Allegations Against Malaysian Palm Oil Industry on Orang-utans Unfounded; Disruptive to Conservation Efforts

The Malaysian government and palm oil industry today mark the start of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium (SWCC 2012), which aims to highlight conservation efforts undertaken in the Borneo. The conference underlines the efforts of the Malaysian government and the palm oil industrywith regards to biodiversity conservation and CSR programs, and to highlight conservation studies by reputable research institutions and conservation NGOs. In addition, three State Action Plans will be released at SWCC for the Bornean orangutan, the Bornean elephant and the Sumatran rhinoceros.

The Sabah state is blessed with more than 10,000 orang-utans, 6,000 proboscis monkeys and 2,400 elephants. Three State Action Plans will be released at SWCC for the Bornean orangutan, the Bornean elephant and the Sumatran rhinoceros, which will provide a platform for a better protection of these three flagship species.

It is therefore most unfortunate that environmental organizations have chosen this important venue as part of their campaign to harm the palm oil industry in Malaysia and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on it, as they continue to make unfounded allegations that the industry is a leading threat to orang-utan conservation and that orang-utan in Malaysia are endangered. Neither claim is true.

In a response to these allegations, the Malaysian Environment Ministry, finds accusations by Nature Alert against the Malacca Zoo “baseless” and clearly showed “deliberate attempts to mislead the public”. Invitations to Nature Alert to visit the Zoo were “refused”. The Ministry stressed that the orang-utan is a protected species in Malaysia and should not be manipulated to tarnish the image of Malaysia.

Facts on Orang-utans in Malaysia

For every hectare of land developed for palm oil production, four hectares are preserved as permanent forest, including orangutan habitats in Sabah and Sarawak (the two original states in Malaysia with orangutan populations), where 50 percent or more of their land is preserved under permanent forest.

This ensures a healthy balance between preserving tropical habitats and meeting domestic and international food requirements.

A conference was held in 2009 in Borneo to address the risks and challenges facing the future of orangutans. At the conference, experts noted that the primary threat to orangutans was not the legitimate agriculture expansion of the palm oil industry, but poachers, hunting by local peoples, poor enforcement of existing laws and mining.

The Sabah and Sarawak State governments have identified a number of forest areas known to contain higher populations of orang-utans as wildlife sanctuaries, national parks or forest preserves. Ulu Segama – Malua Forest Reserve in Sabah, spanning over 0.236 million hectares, has been shown to be inhabited by about 6,000 – 7,000 orang-utans, the most populated orang-utan area in Sabah. The Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary in Sarawak has been shown to be inhabited by about 1,400 orang-utans. All these areas are permanently protected from development.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF) was launched in 2006 with an initial funding of Ringgit Malaysia (RM) 20 million of which RM10 million is a grant from the Malaysian government and the balance of RM10 million is provided by the palm oil industry. The Fund is administered by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, which has the overall responsibility to manage the various conservation projects funded through MPOWCF. Funds are provided for execution of projects and studies on wildlife, biodiversity and environmental conservation. The MPOWCF also accepts contributions from independent donors. For every ringgit contributed by an independent donor, MPOC will top it up with another ringgit, that is, on 1:1 basis.

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Written by The Oil Palm