No Monkey Business This As Experts Assemble To Frame Rescue Measures

Juvenile proboscis monkey along the Kinabatangen river, one of the last strongholds for the population in Sabah. – Picture courtesy: Rudi Delvaux

Workshop will see input from scientists and industry players on the conservation of the endangered endemic species

KOTA KINABALU: The Proboscis monkey species which is endemic to Borneo is threatened by habitat loss and forest fragmentation in Sabah.

But a Proboscis Monkey Action Plan, if adopted and implemented by the Sabah government can save the species, said Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) director Dr Benoit Goossens.

This plan will be drafted based on the proposed recommendations gleaned from the Proboscis Monkey Workshop to be held here starting Thursday till Saturday.

According to Dr Goossens, International and local scientists, governmental agencies as well as industry players are aiming to draft a policy for the conservation of the proboscis monkey in Sabah.

Proboscis monkeys resting along the Kinabatangan river, one of the last strongholds for the population in Sabah. – Picture courtesy: Rudi Delvaux

The workshop, organised by DGFC and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), will see several subject matter experts propose recommendations to protect the proboscis monkey based on findings from a five-year extensive research on the endangered species conducted by the two agencies.

“For the past five years, SWD and DGFC have been collecting crucial information on proboscis monkey populations in Sabah including demography, behavior, genetics, and health,” said Dr Goossens.

“During this project, we have carried out proboscis monkey surveys along several rivers, including the Kinabatangan, Segama, Klias, Sugut rivers to name a few, and collected blood samples from many individuals for genetic analyses.”

“Information on genetic isolation, lack of gene flow between populations, risks of inbreeding and extinction will be discussed during this workshop,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Dr Goossens said the workshop will see input from all relevant stakeholders namely government department officers, representatives from NGOs, tourism and oil palm industries, local communities, scientists and experts on proboscis monkeys to formulate pragmatic solutions for the conservation of the proboscis monkey.

A group of proboscis monkeys roaming on mangrove trees recently cleared for shrimp farming in Pitas, North Sabah. – Picture courtesy: DGFC

Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) has been supporting the DGFC since April 2011 with a total commitment of RM3.96 million over a period of six years.

The DGFC’s research on the proboscis monkey is one of three crucial research projects being conducted by the research organisation on endangered, endemic species to Borneo found in the Kinabatangan area, Sabah.

The DGFC’s two other vital research projects are on the Sunda clouded leopard and Bornean banteng.

YSD Governing Council Member Caroline Christine Russell said the Foundation is proud to sponsor important research projects on the three endemic species of Borneo found in the Kinabatangan area and in Sabah – the proboscis monkey, the Sunda clouded leopard and the Bornean banteng – with the ultimate aim of developing Sabah State Action Plans for their conservation.

Collaring of a proboscis monkey male in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. – Picture courtesy: DGFC/WRU

“The DGFC under the SWD is our dedicated partner in achieving these objectives. This conference and workshop involving subject matter experts from all over the world is an important milestone achieved in our first project with DGFC, to save the proboscis monkeys,” she said.

Release of a collared proboscis monkey male in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. – Picture courtesy: DGFC/WRU

Russell said DGFC’s research on the populations of proboscis monkeys in Sabah is important for the survival of the endangered endemic species, in view of large developments occurring in high conservation value areas such as the lower Kinabatangan area.

“An example would be the newly proposed Sukau bridge, which threatens to further fragment forest areas, increasing pressure on a species already under threat by human activities.”

“We hope that the Sabah state government will incorporate the recommendations proposed by scientists, experts and industry players who refer to scientific findings from our research, into state conservation policies for action plan implementation to ensure that precious proboscis monkeys continue to exist in the forests of Sabah,” she added.

YSD’s funding is not only aiding the DGFC in its research on the demographics and ecology of the three species, but is also helping to increase local capacity in conservation biology and wildlife management.

Blood collection from wild proboscis monkey in the Kinabatangan for genetic analyses. – Picture courtesy: DGFC/WRU

The Foundation sponsored the PhD education of SWD assistant director Dr Senthilvel Nathan and Master by Research of five local students.

“Thanks to the support of YSD and the DGFC, I have been able to enrol in a PhD at Cardiff University,” said Dr Senthilvel.

“Capacity building was one of the main outcomes of the project and my work was instrumental in providing crucial recommendations to Sabah State Wildlife and Forestry authorities for a better management of this flagship species, and especially in terms of mangrove protection, the prime habitat for the proboscis monkey.

“Mangroves have recently been affected by development such as shrimp farming and while it is important to find alternative sources of income for the local people, it should not be detrimental to our environment and wildlife,” he said.

Pocket of forest along the Kinabatangan River, habitat fragmentation is one of the main threats to proboscis monkey survival. – Picture courtesy: HUTAN

DGFC PhD student Danica Stark said YSD’s support has aided DGFC’s research on the proboscis monkey as it enabled the collaring of several proboscis monkeys along the Kinabatangan River, Tempasuk River (Kota Belud) and Segama River.

“The information collected from the GPS collars has allowed us to estimate the home ranges of proboscis individuals and provide vital information on their movements in degraded and fragmented habitat,” she said.

“We could also determine the carrying capacity of the available habitat in order to find out whether proboscis populations in Sabah have enough space to survive.

“Those results will be discussed during the workshop and we hope that our recommendations will help to conserve the proboscis monkey in Sabah,” she added.

Under its Environment pillar, to date, YSD has committed RM130 million towards the protection of high conservation value ecosystems, vulnerable and endangered species as well as initiatives promoting the preservation of the environment and biodiversity.