The Pongo Alliance, an alliance of oil palm growers, businesses and conservation practitioners, is developing guidelines for best management practices (BMP) to support sustainable palm oil production that includes safe spaces for wild orangutans outside of the protected areas.
With a vision to make resilient landscapes for wildlife and people a reality, the alliance uses an evidence-based approach, which found that some orangutans not only survived large-scale habitat loss in the 1980s and 1990s but adapted to a landscape of forest patches and oil palm plantation.
The Pongo Alliance Kinabatangan’s Project Director, Dr Felicity Oram, said that measures can be put in place to support co-existence of the surviving wild orangutan population where only 10 per cent of the half-million-hectare land area is forest. “We need to better understand the orangutan habitat needs in this altered landscape and work out how to facilitate human and orangutan co-existence in the long term.
“In practice, this means leaving wild orangutans wherever they are in the landscape and developing better ways to support the adaptions these animals have made thus far,” she said, in a statement.
Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) has committed RM1.2million, under a two-year sponsorship agreement titled “Creation of a Human and Orangutan Coexistence Landscape in Kinabatangan”, to enable the programme to conduct detailed information-gathering, engagement with various players, and develop best management practices.
The sponsorship is in line with YSD Environment pillar’s focus area of protecting and preserving vulnerable and endangered species, as well as the education and awareness focus area as it involves building awareness within oil palm plantation communities, environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government agencies, and international communities. YSD Chief Executive Officer, Dr Hajah Yatela Zainal Abidin, noted that research has shown that female orangutans live and raise their young in forest fragments surrounded by oil palms, while the males travel long distances through oil palm plantations between these patches.
“This project aims to find out in more detail what is going on in Kinabatangan, to the level of individual orangutans.
“We hope that this effort will also assist growers and NGOs alike to view and manage oil palm forest landscapes in favour of human-orangutan coexistence; government agencies to develop a new policy on orangutan management; and the international community to understand that such coexistence is possible in mixed landscapes such as those comprising oil palm plantations and forests,” she said.
Full partner companies involved in this paradigm shift that have holdings in the project engagement area include Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (SDP), which hosts the secretariat of Pongo Alliance; and Sabah based partner, Sawit Kinabalu, which has committed 3,757 hectares of its land area to conservation set-asides.
SDP Group Managing Director, Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha, said the initiative by Pongo Alliance aligns with SDP’s ambition to achieve a deforestation-free palm oil industry and the company looks forward to implementing the BMP at its estates.
“We are cognisant of the need and importance of safeguarding the habitats of endangered species and not only will continue to work with like-minded organisations such as YSD and our partners in the Pongo Alliance but also encourage other plantation companies to come on board to achieve this goal,” said Helmy.
He also noted that the project in collaboration with Pongo Alliance is a logical follow-up on of YSD’s 10-year collaboration with Sabah Forestry Department on the ‘Reforestation and Rehabilitation of Orangutan Habitat in Northern Ulu Segama (presently known as Bukit Piton Forest Reserve)’ project.
He explained that the RM25 million project, in which SDP provided its technical expertise and assistance, improves the orangutan habitat by planting 1,448,822 trees within the previously highly degraded Forest Reserve and contributed economic benefits to the local community in the surrounding area.