KUCHING: All orangutan habitats in Sarawak – Batang Ai National Park, Ulu Sebuyau National Park, Sedilu National Park and Lanjak Entimau Wild Life Sanctuary are Totally Protected Areas (TPAs).
Around 1,600 orangutans roam freely in the contiguous TPAs of Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak Entimau Wild Life Sanctuary.
In the effort to enhance management and protection of orangutans, the state government collaborated with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) last year to draw up ‘An Orangutan Strategic Action Plan’ that will provide a holistic approach to the management and protection of these animals.
This plan includes expanding the boundary of Batang Ai National Park to include the area around Ulu Sungai Menyang, where surveys estimated there are some 200 orangutans.
A Conservation Centre of Excellence (CCOE) for orangutan research has also been established in Batang Ai National Park.
Research data and results would be used to draw up a comprehensive management plan for orangutans in Sarawak.
Last year, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem launched the Rimba Sarawak project (Research for Intensified Management of Bio-Rich Areas of Sarawak), allowing international researchers into the state’s forest estates, especially TPAs.
It aims to provide a platform for international collaborative research in developing intensive, practical conservation management procedures for bio-rich areas including the conservation of orangutans in Sarawak.
WCS Malaysia programme director Dr Melvin Gumal said then there is no other country that he is aware of that has set that kind of focus.
The state government also ensures virgin jungle and TPAs are not cleared for oil palm cultivation.
Permits for oil palm cultivation are only issued for cultivation in logged-over areas or areas planted with other crops, or – in the case of Sarawak – on Native Customary Rights (NCR) land in joint-ventures with natives.
Currently, some 1.5 million ha in Sarawak is planted with oil palm, comprising smallholders and NCR landowners, collaborations between private sector and government agencies as well as private sector initiatives.
The majority of these estates and smallholder areas are found along coastal areas in lowlands and riverine basins far away from protected areas that are orangutan habitats.
Allegations that palm oil produced from Sarawak is linked to endangering the habitats of orangutans in the state are without foundation.
The palm oil industry has experienced dynamic progress and has assumed a prominent role in steering the state’s economic growth – contributing RM1.9 billion in sales tax revenue to the state government from 2010 to 2015.
It has grown to be the main thrust of the agriculture sector, and has contributed significantly to the socioeconomic development of rural populations across the state.
Oil palm cultivation is the best opportunity for NCR landowners to make full use of their idle land.
The state government fully supports the conversion of NCR land into smallholder plots for oil palm cultivation, to ensure those families and communities can improve their standard of living.
The palm oil industry provides job opportunities for locals and also acts as a catalyst for rural growth.
Wherever sizable concentrations of oil palm estates emerge, the surrounding towns are energised with growth through both gainful employment and the opportunity to profit through providing services.
The additional influx of workers in oil palm estates and mills further enhance the demand for goods and services, benefitting local inhabitants and entrepreneurs.
Sarawak’s policies for conservation and economic growth are well-planned and carried out systemically as provided for under the constitution.
The Wildlife Masterplan for Sarawak 1996, adopted by the state government, guides Sarawak to balance the need for conservation of wildlife and natural resources with the need for economic and social development.
Currently, there are 30 National Parks, four Wildlife Sanctuaries and 10 Nature Reserves in Sarawak covering 602,035.8 ha (excluding bodies of water), which clearly show the extent of the government’s commitment in ensuring that the natural habitats and ecosystem are conserved.
The government aims to reach one million ha of TPAs by 2020 through the existing legal framework.
It is a generally accepted principle that development and raising the standard of living of the people is the fundamental right of any nation.
Sarawak aims to bring this prosperity to the people, especially the rural population, by encouraging them to cultivate oil palm, the most productive ‘golden’ crop of this era.
With the necessary infrastructure and funding provisions, these rural areas can be developed into thriving hinterlands promoting socioeconomic growth.
In setting aside protected areas for the conservation of habitats and species, the state government is committed to a balanced policy that allows for land development for agriculture as well as forest protection and conservation.