Thursday, August 09, 2012

Sabah Wildlife refutes inaction on orangutan killing claims

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) yesterday strongly refuted allegations that it has accepted “massive” sums of money from the palm oil industry to close their eyes on the illegal killing of orangutans in Sabah.

Sabah has always been proactive in its task to monitor wildlife and to enforce laws against wildlife poachers and killers, said SWD director Dr Laurentius Ambu in response to the statements and allegations that were published in print media and on the Internet.

“The illegal killing of critically endangered species such as orangutans has become a rarity in Sabah.

“We would be more than happy to work hand in hand with organizations such as TRAFFIC and hope that they would share any evidence regarding poaching or even trade of orangutans in Sabah.

“We will definitely take action and prosecute the culprits,” Laurentius stressed.

“We do acknowledge the fact that poaching of other wildlife such as pangolins and porcupines that end up in the Chinese market in China is a real problem and we are working very closely with the Royal Malaysian Police, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and Malaysian Customs to end this traffic,” he said.

Laurentius also commented on the issue raised by UK based non-governmental organization, Nature Alert, that 300 orangutans were allegedly killed over the past eight years in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS) purportedly due to the expansion of oil palm industry.

“The fact that the LKWS has been totally protected since 2002 and that the total sanctuary area of 25,000 hectares has remained unchanged is direct testimony to the falsehood of this baseless allegation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Marc Ancrenaz of HUTAN, a French-based NGO working in Sabah for the past 12 years, has been monitoring orangutan populations throughout LWKS and concluded that “the reduction of orangutans in LKWS was not due to poaching or illegal killings”.

He said “the idea that 300 orangutans were killed or poached by people whether from the oil palm plantations or by hunters is preposterous.”

“Through one of our first projects that HUTAN initiated, we have trained more than 50 villagers and they are now permanently monitoring wildlife activities in the LKWS. If 300 orangutans had been illegally killed in oil palm plantations, we would know it,” he said.

Cardiff University’s conservation geneticist and SWD senior advisor Dr Benoit Goossens also shared his view on the matters that were raised.

“In 2010, we published the results of a population viability analysis on the orangutan populations in the LKWS.

“Using current genetic data gathered in the population, we modeled the probability of extinction of orangutans in the different forest fragments, taking into account the possibility of inbreeding depression.

“In less than 250 years, 60% of the forest fragments would lose their orangutan populations if there were no intervention such as translocation and corridor establishment,” he said.

Dr Benoit explained that while there is no doubt that the oil palm industry is responsible for forest loss and habitat fragmentation in the LKWS, one cannot say that 300 orangutans have been murdered in the LKWS and blame the Sabah Wildlife Department for not prosecuting the killers.

“What we are observing in the LKWS is a natural process due to high fragmentation and isolation of small populations of orangutans. What need to be done is restoring connectivity between these populations, and protect the remaining forests,” stressed Goossens.

Borneo Rhino Alliance executive director Datuk Dr Haji Junaidi Payne, when asked to comment, said that the deliberate killing of orang-utans is no longer a significant issue of concern in Sabah.

“The last cases of which I am aware date from more than ten years ago. Of greater concern is that landowners in Sabah continue to clear forest where orang-utans occur and then plant oil palms.

“Typically, they bought the land cheaply from Sabahans in the 1980s and 1990s. Conditions of land title force the landowners to convert forest to oil palm.