Malaysia: Orang utan conservation paying dividends

YUJI and STEPHANIE LEE The Star 12 Jul 16;

KUCHING: Both Sarawak and Sabah claim their orang utan conservation efforts are paying dividends in the wake of an international report listing the primate as critically endangered.

The Sarawak government said it was leading the conservation efforts, having stemmed habitat loss for the great Asian ape within its borders.

Assistant Environment Minister Datuk Len Talif Salleh said the orang utan population had stabilised at about 2,500.

The state, he said, had not only stopped approving new plantations, its anti-logging drive was also bearing fruit.

“Orang utan have long reproduction cycles. We are hopeful that their numbers can increase in Sarawak,” Talif said yesterday.

Talif said the state would declare protected areas whenever new habitats were identified, adding that currently, there were only three in Sarawak.

In a report, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared the Bornean orang utan (Pongo pygmaeus) as critically endangered, adding that the primate now faced an “extremely high risk of extinction in the wild”.

Sarawak, said Talif, was making good on its commitment to combat illegal logging and poaching.

“Sarawak spends more per orang utan than on forest enforcers. We spend between RM2,000 and RM3,000 per enforcer but overall, we spend about RM10,000 per orang utan.

“We have drones and new real-time monitoring systems in place,” he said.

Talif said it had taken 20 years since a flora and fauna masterplan was drawn up to have the right legal framework and institutional structure and now Sarawak needed “more scientific knowledge and financial support”.

Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia director Dr Melvin Gumal said IUCN’s classification was partly based on a 2011 paper on the primate’s dwindling habitat in Kalimantan. Other sources included habitat mapping showing an increasingly scattered population in Borneo.

Calling the new classification as “fair”, Dr Gumal agreed that more needed to be done in Kalimantan.

“The numbers went down an estimated 60% between 1950 and 2010. There is another projection that says we could lose another 22% between 2010 and 2025. It’s due to habitat degradation and loss, and hunting.”

The bulk of the habitat changes were due to land use conversion, mostly for plantations in Kalimantan, he said.

In Kota Kinabalu, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said Sabah’s conservation efforts had been internationally recognised.

“Our conservation efforts towards saving the orang utan have actually paid off and even won accolades internationally.”

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