Building a wildlife corridor in the heart of Borneo
JUST LAST FEBRUARY, a report on the sighting of the rarely seen Clouded Leopards on Mount Santubong immediately sparked excitement among nature-lovers.
Secretive and solitary, it is rather difficult to study this creature as they are rarely seen anywhere in the forest and studying them can be challenging.
With a distinctive black and greyish patterned fur coat, over 2 metres in length and weighing up to 25 kg, this rare and exotic creature is severely threatened by hunting and loss of its forest habitats.
In November last year, according to Borneo Bulletin, a spotted clouded leopard was caught slipping into human habitat in Brunei when it was spotted by security guards roaming around a facility before they called the authorities. Thankfully, the leopard was caught and safely released into the wild.
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time a spotted leopard had been found roaming urban areas. Wildlife authorities have reported a lot of cases of encroachment by these big cats looking for food in recent years indicating that its natural habitat has been disturbed.
Since their living habitats have been harassed mostly by human activities such as excessive logging, deforestation and development of agriculture for crops and plants, it is no wonder these wildlife creatures have begun to invade human habitats.
These animals face difficulties in migrating to other parts of the jungle due to the scarcity of safe passage or routes for them to use. Even though there are currently 31 national parks, eight nature reserves and four wildlife sanctuaries in Sarawak, their scattered locations throughout the state and also around Borneo makes it harder for the wild animals to move around to breed, thereby limiting their gene pool.
During a presentation at the ‘Youth Green X-Change Programme – Talk on Sustainable Development’ held at Azam Complex, World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) head of conservation Dr Henry Chan said that the idea of a wildlife corridor, linking protected areas from Kalimantan to Sabah could help boost the rich ecosystem of Borneo.
So, what’s the big deal about this corridor and why are they so important?
According to conservation corridor website, Wildlife Corridors are habitats that may vary in size, shape and composition connecting fragments of patches of habitats to help the migration and movements of individuals through both disposal and migration so that the gene pool and diversity are maintained between local populations. It is by linking population throughout the landscape that there are fewer chances for wildlife animals to extinct.
In many cases of endangered species where their habitat has been disturbed, sometimes the only way they can survive is to migrate to another part of the forest for protection as well as food. The corridor may enable animals to travel a long distance.
The wildlife corridor vital to ensure the safety of animal was proven in 2012 through an 18-month intensive study conducted by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) between two areas in the fragmented Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
The long-term study which used camera traps funded by four American zoos: Houston, Columbus, Cincinnati and Phoenix was initiated by SWD to gather information on the presence/absence of wildlife in the corridor and document its use by different species.
Through the study, they identified 27 species of mammals including the extremely rare otter civet, the clouded leopard, Malayan Sun Bear, six species of birds including the endangered storm stork and it was indicated that the animals relied on the forested link to get from one patch to another.
According to DGFC Director, Dr Benoit Goossens, since there is a high diversity of mammal species and also abundance of individuals making use of the narrow corridor in the forest, without it, most animal populations would diminish and probably go extinct.
Borneo may only make up about 1% of land in the world but it holds approximately 6% of the globe’s biodiversity in its rich tropical rainforest. Our rainforest is the habitat for clouded leopards, sun bears, orang utan, proboscis monkey, pygmy elephants and hornbills.
With the high diversity of living individuals in our tropical forest, national parks have played a key role in providing habitats for wildlife animals in our tropical forest but due to these protected areas being scattered around Borneo, it is hard for these wildlife animals to migrate safely to ensure their survival.
Other examples of animals that depend on the corridor for migration purposes are the pygmy elephants and orang utans in Lower Kinabatangan. In 2012, the Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT) secured a 5.7-acre land which served as an ecological corridor for fragmented forests in Sabah for the migration of elephants and orang utans.
The idea of the wildlife corridor from Kalimantan to Sabah was initially addressed by the Sultan of Brunei during the ‘Heart of Borneo’ (HoB) meeting the previous year and that the implementation of the programme would be carried out in stages.
The HoB initiative, a combined effort of both government and NGO was initiated by a joint Declaration by the governments of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia in 2007 covers approximately 200,000 square kilometres of inter-connected forest in all three regions which covers 30% of Borneo.