Most of Bornean orang-utans live outside protected areas


KOTA KINABALU: A recent study published in the scientific journal PLoS One by researchers working in Malaysia and Indonesia shows that about 80 percent of the Bornean orang-utans live outside protected areas.

Using data collected over 21 years by 24 different teams from Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan the paper provides an overview of the orang-utan situation for Borneo as a whole.

“This analysis shows that the vast majority of orang-utan populations are found outside of the network of protected forests in Borneo,” said Dr  Serge Wich, the lead author of this article entitled “Understanding the Impacts of Land-Use Policies on a Threatened Species: Is There a Future for the Bornean Orang-utan?”

“Protected forests remain essential for conserving orang-utan in Borneo but most of these protected forests are found in highlands and in mountains and not in the lowland forests that are the favorite habitat of the orang-utans. The lowlands are also the prime areas selected for timber extraction and later further developed for agriculture such as oil palm,” stated Wich.

“In Sabah, the recent gazettement under Class I Virgin Jungle Forest Reserves of the lowland forests of Segama by the Sabah Forestry Department means that more than 60 percent of the orang-utan population is now protected in Sabah. This is a huge improvement for orang-utan conservation in the State compared to the early 2000’s when only 30% of the orang-utans in Sabah were living in protected forests,” said Dr Marc Ancrenaz, Co-Director of HUTAN and one of the leading authors of the paper.

With the biggest percentage of orang-utans being found in timber concession areas, the researchers emphasise the importance of good management in such concessions.

“These results also show that good logging practices in commercial forests exploited for timber is key for orang-utan survival. The fact that in Sabah, the Forestry Department has declared that all timber concession areas should be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) by the end of 2014 is good news for orang-utans,¡± added Ancrenaz.

Since November 2011, Sabah has five of Malaysia’s six timber concession areas under FSC certification, which includes reduced-impact logging and enforces a zero killing policy. According to Ancrenaz, FSC certified forest provides economic benefit to land owners while ensuring the survival of wildlife such as the orang-utan.

Meanwhile for Borneo as a whole, the expansion of industrial tree plantations, oil palm plantations and other types of forest conversion into remaining orang-utan habitat will lead to the extinction of thousands of orang-utans throughout populations areas within the island. Such expansion according to the authors of this study should be halted as it infringes laws on species protection.

At the closing ceremony of the recent Sabah Orang-utan Conservation Dialogue held in Kota Kinabalu, Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun proposed a moratorium for oil palm expansion within the lower Kinabatangan in order to save the orang-utan population there from extinction.

A similar proposal was done at the end of the Heart of Borneo conference to stop any new agricultural development within the boundaries of Heart of Borneo. The future lies on increased yield productivity, and not on further agriculture expansion.