SANDAKAN, 15 March 2023 – A Best Management Practices (BMP) guideline document for human-orangutan coexistence in mixed forest - oil palm landscapes was officially launched today by Dr Hjh Yatela Zainal Abidin, Chief Executive Officer of Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD); En Indra Purwandita Sunjoto, Senior Assistant Chief Conservator of Forests of Sabah Forestry Department (SFD); Ms Sylvia Alsisto, Kinabatangan and Tongod District Manager of Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD); Dr Felicity Oram, Project Director of PONGO Alliance; and key industry players in the oil palm sector; to mark the closure of YSD support for the project's first phase.

In April 2019, PONGO Alliance received a sponsorship commitment of RM1.2 million from YSD to develop evidence-based guidelines to (i) encourage strategic collaboration with local government, oil palm growers, NGOs and local communities to advocate and synergise conservation efforts; (ii) establish safe spaces outside of protected areas for orangutans by identifying, and supporting industry to maintain and restore natural vegetation within estates; and (iii) assist estates and others to manage orangutan sightings. This YSD support also facilitated an additional RM300,000 in matching funds from the Ministry of Finance in 2021.

In collaboration with companies, this initiative has restored habitat within 80 ha of estate land in Kinabatangan by planting 4,000 native species providing safe spaces and “stepping stone” linkages between forest patches within the oil palm estates and nearby forest reserves.

The crucial collaborative efforts through formal and informal discussions, arranged workshops, as well as training sessions among key stakeholders driven by a paradigm shift in thinking and practices were synthesised with more conventional data collection methods documenting orangutan use of this fragmented forest landscape. This information collected from all stakeholders was integrated with research findings, and is presented in a bilingual FAQ Info Book “What About Orangutans / Ada Apa Dengan Orangutan” released today, alongside the launch of the BMP guidelines. Together with a scientific paper published last year, the documents will facilitate improved understanding and implementation to foster human-orangutan coexistence in oil palm estates.

Research findings from the project emphasise the importance of (i) collaborations among all stakeholders to ensure survival of wild orangutans; (ii) safe passage for orangutans across human-used areas; (iii) preserving as much forest as possible for habitat security; (iv) functional connectivity between forests; and (v) increasing the capacity to grow and supply native species to restore and improve habitat.

Five large oil palm plantation companies in Kinabatangan partnered and contributed to the development of the important BMPs towards orangutan-human coexistence. In conjunction with the BMP launch, a collaborative workshop was held at the Rainforest Discovery Centre with SWD, SFD, and oil palm grower representatives from 9 major companies including Sime Darby Plantation Berhad, to encourage better and more effective implementation of these important guidelines.

"As an essential part of YSD's commitment to addressing conservation challenges, we are thrilled to have initiated this work with PONGO Alliance. This project is a continuation of our decade-long collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department for the Northern Ulu Segama orangutan habitat reforestation initiative that began in 2008 to plant trees in 5,400 hectares of highly degraded forest, allowing it to become the fully protected Bukit Piton Forest Reserve it is today. By bringing together conservationists, palm oil producers, and wildlife and forestry management agencies, this strategic collaboration is a crucial first step towards building the much-needed guiding principles to ensure humans and wild orangutan populations shall coexist for many generations to come," emphasised Dr Yatela Zainal Abidin, CEO of Yayasan Sime Darby.

Committed to allow safe passage for male orangutans across estates and protecting the females living in forest patches within their estates, Nazlan Mohamad, General Manager, Sustainability Unit of Sawit Kinabalu Group, highlighted the role of oil palm growers in conserving the remaining wild orangutan populations. "The BMP guidelines for coexistence with orangutans living in oil palm landscapes demonstrate the importance of active collaboration between all parties to ensure the long-term survival of Asia's only great ape species."

"The extent of orangutan use of just about every small forest patch or “stepping stone” in the plantation landscape and how well orangutans are capable of moving around undetected by people as revealed in this study was reassuring news to us tasked with enforcing laws that protect this Critically Endangered species. This is an essential step in support of the new Sabah Action Plan 2020-2029 mandate to ensure orangutans can survive in agricultural landscapes, halt habitat loss and restore forest, and ensure better protection of orangutans across their entire habitat," noted Sylvia Alsisto, Sabah Wildlife Manager in charge of the Kinabatangan and Tongod Districts.

"While the output document is titled "Best" Management Practices, it is still a dynamic process, and in the true spirit of collaboration to create something better than a single stakeholder can achieve alone, we look forward to continuing to learn and address concerns in this workshop and ongoing," said Dr Felicity Oram, Project Director of PONGO Alliance.

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Last Updated:
17 Mar 2023
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