God save Sabah's Wildman of Borneo!
As a lawyer, Masidi Manjun couldn’t have made a stronger case against relocating Sabah’s endangered orang-utans to the peninsula to entertain tourists. Why, he asks, didn’t God put them there in the first place? The last 45,000 of the primates are found only on Borneo island, the world’s third largest, and the Indonesian Sumatra province.
That’s why they have been nicknamed The Wildman of Borneo. But 11,000 of the pongo pygmaeus morio are in Sabah. In the 1980s, there were more than 20,000 of them, but down from 500,000 a century ago. “The state government's stand is very clear,” says the minister of tourism, culture and environment. “We will not relocate our orang-utans.”
There is enough scientific evidence that the orang-utans would not survive in the peninsular forests: their eco-system is different from that of Sabah and tigers, none in Borneo, threaten the red apes. But the most compelling reason is that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says that endangered great apes cannot be removed from its original habitat.
“This means that we cannot simply put the orang-utans in a peninsular jungle or park,” Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah wildlife department, tells Insight Sabah. “They are given high priority for conservation by the IUCN Species Survival Commission in the Asian Primate Specialist Group.”
Earlier this year the federal government announced plans to set up an “ape sanctuary in the city” by taking orang-utans from Sabah’s Sepilok rehabilitation centre in Sandakan to live in a man-made forest close to Kuala Lumpur city.
The aim is to attract more tourists to the national capital as part of an eco-tourism strategy, according to federal deputy tourism minister James Dawos Mamit. Tourism is Malaysia’s second income earner. Last year almost 24m tourists visited the 13-state federation and gave it 53 billion ringgit ($16 billion).
But the plans were quickly shot down by primatologists, environmentalists and Sabah government officials who fear the arboreal anthropoid apes will not survive in a different eco-system. Mr Mamit, a scientist by training and who calls himself an environmental expert, spoke enthusiastically of the city ape sanctuary to reporters three days after he was made deputy tourism minister on January 13.
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