Malaysian Elephant Photo
When elephants leave the forests to feed in adjacent croplands, plantations, and orchards, conflicts with farmers often ensue.
©Melvin Gumal
Malaysian Landscape Photo
Large areas of forest are slated for conversion to farmland or timber concessions.
©Peter Clyne
Mgumal Orang Photo
Unsustainable hunting is another major threat to Malaysia’s wildlife.
©Cynthia Boon/Melvin Gumal

Malaysia is a wet, tropical country that is home to some of the world’s oldest rainforests and a remarkable array of wildlife species. Its forests spread from the coast right up to the mountains, encompassing coastal mangroves, peat swamps, and montane forests. The country is separated into two major regions by the South China Sea. To the east is the Malay Peninsula, which extends southward from mainland Asia, and to the west is Malaysian Borneo, which includes the states of Sabah and Sarawak. The Malay Peninsula is home to endangered elephants, tigers, gaur, tapirs, hornbills, and bearded pigs. Sabah and Sarawak shelter proboscis monkeys, Bulwer’s pheasants, endangered orangutans, red-banded langurs, clouded leopards, and populations of sun bears and sambar deer. Habitat for many of these species is shrinking, and unsustainable hunting also poses a serious threat to their survival.

Fast Facts

  • In both East and West Malaysia, the main human population centers are near the coast.
  • Taman Negara National Park, in the heart of peninsular Malaysia, has the largest known population of elephants in Southeast Asia.
  • The red-banded langur occurs only in the peat swamp forests along Sarawak’s Maludam River; their total population numbers fewer than 200
  • Bornean pygmy elephants are found only in Sabah.
  • Although Malaysia is increasingly industrialized, large-scale agriculture and forestry are important sources of employment and revenue for many rural households.


© Philadelphia Zoo

Data from the United Nations indicates that the rate of deforestation rate in Malaysia is accelerating. Large areas of forest are slated for conversion to farmland or timber concessions. Many protected areas are small, and the survival of most wide-ranging species hinges on protection of their habitats, so improving the management of forestry areas is crucial.

Human-wildlife conflicts complicate the management of elephants, tigers, and orangutans. When elephants leave the forests to feed in adjacent croplands, plantations, and orchards, conflicts with farmers often ensue.

Unsustainable hunting is another major threat to Malaysia’s wildlife. In Sarawak, a rapidly expanding road network has made formerly remote forests accessible to hunters with shotguns, spotlights, and freezers

WCS Responds

WCS has been involved in Malaysia since the 1960s, when conservationist George Schaller conducted pioneering surveys of orangutans in Sarawak. Today, our conservation work has expanded to four key areas: two in Borneo’s state of Sarawak and two in Peninsular Malaysia.

WCS is working in the Batang Ai-Lanjak-Entimau Protected Area complex, the largest of its kind in Sarawak. It’s home to a Bornean subspecies of orangutan that is jeopardized in other parts of its range by illegal hunting and habitat loss. Our conservationists survey the area’s orangutan population, document the fruit trees it relies on, and assess the major threats it faces. We also help raise awareness of these threats among local communities and schools through conservation education programs. WCS has partnered with the Sarawak Forestry Corporation to carry out these campaigns.

In Borneo’s Upper Baram area, WCS conservationists are working to monitor wildlife in forests designated for timber production. With proper management, these vast areas can support critical wildlife populations, including wide-ranging animals. We are working with forestry companies to assess how logging methods, forestry practices, and certification schemes can be improved. Our surveys cover logged and unlogged areas as well as the protection zones where no logging will take place, and explore how forests can regenerate after their lands are cultivated.

In Peninsular Malaysia, WCS works with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) in Taman Negara and the Johor National Parks Corporation (JNPC) in the Endau-Rompin landscape to help balance development and conservation interests and to protect the region’s wild elephant populations, among other species. As part of this we train government staff in current elephant survey, monitoring, and management methods. WCS has also conducted surveys of tiger prey together with the JNPC at Endau-Rompin. The surveys—a part of the WCS-Panthera Tigers Forever initiative—culminated in the first statewide distribution map for several ungulate species, including sambar deer and bearded pigs. In 2009, WCS and its partners launched a training program as part of the Johor Wildlife Conservation Project, to help improve law enforcement and protection measures.

From the Newsroom

A Boost for the Rarest OrangutansApril 10, 2013

Just a few thousand Bornean orangutans remain on the planet, but a new discovery offers hope for these shy red apes.

Wild Tiger Report CardFebruary 17, 2010

As the world celebrates the Year of the Tiger, WCS assesses tiger habitat and populations across eight priority landscapes in Asia with a color-coded report.

New Hope for Coral TriangleMay 18, 2009

WCS applauds the launching of the Coral Triangle Initiative at a summit in Indonesia. The leaders of six nations will work together to save this marine biodiversity jewel.

Jumbo DiscoveryJanuary 15, 2009

WCS and the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks find a major Asian elephant population in Taman Negara National Park. It may be the largest in Southeast Asia.

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