Hope for Asia’s wildlife: Reforestation measures and new wildlife corridors in Borneo
Owing to their high emission of CO2 and the destruction of large forest areas, the forest fires burning in Southeast Asia since this year’s summer lead to an environmental disaster of unsuspected dimensions. The yearly forest fires went out of control due to the extremely dry weather conditions and already seem to have caused the worst destructions since the fires of 1997/98. One of the world’s most species-rich habitats is destroyed to clear land for new oil palm plantations. A ray of hope for Asia’s wildlife is presented by the agreement between the Rhino and Forest Fund (RFF) and the state government of Sabah, Malaysia, signed on 11th November 2015. The memorandum of understanding lays the foundation for urgently needed reforestation measures of degraded rain forest areas and the establishment of wildlife corridors. A further milestone is a donation of more than 460 ha of forest land, initiated by the RFF, given to the Sabah Forestry Department on 11th November 2015. This area, being essential as a wildlife corridor between already existing nature reserves, shall be declared as conservation area as well.
The extremely rich fauna and flora of Borneo is not only threatened by uncontrolled fire clearance but also by the exploitation, devastation and fragmentation of the forests and by poaching. “The Sumatra Rhino becomes extinct right before our eyes. In Borneo only a few wild rhinoceroses still exist, while in Sumatra numbers of approximately 100 animals are estimated”, explains Dr Petra Kretzschmar of the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW). Measures must be taken immediately to prevent the loss of additional species such as banteng, clouded leopard, orangutan, tapir and elephant. In particular the restoration and connection of degraded and fragmented forest areas as well as the protection of the remaining larger forest tracts have to be tackled. “We only have the very short time-frame of a few years to save and interconnect the crucial forest areas. Otherwise there will be little hope for a lot of species, because the shrinking and isolated forest remnants can less and less support viable populations. However, if all parties do their best, we can succeed and revers this trend! This especially applies for Sabah, where the document signed today confirms the support of local authorities. This MOU may be just a small step forward, but it's pointing the way ahead towards a urgently needed new, constructive and efficient conservation work”, states Robert Risch, co-founder and director of RFF.
The agreement between the RFF and the government of the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo aims to preserve, reforest and interconnect the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, located in the north east of Borneo. The 120.000 ha reserve serves as one of the most important retreat areas for endangered species in Borneo. It is entirely enclosed by palm oil plantations and swamps and offers no chance for the exchange with surrounding reserves. The RFF has been working on establishing connections to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve since 2010. Up to now two territories with a total area of 25 ha have been reforested with native tree species. One of these territories is a wildlife corridor, which is currently the only protected dry land connection between Tabin and several bigger reserves in the north of Tabin.
Together with the signing of the memorandum of understanding the most unprecedented land donation in the history of Sabah was made available by a local forest owner. Conveyed through the RFF and the Sabah Forestry Department, he provided an area in the value of approx. 3 million Euros for nature protection. The area is of great importance as a wildlife corridor between the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and the Kulamba Wildlife Reserve, a further conservation area. The RFF now aims at restoring the partly degraded areas.
In the following years the RFF will continue to identify strategically important areas to prevent their deforestation and will try to acquire crucial parts of oil palm estates to reconvert them back to natural forest.
Thereby the RFF will focus on the extension of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and the establishment of further connections with smaller adjacent forest fragments, to achieve a network of connected protected areas of sufficient size and quality.
The RFF is an independent non-governmental organization (NGO), which was established in 2009 out of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the University of Zurich. The work of RFF is primarily founded by the Zoo Leipzig as well as private donations. In Sabah the RFF closely cooperates with local authorities like the Sabah Forestry Department, the Sabah Wildlife Department, as well as local NGOs and other stake-holders. But the RFF also acts in Europe:
“We do not only operate in Borneo. Through lectures at Swiss universities and technical colleges as well as presentations in Switzerland and Germany we sensitize the public also in Europe for strategic land use and the conservation of biodiversity”, explains Dr. Philippe Saner, expert for reforestation at the University of Zurich.