Wildlife NGO embarks on dolphin conservation project


Confirmed sighting: A small pod of Irrawaddy dolphins seen in Tawau coastal waters. (Photo courtesy of Shavez Cheema).

KOTA KINABALU: A team of conservationists is embarking on a dolphin conservation project by engaging with local communities.

Shavez Cheema, founder of 1StopBorneo Wildlife, said he sighted dolphins in Sabah’s waters during his research on frogs and mammals.

“A partner of mine who specialises in the study of insects has also reported seeing dolphins in residential areas close to the sea, ” he said.

He said there was a need to create more awareness about dolphins and felt that the best way to protect and conserve them was through engagement with locals.

1StopBorneo Wildlife aims to develop new ways to save animals, among others.

Cheema said there were four main dolphin species seen in Sabah waters – the Irrawaddy dolphin (measuring 2.5m), the finless porpoise (1.9m), the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (3.9m) and the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (2.8m).

He said their wildlife team will investigate populations of these animals in estuaries and bays through the Sabah Dolphin Conservation Project.

Locals can get more involved through education and job creation via conservation tourism, he added.

In conservation tourism, the knowledge held by local fishermen would be valuable as they could be hired to guide tourists on dolphin-spotting safaris, he said.

This would provide an additional source of income for the fishermen, he added.

Cheema said the second component of the project was to raise awareness among coastal communities about the impact of human activities on dolphins.

This could be done, for example, by working with schools to develop “plastic bag free” policies, he said.

“Our engagement with these communities, making use of their knowledge of the coast, will enable them to help us monitor the dolphin population and behaviour.”

Cheema said an additional benefit of “dolphin watching” was that local folk would be able to patrol estuaries, bays and coast to spot illegal fishing.

“By studying dolphins, we hope to obtain further evidence of ecological change, ” he said.

At one of the NGO’s proposed sites in Sabah, the 1StopBorneo Wildlife team recorded up to 30 individual dolphins that were not in large pods during a day-long observation of the mammals.

They hope to include night surveys, using mounted spotlights, to broaden their understanding of dolphin movement and behaviour.

“The Irrawaddy dolphins and humpback dolphins have already been regularly observed by members of our project team and, interestingly, sometimes dolphins have been recorded close to the shoreline and villages, ” he said.

If successful, their Sabah survey will be expanded to other parts of the Borneo coast, including Sarawak, Brunei and Indonesia, and would involve working with other conservation groups.

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