It is very worrying that a sanctuary for the orang utan, elephants and other wildlife in Borneo was allegedly set on fire by poachers recently (front page of the Daily Express, Kota Kinabalu, on July 15, 2016).
This is particularly so as this news came on the heels of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List recent upgrading of the Bornean orang utan species from 'Endangered' to 'Critically Endangered' status.
The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary was declared by the Sabah government as Sabah’s 'Gift to the Earth' in 1999.
WWF-Malaysia is particularly concerned with encroachment and poaching in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary as it is one of the last homes of the Bornean orang utan, a species that is declining due to habitat loss and degradation through drought and forest fires.
The sanctuary also benefits greatly the Sabah government and the people of Kinabatangan, who rely on eco-tourism as their main source of income. Tourists from all over the world flock to Kinabatangan to view its iconic wildlife.
Therefore, much is at stake when encroachment and poaching happens in this protected wildlife haven. This recent incident should be investigated thoroughly and the perpetrators should be caught and punished to deter future poachers and trespassers.
It is paramount that adequate resources are allocated to enforcement agencies, such as the Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Wildlife Department, to combat encroachment, poaching and forest fire in this iconic landscape.
The World-Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) will continue to collaborate closely with enforcement agencies and other non-governmental organisations to call for better protection and management of the sanctuary.
We urge better coordination of the multi-stakeholder Kinabatangan Management Committee to ensure that the sanctuary is managed effectively.
We also urge the local communities living near the sanctuary to alert the departments should they find illegal activities, since they also depend on this sanctuary for their livelihood.
Over the years, a huge amount of resources, such as time and money, have been spent by many stakeholders to conserve Kinabatangan’s biodiversity.
There is still more that needs to be done to ensure that wildlife, forest and the people in Kinabatangan can exist in harmony and benefit each other. Everybody loses if decades of hard work and dedication go up in smoke.
DIONYSIUS SHARMA is executive director and CEO of World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia).