Sunday, June 30, 2013

Exciting, shocking find in Maliau Basin survey

LAHAD DATU: Despite various efforts to monitor encroachment by the relevant authorities, the Maliau Basin Conservation Area (MBCA), dubbed as Sabah’s ‘Lost World’, is still facing threat of environmental and wildlife disturbance as poachers and gaharu (sandalwood) collectors are occasionally intruding into the protected area.

This was the shocking discovery during a ten-day intensive resource and wildlife inventory survey to the pristine rain forest by local researchers, including this writer, recently.

Several members of the survey team not only found hard and fresh evidence of encroachment such as bullet casings, camping sites, hunting and fishing paraphernalia and graffiti on tree trunks but even came into close encounters with a band of suspected poachers or gaharu collectors.

In fact, three suspected poachers even ‘registered’ their presence by peeping into one of the 132 camera traps set up in scattered places by the survey team to capture wildlife presence in the Class 1 protected forest.

“After we destroyed the suspected poachers’ camping site, we were surprised when they suddenly appeared and fearing for our safety, we had to run away,” said Sharon Koh from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF Malaysia), who participated in the field study.

A check with the Maliau Basin Studies Centre, an administrative centre for MBCA, revealed that the poaching and gaharu collectors’ activities are mainly confined to the MBCA buffer zone area, which plays a critical role in the protection of the MBCA.

The buffer zone is where most immediate threats to the 58,840-hectare MBCA are addressed in a tactical sense, including blocking the intrusion of hunters, loggers and gaharu collectors from entering the core areas.

Yayasan Sabah rangers with the cooperation of other government agencies, especially the Sabah Wildlife Department have been regularly patrolling the buffer zone as well as MBCA’s core areas to check out intruders, while rangers’ posts were also set up in several places, including Sungai Kuamut and Lake Linumunsut.

The intensive field survey however produced an impressive listing of mammals and birds, including rare and endangered species living in the untouched wilderness, characterized by diverse assemblage of forest types with complex river systems and dozens of beautiful waterfalls.

The local researchers comprising 137 participants were from Yayasan Sabah, University Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Parks, WWF Malaysia, Sabah Institute for Development Studies (IDS) and Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Program (HUTAN-KOCP), INIKEA and Sabah Environmental Trust (SET).

The flora and fauna inventory survey, which started on June 14, covered almost the entire conservation area, except the 15,000-ha heritage zone which was set aside for future generations to explore in the next 50 years (no sooner than 2050).

The intensive study confirmed that the protected area, which is slightly larger than Penang island, is home to some of Sabah’s most rare and endangered species, including Pigmy Elephants, Orang Utans and Proboscis Monkeys. Researchers also recorded the presence of other mammals through direct sighting or captured by camera traps such as Clouded Leopards, Malayan Sunbear, Barking Deer, Mousedeers, Banded Palm Civet, Bay Cat, Short-tail Mongoose, Borneon Gibbon, Porcupines, Pangolins and Langur.

The exciting list of birds recorded includes Bulwer’s Pheasant, Giant Pitta, Bathawk, Red-Bearded Bee-eater, Borneo Ground Cuckoo, White-fronted Falconet, Crested Fireback, Borneon Bristlehead, Scarlet-rumped Trogon and Borneon Bristlehead.

Alim Biun from Sabah Parks who is also an expert on birds confirmed that all eight living species of Borneon hornbills, including the Helmeted Hornbill, are also found in the 588.4 sq km conservation area.