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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : Oil palm sector can help save wildlife

Oil palm sector can help save wildlife

  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 Saturday.

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 sanctuaries.

"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 conditions.

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.



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