Thursday, 17 July 2008

Orang utans survive in forests within estates

DAILY EXPRESS NEWS Malaysia 17th July

Orang utans survive in forests within estates

Kota Kinabalu: New findings by the Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT) show that Orang Utans are surviving in pockets of forest within the oil palm plantations in Sabah and that it is possible for the Orang Utans to travel and live within the plantations.

"This initial finding is part of the effort to realise our goal towards creating a contiguous forest within the landscape and thus will benefit a wider range for wildlife habitat and movement," said BCT Chief Executive Officer, Cyril Pinso.

BCT has been commissioned by Malaysia Palm Oil Corporation (MPOC) to undertake a survey of the Orang Utan population in Sabah, including those residing within oil palm plantations.

Pinso said recent reports (Daily Express July 8, 2008; The Star July 7&8, 2008) that majority of the isolated Orang Utans in the Kinabatangan area would go extinct in less than 50 years if nothing is done is true.

BCT is a state-mandated tax-exempt NGO established in 2006, and promoted by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment. It was incorporated under the Trustee's Ordinance 1951, Cap. 148 (Sabah), to deal with the pressing needs to preserve the habitat and the migration route of Borneo's most endangered wildlife along the Kinabatangan and the Segama Rivers.

This migration route referred to as BCT Green Corridor is part and parcel of BCT's mission.

As a first token step, BCT has bought five acres in the Kinabatangan area to connect this corridor, supported by funds from Japanese individuals.

At the same time, it also raised awareness to deal with the continuing challenges concerning our conservation efforts for the benefit of wildlife and the environment, including restoring Malaysia's image in the oil palm industry.

In recent years, Sabah oil palm plantation companies have been accused of being insensitive to the existence and the well-being of the highly endangered large mammals of Borneo such as the Orang Utan, Sumatran Rhino, Bornean Elephant and Probocis Monkey.

As a result of this negative portrayal of the industry, the MPOC (responsible for marketing and promotion of oil palm products worldwide) has taken a serious interest and affirmative action to environmental sustainability, biodiversity conservation and wildlife preservation.

"Once we understand a specie conservation (or threat) status, then we know how to move forward. Our joint studies will help identify which species are threatened, where they occur, and what threatens their survival.
With that knowledge, we find ways to act that can begin to reverse the population decline."

Pinso said the survey was in collaboration with the Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project (KOCP), a conservation project operated by a private non-governmental organisation called HUTAN, which is based in Kinabatangan Sabah, and has been working towards the conservation of the OU in Sabah since 1998.

In addition, the recent signing of a Tripartite Agreement between BCT, MPOC and Bursa Malaysia at the recently concluded International Palm Oil Sustainable Conference (IPOSC) at Kota Kinabalu in April 2008 is "timely and applauded".

Further conservation measures undertaken through this networking would be to ensure that oil palm plantations are doing their part in ensuring that the building up of good wildlife corridor in the Kinabatangan/Segama areas, planting fruit trees as food sources for wildlife, re-stocking the river reserves with trees species helps increase biodiversity and food sources for these animals.

Pinso elaborated that, "such voluntary and self-imposed policies represent a matured approach to resolving the negative perception of the oil palm industry, and how such conservation measures be further improved and appreciated to support endangered wildlife species.

"This will go down well with the global palm oil market and enhances positively Malaysia's Oil Palm products world wide, and in part fulfill its corporate social responsibility (CSR) and governance profiling them further as green investments."

This affirmative step forward is a step in the right direction to save these "pockets" of OU and lends support to the proposed Bio-diversity and restoration of river reserves as well as lands above 20 per cent slope of an oil palm plantation by planting native and fruit trees, he said.

"This should be made a national policy directive, and requires the highest decision makers including the Federal and State agencies, selected companies, the likes of Sime Darby, IOI, KLK, Felda, etc, coordinated by MPOC, and ably assisted by BCT at the Sabah level," he said.

Finally, a deliberate and well funded Community Outreach Programme (COP), which is to instill upon the various stakeholders: shareholders, directors, management, staff (both local and foreign workers) and the public to accept and embrace the co-existence of OU as very much a part and parcel of an oil palm plantation ecosystem.