Malaysian Rainforests

The Threat of Human Encroachment

Interior of a rainforest, Malaysia
Travelpix Ltd/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Southeast Asian rainforests, such as those that dominate the Malaysian region, are believed to be the oldest and some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world. However, they are now in danger of disappearing due to a number of human activities that threaten the ecosystem.


The Malaysian rainforest eco-region extends across peninsular Malaysia to the extreme southern tip of Thailand.


Malaysian rainforests contain several different forest types throughout the region. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), these include lowland dipterocarp forest, hill dipterocarp forest, upper hill dipterocarp forest, oak-laurel forest, montane ericaceous forest, peat swamp forest, mangrove forest, freshwater swamp forest, heath forest, and forests that thrive on limestone and quartz ridges.

Historical Extent of Habitat

The extent of Malaysia's land surface was forested before humans began clearing trees.

Current Extent of Habitat

Currently, forests cover about 59.5 percent of the total land area.

Ecological Significance

Malaysian rainforests support a vast diversity of plant and animal life, including approximately 200 mammal species (such as the rare Malayan tiger, Asian elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, Malayan tapir, gaur, and clouded leopard), over 600 species of birds, and 15,000 plants. Thirty-five percent of these plant species are found nowhere else in the world.


The clearing of forest land by humans is the primary threat to the Malaysian rainforest ecosystem and its inhabitants. Lowland forests have been cleared to create rice fields, rubber plantations, oil palm plantations, and orchards. In conjunction with these industries, logging has boomed as well, and the development of human settlements further threatens the forests.

Conservation Efforts

WWF-Malaysia's Forest for Life Programme works to improve forest preservation and management practices throughout the region, paying special attention to the restoration of degraded areas where critical forest corridors are required by wildlife for safe travel throughout their habitats.

WWF's Forest Conversion Initiative works with producers, investors, and retailers around the world to ensure that expansion of oil palm plantations does not threaten High Conservation Value Forests.

Get Involved

Support the World Wildlife Fund's efforts in establishing and improving protected areas by signing up as a Direct Debit Donor.

Travel to WWF's project sites in Malaysia to help contribute to the local economy with your tourism dollars and exhibit global support of these conservation programs. "You will help to prove that protected areas can generate income for the state governments without the need to exploit our natural resources unsustainably," explains WWF.

Forest managers and timber products processors can join the Malaysia Forest and Trade Network (MFTN).

When buying any wood product, from pencils to furniture to construction materials, be sure to check sources and, ideally, choose only certified sustainable products.

Find out how you can help WWF's Heart of Borneo project by contacting:

Hana S. Harun
Communications Officer (Malaysia, Heart of Borneo)
WWF-Malaysia (Sabah Office)
Suite 1-6-W11, 6th Floor, CPS Tower,
Centre Point Complex,
No.1, Jalan Centre Point,
88800 Kota Kinabalu,
Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: +6088 262 420
Fax: +6088 242 531

Join the Restore and Kinabatangan - Corridor of Life initiatives to reforest the "Corridor of Life" in the Kinabatangan Floodplain. If your company would like to contribute to reforestation work, please contact the Reforestation Officer:

Kertijah Abdul Kadir
Reforestation Officer
WWF-Malaysia (Sabah Office)
Suite 1-6-W11, 6th Floor, CPS Tower,
Centre Point Complex,
No.1, Jalan Centre Point,
88800 Kota Kinabalu,
Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: +6088 262 420
Fax: +6088 248 697