NGOs support closure of prehistoric Gua Tambun rock painting site

Access routes to the site of South-east Asia’s largest hematite Neolithic rock art have been found to be unsafe and poorly maintained. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
Access routes to the site of South-east Asia’s largest hematite Neolithic rock art have been found to be unsafe and poorly maintained. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

IPOH, July 11 — Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) here welcome the Perak government’s proposal to close down Gua Tambun, the site of South-east Asia’s largest hematite Neolithic rock art.

While shocked and appalled at the condition of the poorly-maintained site, the groups agree that closing the site would be the best way to protect it from further damage. Perak Heritage Society president Mohd Taib Mahmud said public safety was paramount to any tourism site. 

He suggested that the government discuss with the Syed Putra army camp nearby to include them as a part of the heritage destination.

“The camp has a small gallery and a Gurkha war cemetery. Maybe the authorities should make them part of the heritage destination. If security issues can be sorted, they can provide access to the paintings. If not, the current access road must be upgraded.

Taib cautioned, however, that over-exposure or excessive promotion could have a negative impact on the site.

Ipoh City Watch president Dr Richard Ng criticised the lackadaisical attitude of the agencies tasked with maintaining the site.

Their behaviour, he said, caused the state to lose out, in terms of attracting history and archaeology buffs. 

Ng said the government should immediately fence up the area, prevent public access and place security guards or surveillance cameras to prevent the paintings from being further damaged.

“Once Gua Tambun has been given an uplift, it should be promoted by Perak Tourism as another attraction. It was not even listed as part of Visit Perak Year 2017.

State tourism and culture exco Tan Kar Hing told Malay Mail that it would be best to temporarily close off the area after paying a visit to the site. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
State tourism and culture exco Tan Kar Hing told Malay Mail that it would be best to temporarily close off the area after paying a visit to the site. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

“The access road must be more accessible. After it is reopened, it must be strictly guarded. The public must be taught how to preserve this heritage.

“There is a lot about the historical paintings which have not been discovered and will be attractive to local as well as foreign researchers.”

Perak Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia (PEKA) chairman Sajeeda Muhamad supported the closure in principle, on the condition that the site is taken care of properly.

“After the work is done, it must also be maintained so the problem doesn’t repeat itself. In Malaysia, we can do a lot of things but the problem is always maintenance,” she said.

“Once the site is improved, there has to be proper maintenance and enforcement. This is a fascinating site that must be preserved.”

Yesterday, state tourism and culture exco Tan Kar Hing told Malay Mail the best thing to do now is to temporarily close off the area after he visited the site, which is home to hundreds of paintings dating back to the Neolithic age.

However, he said a decision would only be made after he receives reports from the various government agencies involved in maintaining the site, including the National Heritage Department and Ipoh City Council.

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