September 29, 2021

Urgent need to protect firefly habitat

3 min read

WE refer to the StarMetro report on environmental groups urging the Perak state government to expedite the gazetting of the Kelip-kelip Forest Reserve in Kampung Dew, near Taiping in order to protect its dwindling population of fireflies, “Keep the glow” (Oct 23).

Mangrove-congregating fireflies are a unique group of fireflies. The male fireflies display themselves after dusk and start their rhythmic mating flashes on the leaves of mangrove trees along the riverbank to attract their females. The result is a magnificent display of synchronous and non-synchronous lights, which has attracted visitors to this region’s mangrove rivers.

However, most of the synchronous mangrove fireflies are located along the brackish areas of the river which are not legally protected. Only the estuarine true mangroves are protected by the Forestry Department.

Threats to the riverbanks via land clearing, either legal or illegal, for agriculture and aquaculture uses, infrastructure development, urban expansion and pesticide run-offs are destroying the fireflies’ mangrove habitat, which includes their prey (invertebrates like snails) and other wildlife. Light pollution that follows the development further disturbs the fireflies’ mating light communications. These are the three common global threats recently studied by the Fireflyers International Network (FIN), a global network of firefly experts and enthusiasts.

Sungai Sepetang in Perak is one of the four best mangrove firefly rivers on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia in terms of firefly abundance and tourist visits. The rivers are Sungai Selangor, Sungai Sepetang, Sungai Perak and Sungai Timun. Sungai Sepetang is also the best mangrove firefly river in Perak.

The Malaysian Nature Society in 2013 formed a community group in Kampung Dew to look after the fireflies and conduct responsible firefly watching tours. During a visit in July by this writer and the FIN chairman, Dr Sara Lewis, we saw more land clearing along the riverbank.

Looking at the critical situation now, MNS, Fireflyers International Network and the IUCN SSC (International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission) Firefly Specialist Group would like to recommend to the Perak state

government that it protects the mangrove-congregating fireflies in Sungai Sepetang as a firefly state park under the Perak State Parks Corporation (PSPC). This firefly park would fit into the other four Perak state parks for wildlife protection and ecotourism, namely Royal Belum for endangered large mammals and hornbills (pic), Kinta Nature Park for waterbirds, Pulau Sembilan for corals and marine life, Geopark Lembah Kinta for karst invertebrates and endemic flora. The Sungai Sepetang Firefly State Park would be synonymous with mangrove-congregating fireflies.

We are echoing the Abu Dhabi Call for Global Species Conservation Action to all world leaders “… a call for urgent and effective action to address the unprecedented, unsustainable and growing impacts on wild species from human activities…” as time is running out. We hope this proposal will be considered and that the local communities, NGOs, institutions and corporations are also roped in to support the conservation process.

WONG CHOONG HAY

Wetlands Programme Manager,

Malaysian Nature Society

Honorary secretary,

Fireflyers International Network

Co-chair, IUCN SSC Firefly Specialist Group

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