Penang’s Biodiversity in Numbers

By Ng Kar Yong, Yap Jo-yee

January 2022 STATISTICS
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Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve. Photo by: The Habitat Penang Hill

Biosphere Reserves

ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2021, Penang Hill was designated a Biosphere Reserve (BR) under Unesco’s Man and the Biosphere Programme. This is the state’s second Unesco recognition following George Town’s inscription as a World Heritage Site in 2008.

The designation not only recognises the biodiversity of the area, but more importantly, promotes the conservation of biodiversity, economically and environmentally sustainable development, and research and education.

Worldwide, there are 727 BR sites spread over 131 countries.1 Europe and North America house the highest number – 306 BR sites in 24 different countries; followed by Asia and the Pacific (168 sites in 40 countries); Latin America and the Caribbean (132 sites in 22 countries); Africa (86 sites in 31 countries); and the Arab States (35 sites in 14 countries).

Currently, Spain is home to 53 BR sites, with the Ribeira Sacra e Serras do Oribio e Courel Biosphere Reserve as its latest. The other top four countries are the Russian Federation, Mexico, China and the U. S.. Table 1 shows the top five countries by number of BR sites, with their earliest and latest BR sites.

Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve

The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve (PHBR) is the third BR in the country, after Tasik Chini and the Crocker Range. It covers 12,481 ha, totalling 42.6% of Penang Island’s land mass. Almost 60% of the BR is inland, and the rest is marine (Figure 1).2

The PHBR status was the long-awaited outcome of the BioBlitz 2017 organised by The Habitat Group, which gathered more than 100 researchers and scientists from Universiti Sains Malaysia and from across the world, and with the participation of 20 organisations in a herculean effort to document Penang Hill’s biodiversity in its nomination as a BR site.

Despite the area comprising four significant ecosystems: marine, coastal, lake and forest, the PHBR is relatively small in size, if compared to the 9.3 million ha Tsá Túé International Biosphere Reserve, the largest site worldwide. Nevertheless, what the PHBR lacks in size, it makes up for with a biodiversity that is endemic to Penang Hill, the Botanic Gardens, the National Park, Teluk Bahang Dam, Ayer Itam Dam, six permanent forest reserves and several water catchment areas on Penang Island.4

The PHBR is home to 2,456 plant and 550 animal species. Roughly 20 of the plant species are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, of which four are critically endangered.5

The Core Area of the PHBR is 5,757 ha (75% of which are inland), and covers the Penang National Park, the permanent forest reserves, water catchment areas and dams. This site is protected for biodiversity conservation works to be carried out, and for research and educational activities. The Buffer Zone is a 50-metre-wide perimeter around the Core Inland Area, and 0.5 nautical miles around the Core Marine Area. It has 509 ha inland and 1,667 ha marine areas. The Transition Area covers mostly private land, and has a total area of 2,434 ha inland and 2,114 ha marine areas (Table 2).6

1, accessed on 19 Nov 2021.

2 accessed 23 Nov 2021.

4 Ferrarese, M. (27 Sep 2021). Unesco biosphere reserve status for Penang Hill, Malaysia, a chance to draw visitors away from its cookie-cutter attractions to explore rainforest a million years old. South China Morning Post.

5, accessed 8 Nov 2021.

6 PenangHillBiosphereReserve-_English. pdf, accessed 23 Nov 2021.

7, accessed 8 Nov 2021.

Ng Kar Yong

is a statistician at Penang Institute who loves art and nature.

Yap Jo-yee

is a research analyst at Penang Institute whose interests range from development issues to behavioural economics. Her latest goal is to use ggplot2 without Google’s help.