KOTA KINABALU, Sabah state, Malaysia The majority of the orang utan population in Sabah state have been relatively stable over the past 20 years due to the creation of new fully protected forests by the state government, say non-government organisations (NGOs) , HUTAN and Danau Girang Field Centre, two research bodies based in the state.

In a joint statement yesterday, Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens and HUTAN co-director Dr Marc Ancrenaz, thanked the state government on its goal to set aside 30 per cent of its forests as totally protected areas because it would certainly increase the orang utan’s chances of survival in Sabah state.

However, severe habitat fragmentation and further land conversion could take a heavy toll on small orang utan populations. For example, data from HUTAN and the Sabah Wildlife Department showed that the fragmented population of orang utans living in Lower Kinabatangan was about 1,100 in the early 2000’s.

“Today, this population numbers less than 800. Hunting is not an issue in Lower Kinabatangan. This decline is explained by habitat loss and the fact that orang utans need a landscape with sufficient natural forest to survive,” they said.

Both researchers said many other small groups of animals that were isolated in the late 1990s-early 2000s because of oil palm conversion were not accounted for, during the orang utan state survey of the early 2000s and most of these small populations were gone.

They said there were ways to improve the long-term survival of the orang utan, Sabah’s iconic species, which included the need to create forest corridors at the landscape level that would allow the orang utan to move across the landscape and find new lands to establish their own territories.

Here, they said the state government efforts to protect 30 per cent of the forests should be applauded as such efforts would be a game saver.

They said the move by the Sabah state chief minister to scrap the Sukau bridge that would have further fragmented the Kinabatangan orang utan population was highly commendable, adding that there was a need to ensure that no orang utan was killed.

If that happened, the poachers should be brought to justice, they added.

Both of us have been working in Sabah for more than 20 years and we sincerely believe that the majority of the orang utan population in Sabah are secure, thanks to the state government’s commitment to protect 30 per cent of their land mass.

Source: NAM News Network