Ulu Muda | WWF Malaysia

Ulu Muda

Early morning view of Ulu Muda from the Kopam Jetty
© WWF-Malaysia/ Siti Zuraidah Abidin

Good Future Needs Good Water

The 160,000-hectare Ulu Muda forest in the State of Kedah, through its function as a water catchment area for the Muda, Pedu and Ahning dams, provides an invaluable environmental service to northern Peninsular Malaysia. Rivers originating from deep within this forest provide as much as 96% of Kedah’s and 80% of Penang’s water supply – driving the region’s growth.

The Ulu Muda forest’s water is used domestically, in industry and for agriculture – irrigating Kedah’s vast rice fields which produce 40% of Malaysia’s total rice supply. Despite its undeniable importance, the Ulu Muda forest remains unprotected.

Apart from its critical role as a water catchment, the Ulu Muda forest has long been recognised for its importance for biodiversity conservation. It was first proposed as a wildlife reserve by an ecologist, W.E. Stevens, in a 1968 Colombo Plan study and subsequently proposed as a national park in the 3rd Malaysian Plan (1976-1980). The National Physical Plan (NPP) designated it as an Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1, which means that protection of its ecological integrity is of highest priority. The NPP also identifies Ulu Muda as part of the Central Forest Spine, a continuous network of forests in Peninsular Malaysia and recommends the forest to be protected as a state park. The area’s high ecotourism potential was also acknowledged as early as in 1995 via the National Ecotourism Plan.

The Ulu Muda forest contains one of the largest expanses of lowland dipterocarp forest in Peninsular Malaysia that remains outside of the protected area system. Other vegetation types found at Ulu Muda are the hill dipterocarp forest, upper dipterocarp forest and limestone vegetation. It is unique in that it is the northernmost representative of Peninsular Malaysia’s lowland dipterocarp forest. In addition, Ulu Muda is the southernmost limits for many species of the Thai-Burmese flora. Ulu Muda is an outstanding area for wildlife conservation and one of its special features is the abundance of wildlife saltlicks, making it excellent habitat for large mammals.


Potential deforestation and unsustainable logging activities, both legal and illegal, threaten Ulu Muda’s role as a water catchment by affecting the quality and volume of its water output. The clearing of forest patches and unsustainable logging increases the run-off of soil into Ulu Muda’s lakes and rivers, making raw water supply murky and more expensive to treat.
In addition, these activities disrupt the forest’s ability to absorb and retain rainwater, leading to increased and more severe incidents of floods and droughts that may affect the livelihoods of more than 4 million people. These problems may be exacerbated in the future, through predicted changes in rainfall patterns, underground water sources, soil humidity and river-flow, due to climate change.

Apart from this, unsustainable tourism activities and illegal poaching are also threats to Ulu Muda’s rich floral and faunal biodiversity, especially to its substantial population of large mammals.

Our Work

As of today, the Ulu Muda forest has yet to be gazetted as a protected area and there is no holistic management plan in place to ensure the long term sustainability of the Ulu Muda forest. WWF-Malaysia’s efforts in 2012 include public seminars and dialogues to bring together various stakeholders (including the government, corporations, NGOs and community leaders) to develop a framework for the better protection, management and sustainable financing of this very important watershed.

We are also continuing our efforts to expand the knowledge base on the Ulu Muda forest. Studies previously or currently being conducted or commissioned by WWF-Malaysia include, amongst others, an economic valuation of the forest’s role as a water catchment, a camera-trapping study on saltlick utilisation by wildlife, an assessment of the status and utilisation of freshwater fishery resources at Muda Lake, an assessment of the socio-economic status of local communities, and a study of traditional honey gathering practices.

Main Partners
  • Department of Wildlife and National Parks Kedah
  • Earth Lodge Malaysia
  • Free Industrial Zone, Penang, Companies' Association (FREPENCA)
  • Kedah State Forestry Department
  • Kulim Industrial Tenants’ Association (KITA)
  • Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA)
© WWF- Malaysia
© WWF- Malaysia

A friendly summary of the technical report on the Economic Benefits of the Muda Water Catchment