Monday, June 16, 2008


Yayasan Sabah Group helps people by helping nature

IN principle, Yayasan Sabah Group (YSG) was not established for the purpose of carrying out any specific nature conservation activities. Perhaps the closest link that Yayasan Sabah has with regard to nature conservation activities is Section 17 of the Yayasan Sabah Enactment, which relates to the almost one million hectares of forestland that the Sabah State Government has made available to YSG as its source of funding to carry out the various activities that it needs to perform in order to achieve its social objectives. The timber concession area provided to Yayasan Sabah Group by the Sabah State Government to help finance activities related to its responsibility is rich in timber, yet very sensitive environmentally. Therefore, it is inherent in Yayasan Sabah Group to manage the area on a sustainable manner, both economically and environmentally. Thus, while timber resources contain within the area is important to finance the implementation of Yayasan Sabah Group’s socioeconomic responsibilities, at the same time it has to manage the area as environmentally friendly as possible. This led to the creation of several conservation areas, namely Danum Valley, Maliau Basin and Imbak Canyon Conservation Areas. Recent addition is the Tumunong Hallu Conservation Area, a small coastal area at Darvel Bay in Lahad Datu.


The Danum Valley Conservation Area in terms of faunal and floral diversity, can be regarded as being representative of a once abundance habitat in the island of Borneo - this is its main biodiversity, conservation and scientific value. Among the inhabitants of Danum Valley are the endangered Borneon Orangutan, Borneon pygmy elephant, banteng, Malayan sun bear, clouded leopard, bearded pig and many species of deer. It is also home to the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros. A haven for birdwatchers, Danum Valley boasts 300 species of bird including the Red-Crowned Barbet, seven species of pitta and all eight species of hornbill found in Borneo. Danum Valley is also an important site for pioneering research and operational experiment in carbon sequestration, such as the Innoprise-Face Foundation Rehabilitation Project (Infapro) and Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) as well as site for major study on atmospheric chemistry, which is related to the framework of Climate Change Convention. For the next four years beginning 2008, Danum Valley will host a long-term research project entitled 0P3-DANUM-08 which investigates climate changes.


The Maliau Basin Conservation Area is a huge bowl of almost pristine forests comprising an unusual assemblage of forest types guarded by formidable cliffs and described as one of the few remaining relatively untouched wilderness areas in the world. The flora of Maliau is distinct and diverse, including at least six species of pitcher plant and 80 species of orchid, several of which are new records for Sabah. Maliau may be one of only two remaining sites of the rare Rafflesia tengku-adlinii, first discovered here in 1988. Maliau Basin is also set to become a haven for birdwatchers as well as conservation of bird biodiversity. Over 270 species such as the Bornean Bristlehead, Peregrine Falcon and Bulwer’s Pheasant have been recorded in the area and the surrounding buffer zones, of which an astonishing 26% are listed as threatened or near-threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Over 70 mammal species have so far been recorded, including some of Sabah’s rarest mammals such as the proboscis monkey and Sumatran rhinoceros. The surrounding forest is also refuge to the endangered Banteng and Asian Elephant. Due to the unique geomorphological condition of Maliau Basin, there are numerous waterfalls, one of which is the magnificent seven-tier Maliau Falls.


Imbak Canyon Conservation Area is a sweeping swathe of unspoilt forest, north of the Maliau Basin Conservation Area in the heart of Sabah. It is one of the largest remaining areas of unlogged lowland dipterocarp forest left in Sabah. As pristine forest, Imbak has a key role as a gene bank or seed source for forest rehabilitation in the future, as well as a potentially important source of undiscovered plant based medicine. During a 10-day expedition, 69 specimens of ethno-medicinal plants from 15 families were found to be medicinally useful. Imbak also plays an integral role as part of the vital wildlife corridor connecting Danum Valley and Maliau Basin.


