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  Tasik Bera  
    ... malaysia's first protected freshwater wetland  
       
 
Introduction
   

   

Tasik Bera 

   

Tasik Bera (Lake Bera) is located in the centre of Peninsular Malaysia, in the southwestern corner of the state of Pahang. There are many similarities to its more famous sister lake Tasik Chini, which lies 50 km to the northeast; both are shallow, seasonal, riverine lake systems which empty into the Pahang River to the north. However, in contrast to the gross mismanagement which affected the sustainability of Lake Chini's ecosystem, Tasik Bera is an example of how a sensitive wetland area can be studied, reviewed and developed for low-impact tourism with due regard given to its indigenous tribes.

 

Buttress roots of the Keranji - used by the Semelai to make sheaths for their parangs
  

 

The shape of the lake system can be likened to a forearm and hand pointing toward the southeast. Seven flooded river valleys form the fingers of the hand, each extending over 10 km into the surrounding peat swamps and lowland dipterocarp forests. In all the lake area measures 35 km by 20 km and covers an area of 6150 hectares. Water depth is shallow - between 2 and 5 metres only, thus it is categorised as a "Wetland" i.e. it is less than 6 metres in depth. During the monsoon season, from November to March, water levels may rise by 3 metres or more..
 

Oh, how we DANCED

In November 1994, Tasik Bera was declared Malaysia's first Ramsar site, giving the area some level of international recognition and protection. In addition, funds from an environmental scheme known as DANCED, supported by the Government of Denmark, were made available for a three year study of the area in conjunction with the Pahang State Government and Wetlands International-Asia. The main objectives of the three year scheme were to establish a well-managed nature reserve at Tasik Bera, and to encourage nature-based tourism with the participation of local indigenous communities. The project's recommendations are now being implemented by the state government.
 

An abundance of fish species

 
 

The Haruan Channa striata - this common species of snakehead fish often ends up in the local market.

   

Tasik Bera's big attraction is the incredible diversity of fish species. Almost 100 species of freshwater fish have been identified, the majority being endemic to Peninsular Malaysia. These include the highly valued, and thus endangered, Asian Arowana or Golden Dragon Fish Scleropages formosus, the Silver Shark Balantiocheilos melanopterus and the Harlequin Rasbora Rasbora heteromorpha. Other species include various Catfish, Gouramy, Barbs and Carp. Mention must also be made of the Giant Freshwater Puffer Tetraodon palembangensis which has the dubious distinction of being a fish species which can be made into a Rebak or a type of musical instrument !

Fishing is allowed in the lake - it is hoped that the authorities will closely monitor fishing activities to prevent rarer species from being overexploited, and that catch-and-release fishing will become the norm.

 

Juvenile Wrinkled Hornbill
Rhyticeros corrugatus

 
   

Curiously, bird life at Tasik Bera is not easy to see, even though over 200 species have been identified in the area including the Crested Fireback Lophura ignita the rare Malayan Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron malacense, a stunning bird which measures over 50 cm in length, with brown-patterned plumage, a shimmering greenish or aquamarine crest and vivid orange facial skin with bold black markings around its eyes. Other species identified on a recent trip include various kingfishers (e.g. the common White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon pileata), eagles (e.g. the rare Grey-headed Fish Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus) and hornbills (e.g. the uncommon Wrinkled Hornbill Rhyticeros corrugatus). Overnight visitors at the Persona Lake Resort may well see a pair of Brown Wood Owl Strix leptogrammica who frequently come to hunt in the area. 

The forests around Tasik Bera also support a diverse range of larger vertebrates including the Asian Tapir, Asian Elephant, Clouded Leopard and rare Tigers, however visitors are unlikely to encounter these animals; there are no viewing hides in place for the visitor to remain concealed.
 

Exploring by Boat

 
 

Small boats are required to navigate the
hidden waterways of Tasik Bera

   

Thick stands of Pandanus helicopus dominate the lake, dissecting it into narrow waterways and secluded bays. Exploring this complex maze is best done by small boat; these can be easily hired and most are owned by the local Semelai tribesmen who are expert in navigation and boat handling.

It is worth anchoring in a secluded spot for an hour, turning off the boat's outboard engine and sitting quietly to see the wildlife slowly emerge. If lucky you may spot the Malayan False Gharial Tomistoma schlegelii, a harmless but rare species of freshwater crocodile, or even the endangered Striped Giant Soft-shelled Turtle.

 

Pitcher plants, such as Nepenthes gracilis, may be encountered along the narrow waterways. 

 
   

Secretive bird species, such as the shy but common Pied Fantail Rhipidura javanica may also appear. Associated with the Pandanus are fine examples of pitcher plants, such as Nepenthes gracilis.
 

The Semelai

For over 600 years an aboriginal tribe or Orang Asli have lived around Tasik Bera; these are the Semelai. Traditionally they relied on fishing and hunting for food, but now many of the Semelai are settled in villages where they have established vegetable plots and fruit orchards. However, they still collect resin from species of Keruing (Dipterocarpus sp.); this is done by cutting the bark of the tree and then lighting controlled fires between the buttress roots, thereby keeping the resin flowing freely from the wound. The resin or Minyak Keruing is used for caulking of boats and for torches.

The Semelai harvest Pandanus leaves for manufacture into handicrafts, and it is believed that this actually controls the spread of the plants, thereby keeping the waterways navigable. Areas of burned Pandanus show where the Semelai have attempted to flush out terrapins or turtles for food. They are also adept at trapping the Reticulated Python Python reticulatus in the nearby oil palm plantations; the snakes are sold for their skins which probably end up as leather goods. This has posed some threat to the species, however given the experience elsewhere in the region where large Reticulated Python survive in urban areas, it is unlikely this activity would cause extinction of these snakes in Tasik Bera.