By ROBERT HII
COMMENT: With reference to the Chief Minister’s announcement that Sabah will “identify a new site for protection of wildlife”. Now this is a great idea. In looking at conservation developments in Sabah since (Datuk Seri Panglima Haji) Mohd Shafie Apdal came into office, several stand out which are worth revisiting here.
Most notable, is the orangutan and elephant survey which the Chief Minister himself launched earlier this year. As a two-year project which is supported by the Federal Ministry of Primary Industries through the Malaysian Palm Oil Council and Malaysian Timber council, its findings are sure to be useful to the Chief Minister’s office to identify new large areas for the wildlife sanctuary.
A very good example of what I believe that the Chief Minister is envisioning is the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS). LKWS remains an area with a wealth of wildlife that Sabah is known for. This includes not just the mighty elephants or the iconic orangutan but proboscis monkeys and endemic bird life which has turned the area into a favored tourist destination.
Private investments into returning the area for conservation will see biodiversity levels continue to increase in LKWS. These include significant engagement from local community groups like KOPEL and corporations, including Sime Darby and Nestle, both of which have reforested long stretches of the Lower Kinabatangan.
The recovery of these riparian reserves is being further augmented by the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil scheme which dictates that riparian reserves must be protected. Sawit Kinabalu’s conservation area in Sungai Pin has shown how vital these areas are for wildlife. The company has set aside 2500+ hectares for conservation. The area is currently part of the Sabah REDD program which is managed by the Sabah Forestry Department with the support of the European Union!
TAWAU AS SANCTUARY SITE
While the Kinabatangan provides a link from the big conservation areas of Central Sabah to Tabin, there is a need to create a loop so that there are two super wildlife corridors. Tawau is an ideal area to jump-start a second “LKWS” to build a sanctuary for wildlife in Sabah. Locating the new sanctuary here would create multiple benefits to conservation, local and state economy.
Replicating the success of LKWS in Tawau to create a new tourism product to manage Sabah’s capacity is needed to prevent over burdening current wildlife tourism attractions in Sabah.
It would also serve a double role to ease the pressure on wildlife in the area, most notably Sabah’s biggest land mammal, the Bornean elephants. I recently visited Sabah Softwoods, which manages over 60,000 hectares of plantations in the area. The company has an exemplary model of human/elephant co-existence. 7000 ha of their area has actually been excised for conservation, including a 14-km corridor that links Ulu Segama forest reserve to Ulu Kalumpang forest reserve.
Efforts by the company to promote eco-tourism have shown that there is interest among tourists to visit Tawau to see these wild elephants. Their reforesting project has actually delivered a special bonus in the sighting of orangutans in their wildlife corridor!
The most important consideration for choosing Tawau as the site for a new sanctuary would be that it would kickstart the second corridor linking Tabin to the central areas managed as elephant ranges. The idea for this second corridor was actually endorsed in a meeting between Ministers Junz Wong, Christina Liew and the Wildlife Department in October 2018. The conclusion then was to find a way to get the concept realized on the ground. Locating the new sanctuary that Chief Minister Shafie Apdal wants in Tawau would be a great way to put concept onto ground action.
ECONOMY WITH ECOLOGY
I do acknowledge the challenges that CM Shafie Apdal faces as he works to improve the economy and living standards of Sabahans. But ecology need not be pitted against economy in Sabah. Ecology and economy can be promoted as one.
The biggest gain for Sabah’s economy will be that of green development. This will be critical to Sabah as it looks to develop direct economic ties with foreign buyers. Sabah is already leaps and bounds ahead of other producer jurisdictions as conservation investments by foreign brands including Nestle, Unilever and Ikea have poured in. The government has to take advantage of the momentum and assure these global brands that their investments were a wise one.
With growing consumer movements in Extinction Rebellion or the fight against climate change by European youth, there is a large gap in global supply chains to meet the demands of the eco-conscious consumers. Sabah is uniquely qualified to meet that demand and must capitalize on it by solidifying its conservation credentials with actions like the proposed new sanctuary.
* Robert Hii is a Sarawak-born activist whose passion is global sustainability
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