Continued destruction of riparian forests for planting oil palm is cause – director
KINABATANGAN: Sabah’s proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) population is declining due to habitat loss as riparian forests are continually destroyed to plant oil palm and mangrove areas reclaimed for development.
“The proboscis monkey or Monyet Belanda in Malay as they are more commonly known, is declining in numbers because we have oil palm plantations planting all the way down to the river edge and in areas closer to towns we have seen their habitat lost as the mangrove areas they occupy are reclaimed and built upon,” stated a very concerned director of the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), Dr Laurentius Ambu, in a press statement yesterday.
To make matters worse, only an estimated 15 percent are living within protected areas, which means preventing the conversion of non-protected areas is crucial.
“The oil palm industry does not have to plant all the way down to the river edge. They should leave the riparian forest with a buffer of preferably one kilometer for wildlife and also as a measure to protect our waterways as the water is also ultimately used for human consumption,” said the director.
Sabah, noted Laurentius, has given much for oil palm production and now it is time for the industry to give back by replanting riparian areas in particular.
“The State Government is committed to reforestation and we are working closely with community groups, NGOs and even private companies but the oil palm industry on the whole has been very slow to replant riparian areas although they talk a lot of it,” said Laurentius.
The director also vented his frustration at seeing areas that are unsuitable for oil palm plantation due to semi annual flooding being planted with the crop then destroyed by floods.
“These marginalised lands which you see in the Lower Kinabatangan, particularly those close or adjacent to Lots 3 and 6 of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, should be replanted by the oil palm companies with native species of trees that survive this flooding instead of just being abandoned and the soil washing out into the river during flooding,” he said.
The SWD estimates that there are only 6,000 proboscis monkeys left, with five viable populations in Sabah.
“We have one population in the West Coast, one in the South and three in the East Coast, including the Lower Kinabatangan where oil palm has had a dramatic effect on a variety of Sabah wildlife, including this large nosed monkey,” shared Laurentius.
Monitoring carried out by a non-governmental organisation, HUTAN – Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme (KOCP) from 2008 to 2010 along a 15-kilometer stretch within the Lower Kinabatangan, has found that the area was losing 10 percent of the proboscis monkey population every year. A similar declining pattern has been observed in the vicinity of SWD’s Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).
“The findings of HUTAN ¨C KOCP and DGFC show that within even a small stretch riparian forest when small areas are converted, there is a direct effect on the population of proboscis monkeys present there, and we need to address this issue,” said the director.
Conversion of small patches of forest for mainly oil palm within the Lower Kinabatangan has also resulted in the decline of the orang-utan population there. Without these small patches of forest, wildlife is unable to disperse and mate nor have access to adequate food sources at times.
“This is why we have been continuously pushing for forest corridors, particularly along the riparian areas. They are crucial not just for primates but all wildlife, especially in the Lower Kinabatangan, which is heavily broken up between protected areas and non-protected areas,” said Laurentius.
The proboscis monkey, noted the director, is at direct risk when riparian areas are lost as they are mainly confined to riversides within swamp, mangrove and lowland forest.
“These same forest types are also the most threatened not only in Sabah but within the whole of Borneo, which is the only place they are found in the wild,” he said.
The SWD has been working with NGOs such as HUTAN – KOCP and also has DGFC closely monitoring wildlife within the Lower Kinabatangan area for the past 13 years providing ample scientific evidence on the current state of wildlife in this area.
“The only way to stop this decline and to ensure the survival of the eco-tourism industry that also benefits local community, is to stop all forest conversions even if it is a small area and continue with the various tree planting projects that have been on going,” stated the director.
Like orang-utans, the proboscis monkey has also been listed as being endangered since 2000 in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The Red List also puts the figure for proboscis monkeys in Sarawak at 1,000 individuals. This means besides being the stronghold of the Malaysian orang-utan population, Sabah is also the stronghold for the proboscis monkey population as well.