Tasik Chini: The Dragon is Weakening

ICOMOS MALAYSIA Press Release, 20 June 2021

The Dragon of Tasik Chini is a legendary tale that has been passed down through generations. Perhaps the myths and legends that surround our understanding of Tasik Chini are what has kept the lake protected in the past. There are a number of versions to the Dragon of Tasik Chini story. Still, a particular one stands out involving the attempt of a group of Jakun to clear the area for farming before an old lady appeared, scolding them for not seeking permission from the forest. Accepting their apology, the old lady marked the clearing with her tongkat. A dog then directed their attention towards a rotting log at the edge of the forest. Sharp farming tools were thrown at the log, not realising it was a dragon known as Seri Gumum. Seri Gumum started to bleed; thunder and heavy rain followed. In the midst of that chaos, the old lady’s tongkat was accidentally knocked down. A great source of water immediately rushed out from the spot and flooded the area which, over time, formed Tasik Chini. Such stories are often meant as guidance, and what we want to take from this is that, nature is always a bigger factor.

Tasik Chini. Photo sourced from Wikimedia; Biberbaer.

The legendary Tasik Chini is located within Mukim Penyor, about 100km from Kuantan, the State capital of Pahang. Administratively, this natural lake is placed under the jurisdiction of Pekan District. It is part of the Tasik Chini Biosphere Reserve, stretching up to 6,922,97 ha. The second largest lake in Peninsular Malaysia hosts 87 kinds of freshwater fish, 304 species of mammals, and 200 birds. 51 species of lowland forest-type plants, 15 freshwater swamp forest plants, and 25 aquatic plants are among other biological resources of the lake. 88% of Orang Asli from the sub-group of Jakun and Semai have made the area their home, settling in four kampongs namely Cendahan, Tanjung Puput, Melai and Gumum. Due to its natural beauty and cultural heritage, Tasik Chini is a popular eco-tourism destination in Pahang.

Tasik Chini was gazetted as one of Pahang’s Geological Heritage sites in 2016. It was then designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2019, followed by a move by the State Government of Pahang to gazette the Tasik Chini Biosphere Reserve as a Permanent Forest Reserve. In order to protect the environment of Tasik Chini effectively, the State Government of Pahang classified the area as an environmentally sensitive area (ESA). To guide the State’s physical and land use planning together with Tasik Chini Biosphere Reserve, three development plans have been put in place; the Pahang State Structure Plan 2050, the Pekan District Plan 2035, and the Special Area Plan of Tasik Chini 2018. These three documents acknowledge the environmental degradation of Tasik Chini, ergo, outlining the need to rehabilitate the area.

However, despite the current covenant and efforts by the State Government of Pahang, a different picture has been taking place on the ground. Agricultural developments such as palm oil and rubber plantations continues, affecting water quality. Mining and illegal logging deteriorate Tasik Chini’s water quality. The natural beauty that was once the jewel of Pekan is slowly diminishing. Eco-tourism that complements the Orang Asli’s income is gradually fading. As amongst the most marginalised and vulnerable communities in Malaysia, the degradation of Tasik Chini’s environment puts tremendous pressure on their livelihood and survival.

Our hopes for Tasik Chini Biosphere Reserve were restored with the announcement by the Regent of Pahang on 14 June 2021, asking for the reserve to be expanded and for all adjacent mining activities to cease. ICOMOS MALAYSIA applauds and supports the Pahang Regent’s swift intervention and concerns towards Tasik Chini’s biodiversity and people. We urge the State Government and related agencies to take heed of the Regent’s recommended actions, as the main bastion of public interest. The approach of current and new developments at Tasik Chini must not contradict or go against the biosphere’s spirit that attempts to bring an equilibrium between economy, social and environment. Malaysia must remain aligned to its pledge to implement and manage all developments according to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

ICOMOS MALAYSIA reiterates our stand and position that the protection of Tasik Chini will protect our environment, people and culture. The preservation order should exclude all form of destructive economic activities with greater preference for natural, cultural & ecological sustainability. Let’s safeguard our precious natural and cultural heritage for our future generations. The legend of the Dragon of Tasik Chini must not die.


Statement prepared by ICOMOS MALAYSIA members; Nor Hisham Md Saman, Ph.D (UiTM), Indera Syahrul Mat Radzuan, Ph.D (UTHM) & Seow Ta Wee. Ph.D (UTHM).