Saving threatened habitats worldwide

A forest teeming with wildlife must be protected

21 February, 2014 - 14:44 -- World Land Trust
Simon in a boat on the Menanggul River.

Simon Lyster visited Sabah in northern Borneo to see for himself the very real threats to the remaining forest of Kinabatangan. He explains why donations to the Borneo Rainforest Appeal of World Land Trust (WLT) are so important.

Donate to Borneo Rainforest Appeal

This was my first visit to Sabah and I had been warned that I must expect to be depressed about the loss of forest habitat. It was a shocking experience but a wonderful one too. Let me explain.

“I was shocked by how much forest in Sabah has been destroyed by oil palm plantations.”
(Simon Lyster, WLT Trustee)

I was shocked by how much forest in Sabah has been destroyed by oil palm plantations. The strip of remaining protected forest along the Kinabatangan River is extremely thin and vulnerable (50-500 metres wide on either side of the river in the area I visited). It has also been heavily logged over the years.

The river is badly polluted (mostly by siltation but also other pollutants from the oil palm plantations and oil palm mills), and as a result capacity for sustainable livelihoods for the communities living along the river has been adversely affected. Human-animal conflict is also a problem. Bornean Pygmy Elephants may be the smallest species of elephant but they are still big animals who are squeezed into narrow strips of forest, so inevitably they raid neighbouring farmers’ crops for food.

There has been a big increase in tourism which is partly good, but is also a problem. Too many people are chasing the tourist dollar, local people struggle to generate enough income from it, and the tourist experience is diminished by the number of tourist boats on the river.

This all sounds depressing, but on the other hand the forest that is left is still teeming with wildlife.

“With adequate protection and reforestation in degraded parts, the forest will become healthier over time.”
(Simon Lyster, WLT Trustee)

The key reason for this is that unlike so many forest peoples around the world, the local communities along the Kinabatangan have no tradition of hunting wild animals. With no significant hunting pressure, and a forest that is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity, wildlife continues to thrive. There are still healthy numbers of mammals, birds and reptiles that one would not find in other forest of similar quality.

With adequate protection and reforestation in degraded parts, the forest will become healthier over time. Endangered species living in the forest, like Orang-utan and Proboscis Monkey, appear to be doing well. Orang-utans have proven to be highly adaptable in terms of living and breeding in degraded forest, even occasionally feeding in nearby oil palm plantations when food sources are scarce in the fragmented protected forests.

In addition, it is heartening to see strong support at both community and government level for the forest conservation work of Hutan, WLT’s conservation partner in Malaysia, and for the Keruak Corridor – Hutan’s current project, which WLT is supporting. Importantly, the Keruak Corridor project is stimulating much needed interaction and engagement with plantation owners. If land owners are prepared to donate land along the river to turn back in to forest and – importantly – to stem pollution, there is a real opportunity for significant future conservation gain in Kinabatangan.

“It is clear that WLT’s donations for the Keruak Corridor - £885,000 to date - are hugely important in conserving threatened forest and species.”
(Simon Lyster, WLT Trustee)

From my visit to Kinabatangan and the Keruak Corridor, and the meetings that I had with all the various stakeholders, it is clear that WLT’s donations for the Keruak Corridor - £885,000 to date - are hugely important in conserving threatened forest and species.

Raising funds for WLT’s Borneo Rainforest Appeal is well worth the effort. Purchasing pockets of land along the Kinabatangan River to form a corridor between two existing reserves means that the whole corridor is protected, and WLT has an excellent local partner in Hutan.

It is particularly pleasing to discover that not only the Keruak Corridor vitally important in itself, but the project has the potential to serve as an invaluable trigger to secure other corridors along the Kinabatangan through engagement with local stakeholders.

More information

Simon is Vice Chair of WLT Trustees. He was in Sabah 25-30 November 2013, and his travel costs were covered by Northumbrian Water.

Read more about his trip: Exploring the rainforest of Borneo's Kinabatangan »

Borneo Rainforest Appeal: million pound target in sight »

Saving the Bornean rainforest for Orang-utans: it’s now or never »

Donate to Borneo Rainforest Appeal

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