The iconic orang utan is a protected species in Malaysia, found only in the states of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo. In Sarawak, the known orang utan habitats are located in two main areas.

At the Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary, their numbers are estimated to be around 1,600; they roam freely in these contiguous protected areas. The other areas – where the population is smaller – are the Ulu Sebuyau National Park and Sedilu National Park.

The orang utan habitats in all four locations have been designated as Totally Protected Areas (TPAs). Put another way, all the known habitats in Sarawak are under the protection of state laws. This is demonstrated, for example, in procedures for access to TPAs.

To enter a national park, one requires a permit from the Controller of National Parks and Nature Reserves; to enter a wildlife sanctuary, one requires a permit from the Controller of Wildlife. To conduct research in a TPA, one must obtain a research permit from the State Secretary; only then will the respective Controllers issue a permit.

In the global context, Malaysia is a signatory to multiple multilateral treaties on environmental protection – from the Rio 1992 Earth Summit to the Conference of Parties on climate change in 2015. Malaysia continues to uphold its 1992 pledge to preserve 50% of its land as forest. This commitment has been recognised by the United Nations and the World Bank, among others.

It also illustrates that Malaysia is among world leaders in forest protection. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report – ‘Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015’ – measured Malaysia’s forest area as 22,195,100 ha or 67.6% of the land area.

This decreased only slightly over the past 25 years, and at a rate of decrease that is lower than that of developed countries like Australia or Canada. Between 2010 and 2015, Malaysia’s forest area rose by an annual average of 14,000 ha. In other words, its forest area is increasing, not decreasing.

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Conservation projects

For a holistic approach to management and protection of orang utan habitats, the Sarawak government collaborated with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 2015 to draw up a ‘Strategic Action Plan’. Among other measures, this will extend the Batang Ai National Park boundary to the area around Ulu Sungai Menyang, where surveys estimate the presence of 200 orang utan.

The pledge to conserve the animal and its habitats was reinforced by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem at the ‘For Animals Conference’ held in Kuching in December 2015. This added to earlier initiatives that year:

  • In July, at the Great Apes Survival Partnership meeting in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, he indicated that Sarawak would embark on an orang utan-led environment and biodiversity policy.
  • In August, he launched the Research for Intensified Management of Bio-rich Areas of Sarawak project. One objective is to provide a platform for international collaborative research in developing intensive, practical conservation management procedures for bio-rich areas. These will include conservation of the orang utan.
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In addition, the Sarawak Forestry Corporation set up a Centre of Excellence for Orang Utan Conservation at the Batang Ai National Park in 2015. Data and findings from research will be used to draw up a comprehensive management plan.

Sarawak’s stance on conservation of the orang utan has won praise from WCS Director of Malaysia Programme Dr Melvin Gumal. He told The Borneo Post (Aug 7, 2015) that he is not aware of any other jurisdiction that has set this kind of focus.


 

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