Restoring and reconnecting the Tabin Wildlife Reserve

Banteng
Banteng
Bornean Pygmy elephant
Bornean Pygmy elephant
Borneorhino
Borneorhino
Dr. P. Saner checking planted tree in Tabin
Dr. P. Saner checking planted tree in Tabin
Orang Utan
Orang Utan
Project site at Tabin river
Project site at Tabin river
Project site in Tabin
Project site in Tabin
Signing of MOU 2010
Signing of MOU 2010
Sun bear
Sun bear

In November 2010 the Rhino and Forest Fund (RFF) and the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) signed an Memorandum of Understanding about the reforestation of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR) and the establishment of forest and wildlife corridors between Tabin and adjacent forest land.

The restoration work started in March 2011 with the first pilot project in cooperation with the SFD and especially the Forest Research (FRC). The project site is a 10 ha plot of degraded forest inside the TWR, that has been logged during the 80s and due to bad logging practice could not recover since these days.

Background:

Tabin Wildlife Reserve is one of the last areas on Borneo where nearly all indigenous large animals still coexist. This includes for example the Bornean Rhino, Bornean Elephant, Orang Utan, Banteng and Sun Bear. Unfortunately Tabin is almost completely isolated from other forests and surrounded by huge oil palm plantations.

To save endangered wildlife suffering from habitat fragmentation, the RFF wants to contribute to the establishment of a network of protected areas of a sufficient size and quality. This would allow interbreeding of currently separated sub-populations and help to maintain healthy populations. The restoration of certain degraded forest areas and especially the reconnection of Tabin with other conservation areas is therefore seen as absolutely crucial for the long-term survival of many threatened species in Sabah.

One of the preconditions for the RFF to get involved in Sabah was the commitment of the state government promising that all restored areas and Tabin will remain excluded from any logging activities or conversions in the future.

The aims of the project

The aims of the reforestation work are:

  • to restore the original ecosystem in degraded parts of Tabin, 
  • to raise biodiversity, 
  • to raise awareness for the meaning of the project area,
  • to enhance the carrying capacity for endangered wildlife, and 
  • to improve the connectivity between Tabin and other areas. 

Planting design and tree composition

The planting design is 8m x 8m single and cluster planting with maximum 50% of the planting points being planted with dipterocarps and the rest with species known to be beneficial for wildlife. The seedlings are planted beside the planting lines to avoid damage by elephants following the lines, an efficient strategy as mortality is so far indeed below 10%.

The target for the distribution of dipterocarps after the restoration is to end up with around 70 major trees per hectare (equivalent to natural distribution in mixed dipterocarp lowland rainforest). The dipterocarps will rebuild a new canopy to restore the original ecosystem. The concentration of the planted indigenous fruit trees is much higher than in natural forest to enhance the carrying capacity for wildlife providing food for a higher number of animals.

The location

The site has been chosen because it is near the Tabin headquarters as this area is highly degraded, easy to access for workers and visitors and close to tourist infrastructure. The area is therefore also useful for educational purposes and shall be included in ecotourist activities in the future.

Inter- and intra-specific diversity

The seedling stock consists of at least 50 different local canopy and fruit trees.

The used seedling stock is high in intra-genetic diversity too, not to have just many species, but also to have seedlings from different mother trees of the same species as much as possible. Therefore the RFF gets seedlings from more than 10 different sources to ensure a richer genetic pool for the species being planted.

Funding and extension of the project area

The funding for the first planting site comes from a German zoo (Zoo Leipzig) and from private donors. The strategy is to gather experience and credibility to convince donors with well-established pilot projects to be able to raise bigger funding for large-scale planting in the future. The project area will be extended according to available funding.

A second plot has already been planted in early 2012 to create a new wildlife corridor in the north of Tabin restoring a stretch of degraded riparian forest along the Tabin river in cooperation with the Sabah Wildlife Department and the SFD/FRC.

Initiated by RFF and Sabah Forestry Department approx. 2,300 ha of endangered forest patches have been gazetted as totally protected areas between 2015 and 2017.

In 2017 RFF seeks to purchase remaining private land parcels inside the corridor area to further improve habitat connectivity.

The last step is to purchase an oil palm estate and to restore it back to forest to eventually close the last gap between Tabin and the conservation areas in the north.

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