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Protecting the Last Great Forests of Northern Borneo

Malaysia

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  • Sunda Pangolin. Photo by Chien Lee/wildborneo.com

The rainforests of Sabah on the Malaysian portion of the Southeast Asian island of Borneo are among the most biodiverse in the tropics. However, the area’s numerous endemic and endangered species are at high risk due to habitat destruction caused by deforestation and agricultural conversion. To combat this threat, the government of Sabah has pledged to increase the extent of protected areas from a current 23 percent of land area to 30 percent, safeguarding nearly one million acres of rainforest over the next four years.

To implement this initiative, the Sabah government has urgently requested high quality analysis on where to strategically create new protected areas. Rainforest Trust is collaborating with local partner South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) with critical technical input from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory to generate high-resolution maps that integrate land use with biodiversity information.

The resulting data will identify the most critical and strategic areas to ensure a connected network of protected areas that will greatly benefit species such as Bornean Orangutans, Sunda Pangolins, Helmeted Hornbills, Borneo Pygmy Elephants and Clouded Leopards.

Through stakeholder engagement, cost-benefit options will be generated to reach consensus on an optimal scenario for rainforest protection in northern Borneo. Recommendations will be taken forward by Rainforest Trust and SEARRP to the Sabah Forestry Department to create new protected areas.

Biodiversity

  • Helmeted Hornbill Photo by Christian Goers

The rainforests of Sabah are among the most biologically rich ecosystems in Southeast Asia, and they contain high numbers of endemic and threatened species (many of which have been hunted to near-exhaustion elsewhere on the island of Borneo). This includes the largest remaining population of Bornean Orangutans, whose status has recently been increased to Critically Endangered due to the destruction and fragmentation of their habitats.

Other Critically Endangered species found in Sabah include the Sunda Pangolin, whose numbers have been decimated due to poaching for its meat and scales, as well as the Helmeted Hornbill that has been hunted for its sought-after casque and has lost much of its habitat because of logging and agricultural conversion.

Challenges

  • Oil Palm. Photo by Lian Pin Koh/flickr

Deforestation of Sabah’s unprotected forests continues at alarming rates. The serious threat of conversion of these forests for timber and oil palm remains extraordinarily high. Additionally, uncontrolled burning continues to severely impact Borneo’s forests, which are also being logged on unsustainable cutting cycles. Until these forests are fully protected, timber harvesting will certainly continue– resulting in further forest degradation, biodiversity losses and increased vulnerability to fire.

Communities

  • THIRTY-NINE INDIGENOUS GROUPS MAKE UP 55% OF SABAH'S POPULATION. PHOTO BY CIFOR.

Any local communities residing within or adjacent to the new protected areas will be indigenous to Sabah. They are likely to be impoverished, forest dependent communities that are reliant on subsistence livelihoods with limited access to markets.

Guided by local customs and using participatory methods, local partners will ensure that communities are informed and consulted and will seek their free, prior and informed consent. Where consent and support for a proposed protected area has been obtained, communities will be engaged as active participants in the conservation planning process to develop equitable solutions that enable the new protected areas to also support community rights and livelihoods. With this emphasis on engagement, local partners, government agencies and communities can discuss mutually beneficial solutions that enable communities to protect areas that are important for their livelihood, security, well-being and cultural maintenance.

Solutions

  • 3D CHEMICAL IMAGING of forest. Photo by Carnegie Airborne Observatory.

Rainforest Trust will work with SEARRP to analyze data collected from decades of field research and from aerial surveys in 2015 to determine biodiversity levels and value of sites. Maps will then be integrated with GIS information regarding existing forest protection, threats and unallocated land parcels to generate an explicit network of new protected areas, taking into account the critical need for forest habitat connectivity.

Pre-existing commercial contracts and government development projects will need to be identified and evaluated. Local populations and communities will be surveyed in order to establish tenure, user and access rights, as well as community reliance on the target areas for ecological services. Through a series of workshops and consultations, consensus will be built to balance conservation imperatives, community requirements and development targets.

All of these activities will result in a prioritization plan for where the new protected areas should be placed. The Sabah Forestry Department is committed to creating new protected areas once this analysis is done. Once designated, boundaries will be marked in accordance with the Sabah Forestry Department’s standard procedures. Patrol teams will be comprised of Sabah Forestry Department rangers, honorary wardens and rangers appointed from local communities to ensure the continued protection of the designated areas.

Support a Protected Area Analysis by the Sabah Forestry Department
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