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Meet the greenies: the TRCRC

The relationship of us humans with nature is not all about exploitation and devastation. Where there is destruction, there are also people that work hard to rebuild. So it is everywhere, and so it is in Malaysia.

I have already been writing about the fires in Borneo, the consequences of which reach across the sea all the way to KL in the form of “Haze”. It’s been all over the news: forests gone, groups of orangutans found burnt or fleeing their home territories, smoke pollution affecting human health for hundreds of kilometres around. The situation with fires, logging, and oil palm plantation is bad and there should not be any attempt made at sweetening it or reducing its extent. Yet not everything is lost, and there are groups and organizations doing an amazing work for saving and regrowing what is left. The reason why I stopped by Kuala Lumpur on my way to Borneo was to learn about the work of one of these groups, the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre (TRCRC). The TRCRC was founded at the end of 2012 with the main objective of carrying out reforestation plans in Borneo and the Malaysian peninsula based on solid scientific basis. I came to know of the center because its director Dzaeman Dzulkifli and I both did our PhD in ecology at the University of Zurich, where Dzaeman specialized in forest management with a project in the Danum valley of Sabah, Borneo. A very active and enthusiastic person, Dzaeman left Switzerland even before the official end of his PhD to take over as the manager of the TRCRC.

Dzaeman, director of the TRCRC, in his natural environment.
Dzaeman, director of the TRCRC, in his natural environment.
The TRCRC team.
The TRCRC team meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

The centre currently runs three reforestation areas, each focusing on trees differing by habitat or by use: the site located in the bornean forest of Merisuli (Sabah) focuses on tree species found on the lowlands; the site of Kelantan in north Malaysia is focused on preserving highland tree species; finally, the Amanjaya Forest site (Perak region) works on those rainforest trees that give edible fruits and seeds.

All three sites operate as “living collections”. The seeds of endangered tree species are collected by the TRCRC personnel from the wild and grown in nurseries, until the seedlings are ready to repopulate natural forest patches. Most species cultivated at the three sites belong to family Dipterocarpaceae, that constitutes about 80% of forest canopy. Since dipterocarps represent the very frame of the forest, but they only produce seeds every 5-6 years, the particular attention given to this group by the TRCRC people is easy to understand. No dipterocarps, no forest. There are about 270 known dipterocarp species in Malaysia. The TRCRC has a living collection of 36 of them across its three sites, built over only three years. Dzaeman is optimistic that the number will keep growing, and eventually he hopes that all species will be available for bringing the forest back where humans took it away.

Check out the work and the people of TRCRC at