Oil Palm Sector Must Do Much More For Wildlife Conservation in Sabah

FLASHBACK: A suspect poacher with deer that he killed somewhere in the Lahad Datu area. – Photo credit Sabah Forestry Department

COMMENT: I have been reading with some distress, all the reports you have been publishing on wildlife killings in Sabah. A few months ago, a study on orangutan red-flagged Sabah as a region where orangutan populations will continue to drop. More recently, the spate of elephant killings show an urgent need for drastic measures to protect the remaining wildlife in the state.

Laying claim to the tallest tree or the oldest rainforests in Borneo is a mere distraction when wildlife like the humble banteng look like it is following the rhino into extinction. Sabah must do better.


I have publicly expressed my support previously for Sabah’s plans for jurisdictional certification for palm oil produced in the state and continue to believe that this is a needed direction for the state. With the flurry of bad news for wildlife in recent months, I would like to say here that the oil palm sector in Sabah must do more for conservation and now.


Noting the state’s reiteration of its commitment to certifying all of Sabah’s palm oil industry by 2025 under the guidance of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), I fear this may come too late for wildlife like the banteng. The home grown Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil scheme (MSPO) is calling for the same but with a much earlier achievement date of 2020. This five-year difference could mean the survival or extinction of species in Sabah.

In my visit to Sabah two weeks ago, I met with conservationists who confirmed some of my fears for wildlife in Sabah. The biggest threat to wildlife in the state remains the fragmentation of their habitat caused not only by industrial companies but by small and medium oil palm farmers. From what I have seen as an industry monitor, the small farmers can make or break any sustainability goals set by the industrial operations they supply to.

This is where I challenge the MSPO to deliver. As a national standard, it has the capacity to put far-reaching measures into place quickly. Simple but critical actions like the enforcement of riparian and forest reserves under state laws and its own standards on the environment will do much to improve the situation on the ground today.

FLASHBACK: During the Christmas-New Year week of 2016, in an oil palm estate in Segama, this adult elephant was killed for its tusks.

More important than this “stick” to ensure compliance, the MSPO has the needed funds to offer as a “carrot” to help the smallholders with certification. Imagine the environmental gains if all 200,000 small oil palm farmers in Sabah operated under the guidance of the MSPO’s standards by 2020.

This is cause for great optimism for Sabah’s wildlife.

As for all the killings of banteng and elephants in recent months, I don’t have any illusions that the MSPO will step in with some magic formula to stop the poaching for profit as every society will have its rogue members, like the estate manager who led a poaching ring.

Female banteng shot by poachers in the vicinity of Maliau Basin last October 2017. – Photo courtesy of DGFC

But even as the state works towards certifying its oil palm operations by 2025 under the RSPO, the demand must be made to the MSPO, to help resolve the conservation challenges in Sabah sooner.

• Robert Hii is a Sarawak-born Canadian Conservationist who through his NGO Friends Of Borneo help In Wildlife Conservation Programs in Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan


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