Wednesday, August 10

Shafie’s seminal visit to Imbak Canyon

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Aerial view of Imbak Canyon Studies Centre.

KOTA KINABALU: When Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Mohd Shafie bin Haji Apdal visits Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (ICCA) tomorrow (March 26), he will create history as the first Chief Minister of Sabah to set foot in to the conservation area.

His visit will promote the status of ICCA as a rich source of medicinal plants for future biotechnological research, making it a truly priceless heritage for future generation.

Earning the status of a gene bank, ICCA, located in Ulu Kinabatangan in the heart of Sabah, plays a crucial role as a seed source for future forest rehabilitation and restoration. The 27,599-hectare canyon encompasses a range of rainforest habitats within a sweeping 25 km long valley, hemmed in on three sides by sandstorm ridges. At its highest point, the ridges exceed 1,000 metres with Gunung Kuli, the highest peak reaching 1,527 metres.

Being a part of the protected areas within the Yayasan Sabah Concession Area, ICCA has rich plant biodiversity with over 600 species recorded to date, but it can be expected that this figure will rise with further exploration and research.

ICCA has recorded 82 species of mammals that includes the clouded leopard, marble cat, proboscis monkey, orang utan, Bornean gibbon, banteng, sun bear and Borneo pygmy elephant. A total of 242 species of birds have been recorded.

The assemblage is characterised by a mix of lowland and montane species, including six species of pitta, all eight species of hornbill found in Borneo and 20 species of flycatcher.

As a pristine natural forest, ICCA also plays an important role as part of the vital wildlife corridor/landscape connectivity, connecting Danum Valley and Maliau Basin conservation areas for major mammals apart from serving as a water-catchment for Sabah’s longest river system of Sungai Kinabatangan.

In 2003, Yayasan Sabah Group voluntarily designated ICCA as a conservation area. It was formally designated and upgraded as a Class 1 (Protection) Forest Reserve in 2009 for the purposes of research, education, training and recreational purposes. ICCA is also one of the five Yayasan Sabah Group’s conservation areas apart from Danum Valley, Maliau Basin, Silam Coast and Taliwas River.

According to the director of Yayasan Sabah, Datuk Haji Jamalul Kiram bin Datuk Haji Mohd Zakaria, the Chief Minister’s visit would have a lasting impact on ICCA.

Jamalul said the Chief Minister’s visit would garner support for ICCA in achieving a premier conservation area status thus attracting further funding and research projects.

“ICCA is an area of exceptional natural beauty expressed by imposing landscapes and waterfalls befitting an exceptional conservation area status,” he said.

“Datuk Seri Shafie’s visit will also boost efforts to establish the area scientifically. It will highlight the importance of ICCA as a centre of learning in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, as well as for gene bank conservation and exploration for pharmaceutical and biotechnological potentials,” he added.

On research potentials of the ICCA, Jamalul said, “Yayasan Sabah Group envisages the exploration of pharmaceutical and biotechnological potentials at Imbak Canyon Studies Centre (ICSC) and we are delighted to inform that a research on antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of medicinal plants found in ICCA were conducted by researchers from Monash University Malaysia in 2017.”

Jamalul also said that Shafie’s visit would also promote ICCA as an eco-tourism destination. He further reiterated that the launching will also give wider coverage, both within and outside Malaysia. This would, therefore, be an excellent avenue to further publicise the good works of Yayasan Sabah Group and Petronas, especially pertaining to the protection of the tropical rainforest and its biodiversity.

“Yayasan Sabah Group is committed in establishing ICSC as an eco-tourism attraction in the district of Tongod. We offer wide ranging facilities ranging from various accommodation types (hostel, rest house, lodges and chalets) to jungle/nature trails, environmental education trail as well as nature gallery available for this purpose,” he explained.

“Due to its inherent infrastructure and available facilities, ICCA could now accommodate up to 202 visitors and 118 researchers/research assistants at any one time. In view of its close proximity to Tongod, Telupid, and Pinangah, it acts as the gateway to Ulu Kinabatangan,” added Jamalul.

Shafie will officiate the opening of the ICSC on Tuesday. The centre, which came about from the ongoing Yayasan Sabah Group-Petronas Imbak Canyon Conservation Partnership is located on 27 hectares at the fringe of the ICCA core area, which provides facilities for research, education, training and nature recreation. The infrastructure can cater to all types of visitors from walk-in guests to VVIPs as well as educational groups and researchers/scientists.

Other facilities include an office complex, environmental education complex, scientific laboratory, conference hall, sports complex, cafe, nature gallery and surau.

The centre is a key component of the ICCA Strategic Management Plan (2014-2023) in ensuring sustainable management of ICCA. The management plan provides the framework for activities to be implemented in ICCA over ten years, which will address issues pertaining to securing the conservation of the area.

“Apart from looking forward towards Datuk Seri Shafie’s visit to ICCA, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the Sabah State Government for giving Yayasan Sabah Group the trust and confidence in stewarding the perpetuity of Danum Valley, Maliau Basin, Imbak Canyon, Silam Coast and Taliwas River conservation areas for future generation,” Jamalul emphasised.

He also expressed his gratefulness to the generous RM77 million injected by national oil and gas company Petronas as part of the second phase of the Imbak Canyon Conservation Partnership.

The collaboration, which began in 2010, had implemented several programmes, including environmental education, public awareness, community outreach, ethno-forestry survey and documentation, research, capacity building and formulation of the ICCA Strategic Management Plan and the initial planning of the ICSC.

Now, the number of researchers is also expected to quadruple in the future with the strength and availability of the ICSC. The overall Petronas contribution is RM83 million taking into account the RM6 million funding for the first phase of the partnership.

In addition, Jamalul maintained that Yayasan Sabah Group strives to develop the technical and administrative capacity of its staff in order to adequately support the core management activities required to position ICSC as a centre of learning for indigenous community in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

“I also like to express my appreciation to the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) who will be spearheading the Imbak Canyon Rainforest Research and Training Programme (ICRRTP). In 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between ASM and the Imbak Canyon Management Committee (ICMC) on ICRRTP, which aims to promote research activities in ICCA. The focus of ICRRTP will be to mobilise and enhance local capability and capacity in research on the physical, landscape ecology and biodiversity studies of rainforest in order to address human resource shortages in taxonomy and systematics, and other related fields of geology, hydrology, ecology, and biology training while enhancing the social science capacities and knowledge of ICCA,” Jamalul explained.

“With the establishment of the Imbak Canyon Porter and Guide Association as part of the Community Outreach Programme under the Yayasan Sabah Group-Perronas Imbak Canyon Conservation Partnership, we aim to provide opportunities and develop the capacity of youths in villages surrounding ICCA to provide guiding and porterage services to visitors to the ICCA.

“The Porter and Guide Association was registered with the Registrar of Societies of Malaysia on March 2, 2017. Currently, the association has 33 members and growing,” added Jamalul.

“I take this opportunity to thank the Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department, ASM and the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University, Japan in promoting research, training, and education in the early stages of the ICCA. This will help us further probe secrets of our rainforest and in the process, build the capacities of scientists and researchers by developing long-term collaborations that focus on various aspects, including protected area management and pharmaceutical potentials. Just as we have done well in Danum Valley with the support of partners like The Royal Society of the UK, I look forward to similar, if not greater success in ICCA,” he concluded.