KOTA KINABALU: Orang utan population within totally protected areas has increased by over 20 percent in Sabah's lower Kinabatangan since the first census was done seven years ago.
The number of orang utans orang-utans living within totally protected areas (TPA) increased from 38 percent to 60 percent, an orang utan conservationist Dr. Marc Ancrenaz said.
Dr Ancrenaz, who is co-director of the HUTAN Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme (HUTAN-KOCP), said the increasing population reflected a commitment by all, especially the state government, to protect more forest areas.
However, he did not disclose the number of orang utans within the totally protected forest areas.
The Sabah Forestry Department had recently increased the areas deemed totally protected forest reserves to help further in the conservation of orang utans and other species such as the Borneo pygmy elephant, Sunda clouded leopard, Sunbear, and hornbills and others.
“The recent areas regazetted as Class I (totally protected forest reserve) are lowland forests which are favoured for agriculture development. But the state government has shown that they value the environmental security in the long term by making them TPAs instead of going for short term profits,” Dr Ancrenaz, a wildlife veterinarian who has been working on wildlife issues in Sabah since 1998.
However, the biggest issue for orang-utan conservation in Sabah remains the problem of isolation and fragmentation of protected forests, primotologist Dr. Isabelle Lackman, who is a co-director HUTAN KOCP said in a statement.
“While the Kinabatangan has been protected by the Sabah Wildlife Department since gazetting in 2005, the Sanctuary is very broken up with some protected forests being totally isolated and this is not healthy for the long term survival of orang utan in the area,” Lackman explained.
“Our studies have shown that we need to reconnect patches of forest to ensure that we have a viable orang utan population for the future and this can be achieved by reconnecting these forest either by having patches of forest that orang utans can travel through or a contiguous corridor of forest,” Lackman added.
She felt that all planned and future conversion of even small forest patches needs to be stopped to ensure the viability of the long-term survival of the orang utan population in the lower Kinabatangan.