Thursday, August 13

Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Conservation blueprint

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Liew (centre) viewing a red-haired orang-utan with the help of a pair of binoculars at Albert Teo’s Sukau Rainforest Lodge on June 28, 2019.

KOTA KINABALU: The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Conservation blueprint is on the cards for sustainable ecotourism and creation of the much-anticipated wildlife food corridor.

It was mooted by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew during a recent meeting with senior officials from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment (KePKAS), Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

She said the blueprint will be more than the 10-Year State Elephant Action Plan (2020-2029) which was approved by the Government in February this year, as it will also encompass conservation of the orang-utan, proboscis monkey and other species of animals.

Liew, who is also Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, wants the proposed Wildlife Food Corridor within the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (covering an area of 27,000 hectares of forest) to become a reality soon.

“It’s high time to take affirmative action. We have to start planting food for the wildlife now. We cannot afford to delay.

“The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is a great natural asset and an ecotourism hotspot that needs to be protected and conserved for tourism operators, the local community and for posterity. “Equally important is the need to reduce the prevailing human-elephant conflict. With the Wildlife Food Corridor in place, it will prevent elephants from encroaching into the oil-palm plantations and destroying the crops,” she said.

Liew also wants the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in conservation efforts, such as KiTA and WWF-Malaysia, to be incorporated into the blueprint. “We will be seeking the active participation of relevant NGOs in growing a variety of food in the Wildlife Food Corridor, for example, Napier grass (elephants), figs (elephants) and bananas (orang-utan).”

The Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Dr Jamili Nais assured the Minister that the first draft of the blueprint will be ready by early September this year. Input will also be provided by the SWD Director Augustine Tuuga.

In 2005, the Lower Kinabatangan region was gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary under Section 9 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. While visiting the Lower Kinabatangan region in June last year, Liew described the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary as the best place to view what is known as “Borneo Big Five”, namely Borneo pygmy elephant, orang-utan, proboscis monkey, rhinoceros hornbill and the crocodile.

“I understand that the top countries (in terms of tourist arrivals to Sukau) are the United Kingdom and Australia, among others.

“They are willing to travel thousands of miles just to catch a glimpse of the pygmy elephant and orang-utan,” she had said.

President of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), Datuk Tan Kok Liang, and President of The Kinabatangan-Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association, Sabah (KiTA), Alexander Yee, who were present, warned against the negative impact of the proposed second Sukau Bridge.

“Inevitably, it will kill the ecotourism industry in Sabah. The bridge will restrict the movement of elephants, while the orang-utan habitat in the area will vanish. If that happens, no tourists will want to come to Sabah to visit the wildlife sanctuary,” the duo asserted.

According to Yee, tourism receipts for the Kinabatangan destination surpassed RM100 million per year before the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Meanwhile, Yee shared samples of personal hygiene packs with the Minister and others at the meeting.

Each pack consists of a face mask, a hand wipe and a non-plastic bottle for refilling purposes.

He said KiTA’s member lodges will be giving these packs to their invited frontliners (police and medical personnel from Sandakan) when they stay with the lodges on August 1 in an effort to boost domestic tourism.