Giving back to the community in the name of conservation and sustainable development is a noble act of empowering everyone to do good for the environment, for the common good. It amplifies the importance of sustaining ecological integrity and protecting biodiversity that will ultimately uplift the socioeconomic interest of the local people while safeguarding the well-being of other creatures living in the same environment.
Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (SDP), the world’s largest producer of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), through its philanthropic arm - Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), has contributed over RM130 million worth of funding for nature conservation since 2009, affirming its pledge to make a sustainable impact and difference in the lives of others, who share resources in the same environment it operates in.
YSD has so far undertaken 20 conservation projects nationwide with RM84 million going to such efforts implemented in Sabah. The foundation has also planted some 870,000 trees under reforestation projects covering 7,044 hectares.
Globally, SDP’s operations encompass 248 estates and 72 mills located in Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Liberia, producing about 4% of the global crude palm oil (CPO) output. It also accounts for some 20% worldwide market share of certified sustainable palm oil.
On the local front, the world’s largest plantation company by planted area has also achieved a 100% Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification for its 124 estates and 33 mills throughout the country. SDP operates a total landbank of 343,938 hectares of oil palm plantation nationwide with all of its 34 strategic operating units awarded the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification.
Reforestation and orangutan rehabilitation
In 2008, YSD started a RM25-million, 10-year reforestation and rehabilitation project in Northern Ulu Segama Forest Reserve (presently known as the Bukit Piton Forest Reserve), Sabah, in collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD), having orangutans’ habitat protection as the focal point.
The project aims to reforest and rehabilitate 5,400 hectares of the Bukit Piton Forest Reserve.
It has so far rehabilitated 4,724 hectares of degraded forest, with 350,000 seedlings of indigenous dipterocarps, non-dipterocarps and pioneer trees (95 species) planted.
The forest condition has gradually improved from being labelled as most degraded to the most stable area populated by wildlife with improved canopy cover. The project achieved another milestone in 2012 when the Bukit Piton Forest Reserve was re-classified as a Class 1 Protection Forest Reserve or Totally Protected Area status, from its original status as Class 2 Commercial Forest Reserve.
The orangutan population in the forest reserve, estimated at around 250 to 300 individuals according to WWF Malaysia, has stabilised. The reclassification protects the area from potential encroachment or development activities, which crucially contributes to the protection of the orangutan habitats.
By involving the Segama community in the reforestation and rehabilitation project, local villagers are now increasingly aware of the importance of protecting a vital ecosystem for wildlife conservation as well as for future generations.
Borneo rhino sanctuary
YSD had also pledged RM15.5 million to the Borneo Rhinoceros Sanctuary (BRS) project, running from July 2009 to February 2017. A joint initiative between the Borneo Rhinoceros Alliance (BORA) and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), the project provides sanctuary for the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros within a fenced area at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu, Sabah.
The sanctuary is also home to isolated rhinos rescued from non-viable environments around Sabah where they get better breeding opportunities in such a protected environment.
YSD’s funding covers the staffing cost of BORA employees and rhino caretakers, subcontracted services enlisted to maintain BRS, travel costs incurred by BORA, and other indirect costs.
The advanced reproductive technology (ART) programme, in partnership with experts from Leibniz Institute for Zoo & Wildlife Research, Berlin (IZW), is a key component. IZW helped train BORA employees to enable them acquire new skills while expanding the pool of local specialists who are able to conduct the ART programme, including the In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) work and cell culture as a means to prevent the extinction of this critically endangered species.
BRS, which is the first wildlife facility to adopt ART in Asia, has benefitted the people of Sabah through employment opportunities. BORA has 21 Sabahan field staff, of which 13 are from four different native communities in the Tabin region. More than 25 people from predominantly rural communities have been employed under the project since 2009 with some of them employed by other similar organisations such as WWF-Malaysia and the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit.
The project received an additional funding of RM11.9 million from the Malaysian government under the 11th Malaysian Plan, through the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry for the implementation of ART initiatives.
