NEPCon has entered into a five-year collaboration to protect one of the world's most pristine areas of tropical rainforest on Borneo, helping to protect endangered species such as orangutans, leopards, pygmy elephants and hornbills.
The Minister of Tourism, Culture & Environment for the Malaysian state of Sabah, Datuk Masidi Manjun, was present when NEPCon and the Sabah Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding at a ceremony in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, in July 2013. "The cooperation between the Sabah Foundation and NEPCon has a long history and today we are giving it new life collaborating on a new management plan for the Maliau area. I want to thank NEPCon for believing in our continued efforts", said Datuk Manjun.
Strengthening level of protection
Located in north-eastern Borneo, the area covers 59,000 hectares which was classified as a single protected area during a large project funded by DANIDA, when NEPCon first collaborated with the Sabah Foundation.
Ten years on and with Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation funding, NEPCon is working once again with the Sabah Foundation to revise the ten-year management plan to protect the pristine rainforest and surrounding buffer zone.
Through the discovery of numerous rare species, the project began to reveal the vast natural value of the area.
This has fuelled the Malaysian government to apply for the Maliau Basin and nearby protected areas to be recognised as a World Heritage site under the United Nations’ UNESCO programme, that would shelve any potential threats of exploiting this large carbon reserve.
The lost world of Sabah: protected, yet threatened
Maliau Basin has earned its name as "The Lost World of Sabah" from its isolation and inaccessibility. With some 240,000 species – 38 per cent of the islands species – the area is a biodiversity treasure.
Despite the formal protection, the nature of Maliau Basin is threatened. As recently as June, researchers uncovered signs of illegal harvesting of sandalwood for the use in exclusive perfumes during a comprehensive survey of the area's wildlife. Over 130 people took part in the expedition, which was supported by IKEA.
NEPCon’s executive director Peter Feilberg emphasises the importance of the new management plan in defining activities that will hinder the past threats to the Maliau area, "It will be important to work with local communities to control illegal hunting and trespassing that disturb the area," he says.
The five-year collaboration with the Sabah Foundation, which manages a total of 1 million acres in Sabah, holds great potential.
Corridor for biodiversity
The Maliau Basin is part of a large stretch of forest, spanning some 4,000 square kilometres – approximately 6 per cent of Sabah's area. The area, which is managed by the Sabah Foundation, forms a 200 kilometres long protected corridor reaching from the heart of the island to the Celebes Sea in the east. The corridor consists of forestry concessions and oil palm plantation as well as the three natural treasures in the region: Maliau Basin, Danum Valley and Imbak Canyon nature reserves.
"The future cooperation will involve supporting a positive development in the buffer zone surrounding Maliau Basin and throughout the proposed forest corridor. This will involve restoring damaged forest and by involving the public," explains Peter Feilberg.
Large species such as orangutans, pygmy elephants, leopards, rhinos are under intense pressure. They urgently need a large continuous forest area with sufficiently large habitats.
Call for international support
The Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation is supporting the project with around 250,000 GBP (almost 300,000 Euro) to develop a ten-year management plan for Maliau Basin Conservation Area.
"This support is invaluable to the future of the community. We must act now to preserve the parts of Borneo’s biodiverse habitats that have not already been lost," says Peter Feilberg.
Oil palm plantations have already replaced a very large part of Borneo's original forest, and despite many conservation measures, conversion of tropical forests in Southeast Asia is still rife. A new WWF report confirms the gloomy picture of natural forest loss throughout the region.
"It will require major investment to restore natural forests in the heavily logged areas within the proposed corridor. We are looking into options for additional international support for funding biodiversity protection," says Peter Feilberg.