Sabah Ecosystem Health Project will take years to complete
Project will start with sampling at sanctuary, reserves: Director
The implementation of the Sabah Ecosystem Health Project would take several years to complete, according to Sabah Wildlife Department Director Laurentius Ambu. He said the project would commence with sampling in and around the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Kabili-Sepilok Virgin Jungle Reserve and Tabin Wildlife Reserve in the East Coast. “Information on transmission risk is needed in Sabah, and such data is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the long-term survival of our wildlife and those animals of particular importance for ecotourism,” he said at a workshop on “Ecosystem Health Monitoring in Wildlife Tourism Areas” at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park yesterday. The Sabah Ecosystem Health Project was initiated by Professor Michael Muehlenbein from Indiana University, USA. Laurentius said that Professor Muehlenbein’s project would provide the international community with an outstanding example on how to properly manage healthy human-animal relations. Some 50 people attended the workshop sponsored by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Indiana University. The participants included senior officials from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah Wildlife Department, Department of Veterinary Services, Ministry of Health, University Malaysia Sabah, Sabah Tourism Board, Sabah Parks, State Environment Protection Department, Forestry Department, Sabah Foundation, WWF-Malaysia, Borneo Conservation Trust, UK Orangutan Appeal and HUTAN. The objective of the seminar was to discuss the importance of health monitoring of human-wildlife interactions in Sabah, an understanding of which will function to ensure the sustainability and growth of ecotourism as well as human and animal health. Specific prevention measures were discussed to minimize these risks to wildlife in Sabah during the workshop. Muehlenbein provided an informative lecture on responsible ecotourism, with particular reference to prevention measures to minimize negative impacts on animal populations. He said that ecotourism functions to facilitate awareness of cultural and natural histories in diverse environments, creating financial benefits to those local populations which invest in conservation of their cultural and natural histories. Such nature-based tourism can certainly serve as an important potential tool to assist conservation efforts in preserving populations of wildlife, particularly primates A natural consequence of expanding tourism at wildlife sanctuaries is increased human-wildlife contact, which must be properly managed in order to prevent infection transmission between these groups, according to Muehlenbein. Muehlenbein also described the Sabah Ecosystem Health Project as a proposed collaboration designed to better understand risk of infection transmission between humans, wildlife and livestock in Sabah. Despite the presence of known infectious diseases within cohabitating human, wildlife, livestock and domestic pet populations throughout the world, and the emergence of novel infectious diseases in ecological hotspots where human- wildlife contact is substantial, he noted that very few surveillance programs exist to specifically describe and monitor the risks of human-animal infection transmission. Humans (tourists and local populations), wildlife (orang-utans, macaques, small mammals, birds and bats), domestic dogs and cats, and livestock will be sampled to determine the distribution of various infectious diseases, and prevention strategies will be developed, added Muehlenbein.