KINABATANGAN: The Lower Kinabatangan has lost about 300 orang-utans in seven years due to forest isolation and loss of corridors, according to Dr Marc Ancrenaz, scientific director of HUTAN – Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme (KOCP).
“What we are seeing with our latest surveys within theLower Kinabatanganis a clear population decline of the orang-utans in this area,” said Ancrenaz who hoped such issues would add to urgency to events such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO) being held in Kota Kinabalu for the first time this week.
The biggest threat to orang-utan and other wildlife populations inSabahtoday is fragmentation. What this means is that agriculture development, primarily oil palm, has created small islands of forest, which are isolated and completely surrounded by human-made landscape.
“Because it is difficult for wildlife to move from one forest patch to the next, this situation leads to inbreeding and eventual population decline, which is what we are witnessing today in theLower Kinabatangan,” explained Ancrenaz.
Ancrenaz points out that this issue is inherently related in part to the oil palm industry and as this industry has much resources they should take real action to rectify the situation.
“We can still improve the situation for theLower Kinabatangan’s orang-utan and other wildlife by actually replanting and planning for actual wildlife corridors or patches of forest to support wildlife movement between protected or forested areas,” said Ancrenaz.
This according to Ancrenaz, has been paid much lip service by big organisations but in reality only local communities have been successfully carrying out such work.
“Except for Wilmar/PBB Oil which is replanting 382 hectares with 50 meters on the banks on the river, we mostly see signboards and newspaper articles but when you go to the ground you find that in reality there is more talk than actual viable replanting taking place,” he said.
Perhaps, the money the Malaysian government is spending for oil palm promotion such as the recent allocation of RM24 million for the Malaysian Oil Palm Council could instead be used for establishing real corridors and patches of forest in the Lower Kinabatangan,” said Ancrenaz.
“While there are many reforestation programmes taking place within theLower Kinabatangan, the best known being the work by MESCOT-KOPEL in Batu Putih. We need oil palm companies to start planting back corridors along the riverbanks in particular. This will not only help wildlife but also improve the water quality for local communities living along the river,” said Ancrenaz.
As the situation is even more grim in the Lower Kinabatangan, he urged oil palm companies with forest patches to reconsider converting remaining forested areas as conversion of even small pockets such as 10 hectares has a negative effect on the long-term survival of the orang-utan population.
“If oil palm companies want to contribute to orang-utan conservation today, they have the opportunity to do so in the Lower Kinabatangan by stopping what little land conversion they are still planning to do,” he said.
As Ancrenaz noted that the largest number of RSPO certified companies are from Sabah, he hoped that they would step up to the challenge of conserving small forest patches and replanting natural forest to riverbanks.
According to Ancrenaz, orang-utan populations in other parts of Sabah with large contiguous forest such as Malua, Dermakot and Tabin have remained stable in the same period of time.
The difference between those areas and the Lower Kinabatangan is that they have a large area that is not broken up. This highlights the urgency of the situation and the need for more oil palm plantations to replant corridors and leave patches of forest,” urged Ancrenaz.