Monday, November 05, 2012

Oil palm plantations and floods shrink elephant habitat in Kinabatangan

KOTA KINABALU: Forests inhabited by elephants in the Kinabatangan are shrinking because they are being converted for agricultural purposes such as oil palm plantations.

A recently published study in the scientific journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS 1) looked closely at this situation, using a modeling approach to determine the size of habitat actually available to the elephants in the Kinabatangan.

This study was carried out by the Sabah Wildlife Department, Cardiff University and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), the non-government organisation, HUTAN and Antioch University New England (USA).

Dr Marc Ancrenaz, co-director of HUTAN and one of the leading authors of the study said: “Although more than 45,000 ha of forests are protected in Lower Kinabatangan, our analysis shows that only 19,000 ha are being used by the elephants. These elephants use the protected and unprotected riverine habitat up and down the Lower Kinabatangan between Batu Puteh and Abai. Furthermore, during flooding events, only 6,500 ha of forest are accessible to the elephants.”

He was quoted in a joint press release issued here yesterday by the Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre and HUTAN.

“This study clearly shows that elephants do not have much choice but to find refuge in the palm oil estates surrounding their habitat, especially during the rainy season,” said Dr Benoit Goossens, director of Danau Girang Field Centre and a co-author of the paper.

“We have been collecting satellite data of more than 10 individuals since 2008 and they confirm that elephants are spending more time in the palm oil plantations than five years ago,” explained Goossens.

Last week, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment asked for a moratorium on any new land development in the Kinabatangan floodplain in his closing remarks at the Sabah Orang-utan Conservation Dialogue held in Kota Kinabalu.