A Wetland Wilderness
Located in Southwest Pahang, Tasik Bera is situated in the saddle of the main and eastern mountain ranges of Peninsular Malaysia. This natural freshwater lake system, extending 35km long and 20km wide, drains into the Pahang River via the Bera River, the main artery to the north.
As the largest freshwater swamp in Peninsular Malaysia, Tasik Bera or Bera Lake remains both a unique and remote wetland wilderness. Surrounded by a patchwork of dry lowland dipterocarp forests, the lake environment stretches its tentacles into islands of peat swamp forests. Rich in wildlife and vegetation, Tasik Bera is an ecosystem which supports not only a diversity of animal and plant life, but sustains the livelihood of the Semelai, the aboriginal people inhabiting the wetlands.
Like many other wetlands, Tasik Bera also plays an important role in flood control, water flow regulation and purification and provides many natural resources for the local community. Therefore, it has been protected under an international treaty – the RAMSAR CONVENTION, which allows traditional and wise use of the area to continue. Tasik Bera Ramsar site was declared in November 1994. It includes a core zone of 26,000 ha. and a buffer zone of 27,500 ha.
In order to conserve and enhance the bio-diversity of Tasik Bera and ensure the wise use of its natural resources, the Pahang State Goverment has implemented a 3-year programme with the financial assistance of the Danish Government under its DANCED scheme (Danish Cooperation for Environment and Development) and technical assistance from Wetlends International-Asia Pacific, In addition to conducting biological and wildlife surveys, Wetlands International is formulating a nature based tourism development plan that includes the establishment of a visitor centre/field study centre, training of site personnel and the integration of the local community in to the overall development.
Tasik Bera has distinct wet and dry seasons which may determine the best time to visit. The wet months are from April to May and from September to January; while the dry periods are from February to April and June to August. According to the local aboriginal community, know as the Semelai, good fishing occurs after heavy rains. Some sections of forest trails may be inaccessible during the wet months.
Habitats and Wildlife
Tasik Bera is characterised by a watery landscape dominated by large grass-like blades of pandanus leaves which line the narrow channels leading into the lake, Navigating by boat through the swamp forests, a variety of ferns, orchids and epiphytes can be seen attached to tree trunks and branches, while strands of thorny rattan weave through the undergrowth. Among the fields of metre high reeds and rows of dense foliage found in the open water, dozens of pitcher plants hang in shades of green and red. In the drier areas, lowland rainforest trees and palms add to the diversity of the wetland reserve.
Tasik Bera is a sanctuary for more than 200 bird species, 50 mammals and 90 fish species. It is also a habitat providing food and shelter for bird life, including kingfishers, hawks, herons, but overall, waterbirds are strangely scarce. Though very difficult to see in the wild, the extended wetland area and its surrounding forests still support tigers, tapirs and elephants, all endangered species. Other wildlife known to exist in Tasik Bera include the clouded leopard, wild boars, monkeys, mousedeer, flying squirrels and flying lemur through the endangered crocodile called the Malayan False Gharial is a rare sight these days. As an important biodiversity reservoir for freshwater fishes, Tasik Bera contains a large number of the country’s total species, including popular aquarium fish such as harlequins and tiger barbs as well as large presatory catfish and other sport fish.
Being off the beaten track, Tasik Bera offers its own share of recreational and adventure opportunities for the nature enthusiast. The relative isolation and tranquil surroundings of the open water are perfect for boating and kayaking. Visitors will enjoy spending a few hours cruising the vegetation and search for wildlife.
Biologically rich in flora and fauna, the lowland rainforests offer ample opportunities for jungle trekking excursions. With over 15 types of sport fish in the rivers and lake, Tasik Bera is a haven for anglers.
In order to ensure their safety, visitors are advised to hire a Semelai guide for all nature and sport fishing activities on the lake or in the surrounding forests. This is because of the extensive and maze-like nature of the swamp and its intricate water ways which requires the expertise of the Semelai to traverse.
Archaeological evedance suggests that aboriginal people have lived in Tasik Bera for over 600 years. Today there are approximately over 1200 Semelai.
The majority of Semelai live in Pos Iskandar, a settlement area with five main villages where they cultivate hill rice, cassava, vegetables, fruit and rubber trees. Traditional Semelai homes are built from forest products such as bamboo for flooring and tree bark for walls. Dependent on the lake and forests, the Semelai continue to fish, hunt and trap wildlife to supplement their income. Adept at utilising forest products to make traps, spears, and canoes, the Semelai still use these traditional devices for their daily catch. They also practise the traditional collection of “minyak keruing”, the resin from the Keruing tree which can be used for making torches, sealing boats and as and ingredient in perfume. Medicinal species, usually planted near the home, are still used to fend off fever and other ailments. With only a few people owning shotguns, the Semelai still use traps to hunt game (mainly wild boar and deer). Their extensive knowledge of both the forest and lake habitats make them a popular choice as guides among sport fisherman. Their traditional handicrafts made from wetland and forest products such as coloured mats, miniature boats, fish traps, mouse deer traps, axes and other items are available for sale at Pos Iskandar.