Malaysia: Orang utans of Malua branch out

New Straits Times 24 Aug 11;

KOTA KINABALU: A plot of forest where logging had ceased appears to have helped the survival chances of its resident orang utan.

Experts believe some 500 orang utans can be found in the 34,000ha Malua area, located between the Kinabatangan and Lahad Datu districts.

An international expert, Dr Marc Acrenaz said the area, also known as Malua Biobank, supports one of the highest densities of the species.

"The Malua Biobank is critically important for the survival of the orangutan," he said, adding that the species were slowly becoming endangered due to habitat loss.

"For an orang utan to survive, it is important to preserve large contiguous blocks of lowland rainforests," Dr Acrenaz added. Sabah Forestry Department Malua Wildlife Unit Leader Hadrin Lias said the discovery was made following recent ground and aerial surveys.

"The area is one of the most important refuge for orang utans in Borneo," he said, adding this was the result of conservation efforts.

Hadrin said revealed that logging in the area ceased in 2007 and was has been regularly patrolled by the authorities. A second 'wildlife' bridge was recently constructed across the Malua river to allow orang utans from outside the plot to enter.

The bridges, made up of chains, provide the primate hand and footholds to cross the river, mimicking overhanging tree branches.

The Malua Biobank is a pioneering public-private partnership to restore and protect endangered lowland rainforests, established in 2008. It also manages environmental credit sales, which in turn, would be utilised to run its conservation activities.

It is a joint venture between the Sabah Forestry Department, the Sabah Foundation or Yayasan Sabah and the EcuProducts Fund.

Darius Sarshar, director of New Forests Asia, the company that manages the Malua Biobank, said the results reinforced the significance of the initiative.