KINABATANGAN: It was a historical day for wildlife protection in Sabah yesterday as Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun launched the first phase of the Bornean Elephant Sanctuary (BES) at Lot 8 Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary here.
Borneo’s first and only elephant sanctuary will be a natural-habitat refuge developed to meet the needs of endangered elephants, in line with the State Government’s commitment in the conservation of Bornean elephants, which are now facing the threat of extinction.
According to Sabah Wildlife Department of Tourism director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu, recent surveys carried out by the Sabah Wildlife Department and WWF had put the number of Bornean elephants in the island of Borneo to not more than 2,500 individuals, with 50 elephants residing in North Kalimantan and the rest in Sabah.
Furthermore, Laurentius said the Sabah State Cabinet has unanimously approved the upgrading of the Bornean Elephants’ conservation status in the 1996 Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment from Schedule 2 to Schedule 1.
Schedule 1 is the highest level of protective status within the Sabah Wildlife Laws and any person caught killing or hunting an elephant will receive a mandatory six months to five years jail sentence.
“This now brings a total of 11 species in Sabah that are totally protected, which are the Orang-Utan, Sumatran rhinoceros, proboscis monkey, banteng, clouded leopard, Malayan sun bear, dugong, false gharial, green turtle, hawksbill turtle and now, the Bornean Elephant,” he said.
The first phase of the BES project, consisting of an elephant holding enclosure, staff quarters and a storage building, commenced in October last year and was completed on June 28.
The cost of construction of the first phase amounting to RM1.6 million was funded by Borneo Conservation Trust Japan and its partners Asahikawa City Municipal Government, Asahiyama Zoo, Saraya Corporation, Hunting World Japan (BCT) Corporation, Tokio Marine Insurance, Kirin Beverage Corporation, Taisei Construction Corporation, Asta Corporation, IA Research Corporation, NTT Data Corporation, Teijin Corporation and Yusen Logistics Corporation.
The second and larger phase of the BES, which will begin construction soon, consists of three large outdoor door paddocks for the elephants, a fully equipped elephant clinic, an administrative building, staff quarters, a visitor management centre and further development of the infrastructural requirements.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) also pledged RM5.2 million for the development of the BES in general from its Malaysian Palm Oil Conservation Fund.
Laurentius also said that the overall master development plan of the BES is currently being developed by the Borneo Conservation Trust and is expected to be completed by the end of September.
The estimated cost for the BES’ infrastructure construction in 25 hectares is about RM25-30 million, while the cost of the overall master plan for the BES, including establishment of the ecological corridor between the Segaliud Lokan Forest Reserve to Batu Putih, ranges between RM50-60 million.
Meanwhile, Masidi stated that his ministry has recognised the value of the BES as one of the vital strategies to support the Elephant Action Plan 2012-2016 Sabah.
“Today, natural habitat is diminishing and this has a big impact on enigmatic species such as the Bornean Elephant. Human-elephant conflict is on the rise due to habitat loss and increased fragmentation, coupled with the enormous increase of 300 percent in Sabah’s human population in the past 30 years,” he said.
Masidi added that these mistakes from the past must not be repeated and that is why the state government had taken bold, trail-blazing steps to reverse the harm that had been done.
He explained that under the leadership of Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman, the total protected areas in Sabah has reached 20 per cent, or 1.3 million hectares, which is far more than what was stipulated in the guidelines of the International Union of Conservation of Nature, which is at 10 per cent.
“If the Bornean elephants go extinct while we are still around, then we should take the blame. That would be the biggest tragedy of our time,” Masidi said.
He also said that the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment is planning to go many steps further and aim to achieve a total protected area of more than 2 million hectares, or 30 per cent of Sabah landmass, by 2020.
“As a part of the Sabah government, I will instruct my officers in my ministry and the Sabah Wildlife Department to meet up and come up with the requirements for the BES thus, further enhancing the government’s role in funding this noble programme,” he added.