Penang's Lush Eco-Park
On Penang Hill, this eco-park is bringing an ancient Malaysian rainforest back into the limelight. By MARCO FERRARESE. Photographed by KIT YENG CHAN.
Published on Jan 10, 2017
BELOW A CEILING of clouds, I watch the ocean crash against green fields dominated by Gunung Jerai, Kedah state's highest peak, 50 kilometers away. I'm taking in this unobstructed panorama from the Tree-top Walk, a 100-meter-long circular platform that crowns the tips of century-old trees. The air is fresh and tropical birds tweet in the thicket all around. It's hard to believe that a mere 900 meters below, Penang's modernity honks and screeches.
This viridian hamlet is part of The Habitat (admission RM50 per person per day), the island's eco-park within a five-minute walk from iconic Penang Hill's Funicular Train upper station. The Habitat promotes conservation with guided hikes down a 1.6-kilometer nature trail, flanking the fringes of a virgin rainforest reserve protected since 1911, and an ecosystem that dates back 130 million years. Two giant swings along the trail offer relaxing stops to take in the dramatic vistas.
Hike or zip-line through Penang's lush eco-park.
"None of Penang's other parks share our unbeatable location on top of the hill. The biodiversity here is phenomenal," says Penang-born Allen Tan, the park's director. "We discover new insects every day." Developed from a drainage ditch built by the British East India Company in the early 1800's, the Habitat's walking path is made of hydromedia concrete—a porous material that drains quickly and doesn't interfere with the native environment. "We enhanced what was already here, minimizing our impact," Tan says. "We are cooperating with the state government to transform the site into a unesco Biosphere reserve."
Indeed, there's much to protect. "The park hosts some of Southeast Asia's rarest flying mammals, including the flying lemur and giant red and black squirrels, plus rackettailed drongos and giant millipedes..." Allen is still talking when a couple of the jungle's other main dwellers—bespectacled dusky leaf monkeys—emerge high in the canopy as if to remedy their omission from the list.
Bespectacled dusky leaf monkeys swing rampant in The Habitat.
Adventurers who want a monkey's-eye view of the park can brave the 40-meter-high canopy walk—at 230 meters, the longest on Penang Island—or the 700-meter-long zip line. But stay on the paths. The rest of this incredible habitat belongs to the animals.
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