Malaysia signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity on 12 June 1993, and became a party to the convention on 24 June 1994. It has subsequently produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which was received by the convention on 16 April 1998. The country is megadiverse with a high number of species and high levels of endemism. It is estimated to contain 20 per cent of the world’s animal species. High levels of endemism are found on the diverse forests of Borneo’s mountains, as species are isolated from each other by lowland forest.
There are about 210 mammal species in the country. Over 620 species of birds have been recorded in Peninsular Malaysia, with many endemic to the mountains there. A high number of endemic bird species are also found in Malaysian Borneo. 250 reptile species have been recorded in the country, with about 150 species of snakes and 80 species of lizards. There are about 150 species of frogs, and thousands of insect species. Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone is 1.5 times larger than its land area, and some of its waters are in the Coral Triangle, a biodiversity hotspot. The waters around Sipadan island are the most biodiverse in the world. Bordering East Malaysia, the Sulu Sea is a biodiversity hotspot, with around 600 coral species and 1200 fish species. The unique biodiversity of Malaysian Caves always attracts lovers of ecotourism from all over the world.
Nearly 4,000 species of fungi, including lichen-forming species have been recorded from Malaysia. Of the two fungal groups with the largest number of species in Malaysia, the Ascomycota and their asexual states have been surveyed in some habitats (decaying wood, marine and freshwater ecosystems, as parasites of some plants, and as agents of biodegradation), but have not been or have been only poorly surveyed in other habitats (as endobionts, in soils, on dung, as human and animal pathogens); the Basidiomycota are only partly surveyed: bracket fungi, and mushrooms and toadstools have been studied, but Malaysian rust and smut fungi remain very poorly known. Without doubt, many more fungal species in Malaysia have not yet been recorded, and it is likely that many of those, when found, will be new to science.
Red flower made of 5 petals surrounding a depressed centre, on the forest floor surrounded by dead leaves and small green plants.
Some species of Rafflesia can grow up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) in diameter, making them the largest flowers in the world.
About two thirds of Malaysia is covered in forest, with some forests believed to be 130 million years old. The forests are dominated by dipterocarps. Lowland forest covers areas below 760 m (2,490 ft), and formerly East Malaysia was covered in such rainforest, which is supported by its hot wet climate.There are around 14,500 species of flowering plants and trees.Besides rainforests, there are over 1,425 km2 (550 sq mi) of mangroves in Malaysia, and a large amount of peat forest. At higher altitudes, oaks, chestnuts, and rhododendrons replace dipterocarps.
There are an estimated 8,500 species of vascular plants in Peninsular Malaysia, with another 15,000 in the East.The forests of East Malaysia are estimated to be the habitat of around 2,000 tree species, and are one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, with 240 different species of trees every hectare. These forests host many members of the Rafflesia genus, the largest flowers in the world, with a maximum diameter of 1 m (3 ft 3 in).
Logging, along with cultivation practices has devastated tree cover, causing severe environmental degradation in the country. Over 80 per cent of Sarawak’s rainforest has been cleared. Floods in East Malaysia have been worsened by the loss of trees, and over 60 per cent of the Peninsular’s forest have been cleared. With current rates of deforestation, the forests are predicted to be extinct by 2020.
Deforestation is a major problem for animals, fungi and plants, as the forest is cut to make room for plantations. Most remaining forest is found inside national parks. Habitat destruction has proved a threat for marine life. Illegal fishing is another major threat, with fishing methods such as dynamite fishing and poisoning depleting marine ecosystems.
Leatherback turtle numbers have dropped 98 per cent since the 1950s. Hunting has also been an issue for some animals, with overconsumption and the use of animal parts for profit endangering many animals, from marine life to tigers.Marine life is also detrimentally affected by uncontrolled tourism.
The Malaysian government aims to balance economic growth with environmental protection, but has been accused of favouring big business over the environment. Some state governments are now trying to counter the environmental impact and pollution created by deforestation; and the federal government is trying to cut logging by 10 per cent each year. 28 national parks have been established; 23 in East Malaysia and five in the Peninsular. Tourism has been limited in biodiverse areas such as Sipadan island. Animal trafficking is a large issue, and the Malaysian government is holding talks with the governments of Brunei and Indonesia to standardise anti-trafficking laws.