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Mount Kinabalu, situated in the Malaysian state of Sabah, is, 4905 m, the highest peak between Myanmar and Papua (Indonesian New Guinea). Kinabalu was declared Malaysia's First World Heritage Site by UNESCO in November 2000. The Kinabalu massif, encompassing only about 1250 km2, is smaller than most English counties, yet an astonishing number of orchids are recorded here. Some 866 taxa in 134 genera have recently been documented from the massif. Nearly 38% of the orchid species are known from just one locality and about 16% have been collected only once.
The Kinabalu vascular plant flora may include as many as 5000 to 6000 species, and is one of the most diverse, if not the most diverse, floras in the world. Additionally, Mount Kinabalu has been a centre of extremely active plant evolution and speciation and presents a spectacular natural laboratory for studying these processes. Bearing in mind that much of the mountain, especially the remote and inaccessible northern side, is still poorly explored botanically, one can get some idea of the biological richness of the mountain.
An alarming fact that has emerged from recent studies is that the natural vegetation of nine out of eighteen of the most important orchid locations (based upon numbers of species on Kinabalu, most of which are at elevations below 2000 m) have either been degazetted from the Park, or destroyed by fire damage (deliberate or otherwise). Some of these sites, such as the distinctive forest developed over ultramafic substrate on the lower southeast slopes, once boasted many species of great horticultural value, including Paphiopedilum rothschildianum, Paraphalaenopsis labukensis, and Renanthera bella.
Ex-situ conservation of some species, especially epiphytes, may be necessary as many of the higher elevation taxa are now threatened by the effects of global warming. The advent of El Niño events that devastated the upper slopes of the mountain during the 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 droughts in Borneo saw the demis of thousands of epiphytes.
A Guide to Orchids of Kinabalu presents a selection of 100 species of orchid that can be found growing wild in Kinabalu Park. It is offered in the hope that it will provide a glimpse into this unique natural heritage for the visitor and help in the future protection of the orchids of this unique and fascinating mountain.