| By Chris Maskilone
July 2, 2002
KOTA KINABALU: Representing some 29 percent of the country's 3.52
million hectacres of plantation areas, the oil palm sector may not
only contribute to Sabah's economy but in conservation of wildlife.
This is because most of the oil palm plantations in the State surround
prominent forest reserves and wildlife sanctuaries like Tabin Wildlife
Reserve, Kulamab Wildlife Reserve, Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary
and Danum Valley Conservation Areas.
Clearing of forested land for oil palm planting is alos ongoing
on a substantial scale in the district of Sugut/Paitan, said Khoo
Eng Min, Simon Siburat and Simon Geh in their papers entitled "The
Possible Role of Oil Palm Plantation in Wildlife Conservation".
Khoo is the PPB Oil Palms Bhd Sabah General Manager, Simon the
Manager of the Eco-Management Unit and Geh the Senior Estate Officer
of the Sbabhmas Plantations Incharge of Conservation. They tabled
this view at the Second Sumatran Rhino Conservation Seminar here
Therefore, issue of defragmentation of land as a result of plantation
expansion is a major source of concern when plantation development
takes place around or near the sensitive areas in the likes of wildlife
"Fragmentation of habitats is a major concern and often occurs
with human intrusion into habitat spaces, which has led to increased
human wildlife-conflict, especially between human and elephants
(among others)", they said.
Plantation development often isolates habitat into smaller islands
or displace wildlife that have been ousted from the diminished habitat,
therefore the only logical solution is to have a better land use
planning in the issuing of agriculture land.
Collaboration between the local authorities or NGOs to get around
these conflicts is equally important, while stakeholders and the
oil palm industry as a whole should work towards sustainable agriculture.
"It has long been known that oil palm estates with an adjacent
forest/wildlife reserves or newly cleared jungle areas will inevitably
have regular visits from the inhabitants of the forest".
In Borneo, grasses, herbs or shrubs that are low in digestion inhibiting
fibre and tannins are low enough for all ruminants to reach are
very scarce inside the forests, and only found abundantly on riverbanks,
clearings in the jungle and cultivated land.
The Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), for example, is dependent on
the new shoots of shrubs found in abundance in oil palm estates
and the grazing Tembadau (Bos javanicus) is attracted to lush grass
found only in clearings. In this respect, Khoo, Simon, and Geh,
said oil palm planters could really assist the conservation efforts
by prohibiting of hunting such as refusing entry for known or potential
poachers into their estates that bordered a wildlife reserve.
This helps in preventing any illegal hunting within the plantation
or the wildlife reserves. Members of the plantation community should
be cautioned on the implications of all forms of hunting or trapping,
where firm and resolute penalty should be imposed to act as a deterrent.
They must also be educated that every infinitesimal reduction in
demand can potentially be a colossal determining factor for the
survival or extinction of a species.
On the onslaught of the elephants (a single elephant can consume
one hectares (or 130 palms) worth of newly-planted palms in one
night), it could be done without killing them.
Maintaining an effective electric fencing perimeter, which produces
pulse shock, with the reserve would repel the most insistent elephant.
At the same time, collaborative efforts by oil palm planters and
Wildlife Department in terms of logistic and human resources and
the possibility of the Department appointing plantation executives
as voluntary game wardens could help in eliminating poaching activities.
"Naturally, the selection of such game wardens must be discriminating,
with preference to plantations with known positive contributions
towards conservation efforts, or plantation executives who will
not abuse their authority".
Plantations and their executive should support the wildlife conservation
active NGOs while emphasizing on soft management approach on wildlife
conflicts as it could not be denied that "we" are the
intruders, while the marauders are the "natives".
It is imperative that plantation works such as clearing of land
be held in collaboration with the Wildlife Department so displaced
animals could be relocated to the safety of nearby reserve.
On another note, they said, although met with initial resistance,
plantations have now come to realize that integration of oil palm
with wildlife can yield many benefits. The large land banks under
oil palm makes it ideal for farming purposes, especially with the
abundance of grasses, herbs and shrubs, which grow under natural
Apart from the Sambar deer, heading the list of the candidates
for farming is the Bali cattle or Banteng, which, look like the
Tembadau, but not proven beyond doubt to be genetically similar.
In this respect, Tembadau itself is under dire threat of extinction,
with populations limited to only a few areas in Sabah and the farming
may very well help in increasing its number as well as for the benefit
of the plantation through proper management.
Areas that are not economically viable for planting, such as steep
hill (25 degree slope), riparian reserves and wetland areas that
subjected to continuous flooding, should be left alone for wildlife.