Wildlife Management & Conservation

1.    An article was published recently expressing certain views on wildlife that the Forestry Department would like to comment on.

2.    Firstly, the Sabah Orang Utan population is perceived to be on the verge of disappearing based on a scientific study.  A number of authors of that paper, some based in Sabah, have since rebuked the negative opinions and instead, expressed their optimism that, given the policy and implemented actions of today, the Orang Utan population will remain as part of the Sabah Wildlife landscape.

3.    The reasons include: at least 75% of the orang utans now live in TPAS (totally protected areas) or FSC ( Forest Certified Stewardship Council ) certified forests, compared to 25% or less, 20 years ago.

4.    This is part of the Sabah Government policy to set aside 30% (2.2 million ha. ) of Sabah as TPAS by 2025. TPAS cover over 1.9 million ha. today, 26% of the land area, and closing up to the goal.

5.    The most important catalyst was the Chief Minister’s decision in 2006, to totally “close of ” the Ulu Segama- Malua Forest Reserves (241,000 ha. approx.) from further exploitation by 31.12.2007, after 60 years of continuous logging. Ulu Segama-Malua, the buffer for Danum Valley, is the heartland for orang utans in Sabah (3500-4000 animals).

6.    The area is now recovering well with forest rehabilitation and financing by various parties, including: Sime Darby, WWF, Abraham Foundation of New York, other NGOs etc. To add icing to the cake, it is also the only GRASP (Great Apes Survival Project ) in South East Asia.

7.    Virtually, all forest areas with high orang utan populations are now totally protected – Ulu Kalumpang, Gunung Rara, Nurod-Urod, Tabin, Imbak Canyon etc.  The Forestry Department even goes as far as to say, if the orang utan is to survive as a species, it has the greatest chance here in Sabah because of: emperical  evidence to show no further erosion of the 11,000 – 13,000 orang utans in Sabah, our policies and the network of friends and experts, who share the burden with us.  The Bukit Piton Project at Segama, is just one example of forest restoration by WWF leading to the “ coming back ” and breeding of orang utans in a previously degraded and burnt forest. A world first.

8.    Sabah has restored, treated and replanted close to 800,000 ha of degraded forests, which will form new homes for the orang utans, amongst other wildlife.

9.    The case of Rhinos lost in the wild, is a tragic story. Apart from routine poaching by certain communities including those from other parts of Borneo, for centuries, their low numbers to start with, excarcebated by their scattered existence, results in poor breeding.  Poor knowledge on captive breeding of rhinos for the project implemented in the early 1990s, was unfortunately a failure.  All the Rhinos died for one reason or another.

10.    Nevertheless, the dedicated breeding programme at Tabin by BORA (NGO on Rhino Captive Breeding) with help from Leibniz Zoo, Germany, the world’s foremost expert on captive breeding, and Indonesia’s co-operation, may save the day yet.

11.    The Banteng (Tembadau) population in Sabah,  is rated as the largest in Borneo. With continuous studies by various researchers ( e.g. WWF,  Danau Girang Centre and others), and surveys on their localities, added by expansion of protected forests, they are unlikely to go extinct.  However, continuous protection is vital.

12.    And our elephants.  They are perceived to be dwindling in population – shot, poisoned, poached for tusks, habitat loss, etc.  However, it is our contrary opinion that they are actually increasing in numbers.  Take the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. The earlier estimate was 100-150 elephants therein. Today, written reports have quoted a population of 200-300 or more.

The development of alienated lands results in more food: lush grass inside or outside at the fringes, cash crops (Bananas, Sugar Cane, Oil Palm etc.). We believe elephant ranges have also expanded, not decreased.  The first Faunal Surveys of Sabah carried out by WWF in 1980 – 1981, estimated an elephant population of 1200  or so, as opposed to 2000 – 2500 today. However, more man grown food triggers more conflicts in their ranges.

13.    To mitigate against the worst effect of the human-elephant conflict in Telupid today, the most serious currently, we recently co-opted the world’s foremost expert on Asian Elephants, Professor Pruthu of Sri Lanka, sponsored by the Abraham Foundation (New York) to study the Telupid issue.

Amongst other matters, while preparing for his final report, Professor Pruthu has recommended that:
•    Elephant friendly diversions (including electric fences, barriers etc.) be established at strategic sites, so that settlements are largely avoided while allowing connectivity to and through forests.

•    Elephants must not be confronted with means that annoy them or cause them to react badly as they do adapt to the circumstances and retaliate:  e.g. noise, fire crackers, chased away, elephant bombs/flushes etc.

•    Plant grass near the migratory routes amongst forest reserve edges and open spaces.

•    Elephants be allowed to co-exist with land development and communities adjust, to co-exist.  Some good examples in Sabah are: resident elephants at an estate in Lower Kinabatangan, Sawit Kinabalu, in its replanting cycles allowing elephants to feed on debris during replanting etc. and most important, the communities themselves, taking the lead to co-exist with the elephants which will take some training and convincing, which Leap, our NGO friend, is doing at Telupid. Nevertheless, the elephants, whether we like it or not, are here to stay in Telupid.  All of these measures recommended are some of the successful stories in Sri Lanka, whose elephant population jumped to 6000 from 2000 after the war, despite deforestation, but it is a smaller place than Sabah. The Forestry Department has appointed a multi group taskforce to implement the recommendations progressively.

14.    Finally, poaching. The old strategies will never work. It is internationally linked. Despite our arrest of the biggest poacher in Sabah recently in Tawau and the arrest of a Cambodian with PR status in Keningau, reputedly the biggest Gaharu trader in this country, both awaiting trials, force of numbers and deterrence on the ground count more than anything else.

15.    The Forestry Department has procured all the protective weapons (90 guns) it needs against armed poachers.

16.    A “ Protect Team” of 50 Rangers just solely for anti-poaching in critical spots will be established with internal and external funds.  Training, Intelligence gathering etc will be taught by experts such as WWF and international bodies with experience in Africa etc.

It will cost not least then RM3m – RM3.5m/year for managing this newly established and dedicated unit, supported by a Canine Team with trained dogs, already procured.

17.    Funding from the government is not an issue and it provides resources as needed, due to the seriousness of poaching in Sabah.  We intend to officially launch this “Protect Team” for dedicated anti-poaching before the year end.  In fact, a Foundation under the sponsorship of the famous actor Leonardo Di Caprio, is already funding anti-poaching in the 3 vital conservation areas – Danum, Maliau and Imbak, albeit at a smaller scale.   

18.    Despite the department’s greater assertiveness on anti-poaching, recently, we do not intend to re-absorb the Wildlife Department but are merely assisting, since we have a bigger capacity and most of wildlife areas are in forest reserves.

19.    Urgently, laws must be changed for greater deterrence and to be enforced.  The Ulu Segama Base Camp was raided some years ago by poachers and the District Forestry Officer, bashed and beaten up silly.  A fine of RM500.00 was meted out on the offender which inevitably encourages more
Forestry officers to have their heads bashed. Not a deterrent at all.

20.    Let us, for the moment observe if all these new endeavors will work out or otherwise. We are optimistic.