Tumunong Hallu Conservation Area is located in the Darvel Bay on the southeast coast of Sabah. Darvel Bay is one of the renowned marine biodiversity areas in the region. Yayasan Sabah Group is currently undertaking initiatives to develop the area as a marine and coastal forest research centre. Long-term research on marine life (e.g. coral rehabilitation, coral and clam conservation, richness and distribution of algae, habitat restoration and aquaculture) and mangrove are among the research potentials that can be carried out here apart from recreational activities as the area has beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters. To further enhance the conservation areas, centers for research, training, education and recreation were established, namely Danum Valley Field Centre and Maliau Basin Studies Centre. These centres both act as an administrative centre as well as venues or facilities to carry out activities related to nature education and training, recreation and tourism, and scientific research activities. Yayasan Sabah Group does not specifically carry out most of the basic scientific research activities, but by providing logistical support, it has attracted scientists and research grants. This has been proven to be a good and appropriate strategy. Danum Valley Field Centre is now an internationally recognized site for tropical research activities - ‘A World Class Research Station’ along with La Selva in Costa Rica and Baro Colorado Island in Panama.


Reduced Impact Logging
In relation to improving the management of the forest, YSG has been instrumental in developing and piloting the logging guidelines that could reduce incidental damage to the forest. Famously referred to as the Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) guidelines, it is now part and parcel of the sustainable Forest Management practices which the Government adopted as policy since 1997.

RIL Exneriment
Around about the same time that the RIL was being experimented in 1992, YS embarked on a project involving large-scale enrichment planting of dipterocarp in logged- over rainforest as well as the tending of naturally regenerating dipterocarp seedlings, other commercial timber species and forest fruit trees. This is made possible through collaboration with the FACE Foundation of the Netherlands. One of the key purposes of the project, apart from nature conservation, is to promote the rehabilitation of forests to absorb Carbon Dioxide (C02) from the atmosphere. Today more than 11,000 ha of forest had been rehabilitated.

Collaboration with IKEA
On a largely conservation purposes, in 1988 YSG began a collaboration in a forest rehabilitation project with foundation established by IKEA, the Sow-A-Seed Foundation. During the first phase of the project (1998- 2003), a total area of 4,600 ha has been successfully rehabilitated. The second phase (2003-2008) would rehabilitate up to 4,500 ha of degraded forest.

Nature Education
What better way to educate the public about the importance of conserving our environment than to bring them to the conservation areas to experience the pristine ambience of the rainforest as it has been for hundreds of years. Through in-situ recreational and ecotourism activities and environmental education at the conservation areas, conservation of wildlife including large mammals is efficiently promoted. Towards this effort, the study/ field centres established in Danum Valley and Maliau Basin provide logistical support (accommodation, food, transportation, rangers, etc) for visitors, whose nature experience are further enhanced with nature interpretation by experienced and knowledgeable rangers, and facilities such as observation towers and sky- bridges offer visitors a canopy view of the forest and the added thrill of walking on a cable sky-bridges high above the forest floor. YS has also established a program that is specifically for the purpose of organizing nature and environmental education programme. The program is called the Sabah Nature Club and it has now been running for almost 20 years. Sabah Nature Club or better known as SNC is a joint program with the Education Department as an extra-curricular activity for schools in Sabah, maximizing the involvement of school heads, teachers and the Nature Orientation Courses or NOCs at Danum Valley and Maliau Basin during school holidays.

Safeguarding Nature
Research, education and nature tourism activities can only be successful if the area is efficiently protected. In ensuring the pristine condition of the conservation areas so that it may continue to appeal to researchers, naturalists and tourists, several activities are carried out by Yayasan Sabah Group including surveillance and patrolling to curb illegal hunting, felling of timber and poaching of gaharu, a much sought after non-timber forest product. Conserving the environment no doubt lies at the heart of global commitments intended to preserve for the benefit of present and future generations a wide range of goods and services essential for life on earth, in that conservation areas around the world are increasingly recognized for their role in mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon and act as buffer against impacts such as sea level rise and extreme weather events, they are sources of pure water and vital ecosystem services;genetic store houses, and sites for tourism and recreation. In essence, therefore, Yayasan Sabah Group helps people by helping nature.