HAVE you taken a look at the Jata Negara recently? One of its distinctive features is a pair of tigers supporting the shield, which symbolises strength and courage. How about Wira, our orangutan mascot of the 16th Commonwealth Games held in Kuala Lumpur in 1998?
The Malayan tiger and Bornean orangutan are two of the 306 species of wild mammals found in Peninsular Malaysia and in our Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak respectively.
Along with more than 742 species of birds, 567 species of reptiles, 242 species of amphibians, more than 449 species of freshwater fish and an estimated 150,000 invertebrate species, Malaysia is truly blessed with immensely diverse fauna.
The flora of Malaysia is just as rich, with a conservative estimate of about 15,000 species of flowering plants and more than 1,100 species of ferns and fern allies.
Balancing development with conservation
As a relatively young nation, Malaysia has achieved tremendous socioeconomic development, which is imperative to cure the historical injustices of the past.
This also means that land has been used for development, including for cultivation of palm oil, rubber and other commodities.
The tide of development has impacted the natural habitats of our flora and fauna, including our tigers and orangutans. We are not in denial. It is a fact that we must accept and recognise, and proceed to plan and execute remedial action.
Based on the last estimate by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Peninsular Malaysia in 2003, there are about 500 mature tigers left in the peninsula.
French NGO Hutan estimated in 2011 that there are about 10,000 orangutans left in Sabah, with about 785 individuals roaming the Lower Kinabatangan area.
Both species have been classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered.
Our strategic intent for conservation is clearly outlined in the 11th Malaysia Plan where conserving natural resources for present and future generations, as well as strengthening resilience against climate change and natural disasters, are focus areas.
Our action to date has matched our intent. Malaysia is one of the 195 countries that signed and one of the 148 countries who ratified the Paris Agreement during the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in 2015, committing to lowering up to 45% in GHG emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 2030.
As of 2015, we have already recorded a 33% reduction. Furthermore, Malaysia’s forest cover of 55.5% as validated by FAO, compares favourably to that of many developed and developing economies, despite our robust development.
Malaysia is committed to conservation
Appreciating the value of protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services, the Government of Malaysia has committed to several conservation initiatives.
In Peninsular Malaysia, the Central Forest Spine (CFS) master plan launched in 2011 aims to increase the integrity of the backbone of its environmentally sensitive zone by conserving and rehabilitating 20 primary and 17 secondary ecological linkages between four major forest complexes, namely Banjaran Titiwangsa-Banjaran Bintang-Banjaran Nakawan; Taman Negara-BanjaranTimur; South East Pahang, Chini and Bera Wetlands; and EndauRompin Park-Kluang Wildlife Reserves.
This covers an area of approximately 5.3 million hectares, which accounts for over 40% of the total terrestrial area and over 91% of forest areas in Peninsular Malaysia.
In addition, under the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan, three sites were also identified as priority areas for tiger conservation, namely the Belum-Temenggor Complex, Taman Negara and the Endau-Rompin Complex.
The CFS, costing US$257mil (RM1bil), is expected to be completed over 15 years spanning the 10th, 11th and 12th Malaysia Plans and has attracted technical and financial support from international and domestic development partners and NGOs.
Some early achievements include the gazettement of Primary Linkage 7 as the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor, spanning over 15,000ha, and Primary Linkage 2 as the Amanjaya Forest Reserve, covering over 20,000ha.
Across the South China Sea, Heart of Borneo (HoB), a voluntary trans-boundary cooperation aimed at conserving and managing about 200,000sq km of ecologically inter-connected rainforest straddling the borders of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, was committed to by the respective governments in 2008.
The state governments of Sabah and Sarawak have identified about 3.9 million hectares and 2.1 million hectares respectively for HoB, or about 60,000sq km in total, which roughly translates to a land area 83 times the size of Singapore.
Commodity industry must do more
Through the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund was jointly launched with the Sabah Wildlife Department in 2006, with an initial funding of RM20mil from the Malaysian Government and the palm oil industry in equal parts.
Funds are provided for execution of projects and studies on wildlife, biodiversity and environmental conservation while factoring in the overall impact of the palm oil industry on these parameters.
The projects include the establishment of a Wildlife Rescue Unit in 2010, which has undertaken more than 100 rescue or translocation operations, and the Bornean Elephant Sanctuary in 2013, which undertakes elephant rescues, treatment and a holding area for wild displaced elephants.
In 2012, three species action plans detailing conservation guidelines for the Bornean orangutan, Bornean elephant and Sumatran rhinoceros were also introduced.
Be that as it may, the public and private sector actors in the commodity industry, especially palm oil, rubber and timber, must accept that there is a lot more we need to do.
Agencies from my ministry are already collaborating with agencies from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to make the CFS a success via the National Land Council and CFS implementation technical committees.
Perhaps now is the time for us to strengthen this collaboration, for example by addressing land conversion in CFS linkages or, if commodity cultivation is already in place, finding ways to restore them. Human-wildlife conflict management must also be stepped up at plantations adjacent to the CFS through awareness-building, training and enforcement.
While requiring further syndication, a recent report by the International Institute for Environment and Development suggests that it is critical to address the potential future loss of forests outside of protected areas and the recreation of contiguous forest corridors to arrest further decline in orangutans in Lower Kinabatangan.
My ministry, along with the palm industry and Sabah authorities, will collaborate to find concrete resolutions to this difficult challenge.
Failure to do so will bring about more intense pressure on the global acceptance of our commodity produce. This is evidenced by various “no palm oil” labelling efforts in the EU and Australia recently that are predicated on palm oil’s alleged destruction of forests and its adverse impact on the environment, which I maintain are grossly inaccurate.
The steps we have taken to preserve our natural heritage while ensuring continued socioeconomic development must be given greater attention and this is my attempt to do so.
Even more fundamentally, we have the sacred duty to ensure that the twin tigers that proudly adorned our Coat of Arms and the orangutans that still roam our Bornean jungles must not vanish from the face of our beloved Malaysia and with the support of all stakeholders, we will achieve this objective.
Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong is Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities. Commodities Today and Beyond is his op-ed to share his views, hope and vision for commodities with everyday Malaysians.
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