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Plantations can play a key role in saving endangered wildlife - Dr John Payne

Sabah Stakeholders Collaborate To Save Endangered Wildlife In Plantations

September 6, 2023

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This article by Bernama is timely as it alludes to several key issues in nature conservation that deserve greater attention and action, by governments (in terms of land policy), corporate oil palm growers (in terms of their wider responsibility, in view of the vast areas of formerly biodiverse lowlands that they now control) and civil society organisations (in term of what roles they can and should be playing). The WWF landscape approach is certainly not only valid, but necessary. A big weakness inherent in the RSPO approach, and in national sustainable palm oil standards that followed, is that certification is done at management unit level, with its arbitrary straight lines and scale much less than needed to address endangered species populations.

The landscape approach aims to address that – but I do have a significant concern. When I started out in the wildlife world in the 1970s, there was a term ‘wildlife management’. The thinking, explicit since 1937 in The Journal of Wildlife Management, and the expressed well by the New Zealand biologist Graeme Caughley in his seminal writings in the 1970s, was that wildlife (we would now use the term ‘biodiversity’) needs to be managed according to three possible situation. One is to reduce the population size of species that have, due to human use of the biosphere, become overly numerous. Another is to keep populations at a more-or-less constant size (in that era, that might be done by managed hunting – but the principle can be used much more broadly). And thirdly is to take actions to increase the population of species that are threatened or endangered. The latter is called conservation.

Nowadays, the third situation is applied rather indiscriminately, initially by NGOs and now by government and academic institutions. But ‘conservation’ alone will not necessarily bring back rare species to viable populations. Human interventions are often needed. Even the three core pillars of Protect, Produce, and Restore are quite timid, and miss out the need to enrich and re-create conditions for threatened species to recover. As noted in this excellent article, Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA for short and rebranded as 'Bring Back Our Rare Animals') was delegated by government to help prevent the extinction of the Asian Hairy Rhinoceros. The failure was due to a combination of factors, not least a chronic declining demography and low population density that meant that, in the absence of human interventions to boost births, the species was condemned to eventual extinction by the early twentieth century.

The big lesson is – or should be – determine what the real issues are and intervene to solve them. Do not, for example, blame poaching when there are not enough births even in the absence of poaching. Do not blame habitat loss, when that loss has been going on for decades and there is now insufficient habitat to sustain a viable population. Do something about it. Corridors are certainly helpful, but we must recognise that, often, the issue is that there remains simply not enough habitat now. And habitat means not only space, but how much food can be supplied daily to endangered species. For tigers, that means populations of deer and wild pigs need to be adequate. This is why the idea of enriching oil palm plantations with key orangutan food plants on ‘set-aside’ areas within the plantations is so crucial in the mixed oil palm forest Kinabatangan region of eastern Sabah. The same could equally apply to many areas in Kalimantan.

For the highly endangered wild cattle species of Malaysia (seladang in Peninsular Malaysia and Bornean banteng in Borneo), as well as wild elephants, their limiting resource is grass. Sure, they need shade and some woody plants, just as humans need a roof over their head and some fruit and veggie, but assured availability of staple food items is even more important. Do not forget that the most significant element in the demography of humans, wild animals and plants too, is the presence of fertile females, the ones bearing and rearing the next generation. And there have to be quite a few. It is always exciting for naturelovers to see camera trap images of a wild mother animal and her young. But do not forget that she might be the last one in the study area. So: identify and intervene are the watchwords on wildlife conservation.


Two of BORA’s projects are featured in the 2022 Annual Report of the Sabah Forestry Department. Read articles on our ongoing work at the  Sabah Ficus Germplasm Centre in Tabin Wildlife Reserve and current efforts Developing Feeding Grounds for Large Herbivorous Mammals in Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

Read here at this Link.

Sime Darby Foundation Plans Rhino Sanctuary in Sabah

June 30, 2009

A Plan to Bring Isolated Borneo Rhinos Together

August 18, 2009

Reprieve for rhinos

August 18, 2009