforts to conserve this forest sustainably, Prof Dr Mohamed Zakaria admitted that his team is facing a few alarming cases, fearing they may affect its roles and functionsas the forest for education and research purposes.
In this regard, he said, UPM has always worked together with the Forestry Department and the police in monitoring and taking actions.
"We want to make this forest and another in Pulau Banding, Gerik, Perak, which covers 3,337 hectares as international education and research stations," he said. - UPM
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