May 7, 2009

Land Clearing Threatens Malaysia’s Fireflies

A Malaysian lawmaker warned Thursday that the nation's spectacular firefly population is under threat of destruction within months due to large-scale land clearing.

The fireflies are one of Malaysia's leading tourist attractions.

"If we do not do anything, the lights will go out for the fireflies by the end of the year," Elizabeth Wong, who oversees tourism and environmental affairs in the Malaysian state of Selangor, told the AFP.

Conservation groups had notified Malaysia's government about the "impending destruction" of the riverside firefly colony, Wong said.

Tourists flock to the area, which lies about 90 minutes' drive from Kuala Lumpur, to see the fireflies as they gather in riverside trees and produce dazzling light displays as males and females communicate.

However, the number of fireflies has fallen sharply because of development in the region, tour operators say.

Indeed, nearly 95 acres of land along the Selangor river has been cleared of the trees in which fireflies live, Wong said, despite the area's being declared a firefly sanctuary.

"Four out of the seven critical spots which the fireflies depend on has been cleared bare of vegetation. This is the place where they get their food and lay their eggs to sustain their three-month life cycle," she said during an interview with AFP.

Felling in the region, which is set to become palm oil plantations, had also polluted the river, Wong said.

The Selangor state government would impose an immediate stop-work order along the river in order to save the insects, she said.

"We will also begin immediate planting of sagu, berembang, nipah and rembau (trees) which are frequented by the fireflies, to boost their population."

"The numbers of fireflies have gone down drastically. They are dying out. We are not going to wait until there are just one or two fireflies before we act. We need to save the insects before it is too late."

Bert Che, a senior executive with Firefly Park Resort in Kuala Selangor, which runs the river tours, called for urgent action to protect the fireflies.

"I hope everyone will treasure our fireflies. If we don't, our next generation will not be able to see the insects," she told AFP.