Poachers pose biggest threat to Sabah’s conservation areas

TONGOD, Sabah: Poaching activities remain the biggest threat to wildlife conservation in Sabah, according to an expert, who points out that the key to addressing this is to strengthen enforcement around buffer zones.

"If these illegal hunting activities are not checked, the population of the protected and endangered wildlife species in the state will shrink in no time," Dr Rahimatsah Amat, chief executive of Sabah Environmental Trust, told Bernama.

He was among some 100 participants who took part in a 10-day scientific expedition in Batu Timbang, an area on the southwest of Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (ICCA) in the heart of Sabah, recently.

The expedition was funded by Petronas under the Yayasan Sabah-Petronas Imbak Canyon Conservation Partnership.

Rahimatsah said it was crucial to increase enforcement presence along the buffer zones and minimise attempts by poachers to encroach into the core of the conservation areas.

"If we can do this, we'll be able to minimise the entry points to the conservation areas," he added.

The issue was among those observed during the expedition which took place in an area strategically located between the pristine core areas of ICCA, and the logged-over forest adjacent to it, as well as the limestone cave of Batu Timbang Forest Reserve.

The fieldwork confirmed earlier surveillance and monitoring by ICCA field staff that the Batu Timbang area has been a hot spot for poachers.

Rahimatsah said the insignificant presence of wildlife near the core area could be due to rampant poaching. There were also graffiti marks on the trees, he added.

"The biggest threat to ICCA, or for that matter all the conservation areas in Sabah like Maliau Basin and Danum Valley, are poaching activities," he said.

Among the findings during the expedition, which started on Aug 16, were sightings of footprints of the protected Tembadau or Banteng (wild cattle) and the discovery of eight species of ornamental plant, Begonia. Four of them are new to science.

Participants of the expedition were from Sabah Forestry Department, Yayasan Sabah, Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Parks, Sabah Biodiversity Centre, and Sabah Museum, as well as from a number of universities, and non-governmental organisations such as WWF Malaysia, Hutan-Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme, and Sabah Environmental Trust.

Thirteen journalists from various media organisations and a representative from Tourism Malaysia, who were brought in for a familiarisation visit to the ICCA in conjunction with the expedition, had a first-hand experience witnessing scientists and researchers at work, during which they traversed the forest and braved the bad weather.

The scientific expedition 2017 was to acquire scientific information especially those related to the biodiversity, physical features, challenges and threats to the area.

Batu Timbang is one of several locations in ICCA that has been earmarked for the establishment of a research station as specified in the ICCA Strategic Management Plan 2014-2023.

This would enable effective efficient management of the ICCA buffer zone as well as assessing potential collaboration with the surrounding communities to minimise threats to ICCA's core area.

Another dimension of the buffer zones, which are mostly disturbed forest, is to create a linkage between a protected area and the wider area that surrounds it.

Petronas and Yayasan Sabah announced their partnership to conserve the ICCA in 2011, which included the construction of the RM77-million Imbak Canyon Studies Centre (Pusat Pembelajaran Kanyon Imbak), which has already been completed. — Bernama