BRS has also successfully raised the profile of the Sumatran rhinos globally through the release of the National Geographic documentary “Operation Sumatran Rhino: Mission Critical” aired in September 2016, which follows BORA’s executive director Datuk Dr. John Payne and senior veterinarian Dr. Zainal Zahari Zainuddin on their efforts in saving the Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia.
Evidence-based elephant conservation
YSD has also pledged a RM5.26-million commitment to supporting the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) project across Malaysia for January 2012 – December 2019, in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (DWNP or PERHILITAN) and University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) - School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences.
MEME is an internationally recognised research project that aims to track elephant movements, produce scientific information about elephant behaviour, ecology and relationships with people. The key objective of the project is to minimise human-elephant conflicts, using evidence-based approaches.
The funding by YSD covers elephants’ collaring, the purchase of appropriate vehicles for transportation in the forests and other types of equipment, and tuition fees for UNMC research and postgraduate students involved in the project.
The postgraduate field studies include the non-invasive stress monitoring in wild elephant and the understanding of elephants’ social behaviour and distribution. MEME is expected to help produce five PhD and three Master postgraduates by the end of the year.
MEME has so far published or contributed to five scientific papers, and conducted over 50 public talks on the conservation of Malaysian elephants, involving academics, students and the general public.
The findings of the postgraduate studies conducted earlier are published here.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC)
YSD had also provided a RM3.5-million funding for the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, spanning from February 2012 to February 2017.
BSBCC, a collaboration between YSD, Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and the Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), an NGO based in Sabah, provides care for ex-captive and orphaned sun bears in Sabah while promoting conservation efforts of this smallest and least studied of the eight bear species in the world.
Thanks to the Second Observation Platform and Aerial Walkway launched in May 2016, visitors can now view sun bears from the enclosure of a natural forest setting.
While facilitating the reintroduction of sun bears into their original habitat, BSBCC has to date attracted more than 135,000 visitors from more than 30 countries since its official opening in January 2014, making it one of the important ecotourism destinations of Sabah.
BSBCC has rescued over 50 sun bears, 40 of which are currently living at the Centre while two of them were reintroduced back into the wild.
Jentar Plant-A-Tree project
The ‘Jentar Plant-A-Tree’ project, which was started in March 2013 with a RM4.1-million funding by YSD, is a biodiversity conservation initiative that incorporates the largest collection of Endangered, Rare and Threatened (ERT) tree species in a single oil palm plantation area in Malaysia, and possibly South East Asia.
A total of 60 threatened species including Vatica Lobata (Resak Paya), previously difficult to grow, are now flourishing on a 160-hectare land designated by SDP within its Jentar Estate in Temerloh, Pahang.
Overall, the ‘Jentar Plant-A-Tree’ project, which has put in place 136,000 trees to its credit, is an addition to over 1.5 million trees already planted under three other major projects supported by SDP through YSD - the reforestation and rehabilitation of orangutan habitats in Northern Ulu Segama with the Sabah Forestry Department; the Kinabatangan RiLeaf Project with Nestlé Malaysia; and the peat swamp protection and rehabilitation project in the Raja Musa Forest Reserve with Global Environment Centre (GEC).
The project comprises the Conservation Set-Aside (CSA) areas within plantation operations under by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) principles and criteria. These areas include, among others, riparian zones, steep slopes and forest boundary reserves. SDP’s operations also maintain High Conservation Value (HCV) areas whereby biological, ecological, social or cultural values. SDP is currently maintaining more than 3,560 hectares of HCV areas and 2,125 hectares of CSA areas within its Malaysian operations.
Empowering sustainable practices
Put it simply, a healthy environment is essential to a healthy living. In certain cases, human intervention has to be activated to sustain the balance of our biodiversity. Protecting wildlife also means that we are preserving it for the future generations where a healthy and functional ecosystem is nurtured. Living sustainably within the means of our natural systems fosters a sense of belonging in an environment where everybody and everything is connected to each other, directly or indirectly.