Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Forest conversion affecting habitats of protected animals

Personal note: This Minister is the only one in Malaysia who is known to care and speak up for protecting the environment.

Tuesday June 1, 2010 The Star, Malaysia

Forest conversion affecting habitats of protected animals

THE Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister deserves a bouquet of roses for declaring that the state’s protected animals are under threat of extinction from loss and fragmentation of habitats due to forest conversion.

This brave admission was made in his address at the International Palm Oil Sustainability Conference (IPOSC) 2010 last week before the very people who mattered – those in the palm oil industry.

He lamented that forest conversion and fragmentation had reduced the state’s orang utan population by 90%, and the number of rhinoceros to as low as 30, sometimes down to a single animal in an entire forest.

He even said that ours might be the last generation to know of wild rhinos in Sabah.
Last year, along the same line of reasoning, the Sabah Forestry Department said it regretted that oil palm companies were spending millions of ringgit “to develop illegal oil palm plantations and they recruit illegal workers, destroy forests and intimidate Forestry Department staff on the ground”.

Monocrop oil palm plantations now cover an astounding 14,000 sq km of Sabah where not so long ago some of the earth’s richest ecosystems flourished.

This area is more than twice the size of Negri Sembilan. And in neighbouring Sarawak, the rate of deforestation currently taking place to make way for oil palm is even more alarming.
Predictably, at the same conference, the Federal Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister repeated the well-worn refrain that expansion of oil palm plantations was not destroying the habitats of endangered species.

Denials of this sort do little to address legitimate concerns about how so many species are being driven rapidly to extinction and immensely valuable ecosystems are being degraded or wiped away forever in Malaysia.

While the profits from oil palm plantations may make it a steal for their owners, enormous costs and burden are imposed on neighbouring communities, society at large and future generations.

Petaling Jaya.