May 15, 2013

MALAYSIA: River Keeper Unit Established In Sabah's Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife SanctuaryTo Protect Borneo Pygmy Elephants

The Star, Malaysia
written by Muguntan Vanar
Sunday May 12, 2013

KOTA KINABALU - A special River Keeper Unit has been established in Sabah's Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS), an initiative aimed at protecting Borneo pygmy elephants and other wildlife.

"Honorary wildlife wardens" from local communities will be tasked with checking for illegal activities such as encroachment on reserves, illegal logging and hunting along the river.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said the unit will complement efforts of his department as their resources were insufficient to cover the whole state.

He said the River Keeper Unit would assist in monitoring wildlife as well as threats to wildlife along the river and within the LKWS.

The unit is headed by community members Mohd Syafendy Yajit and Sudirman Sawang, who are well suited for the job as both have years of experience working with the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme under HUTAN, a French NGO involved in conservation activities.

HUTAN's scientific director Dr Marc Ancrenaz said that the local wardens also had a lot of field experience with elephants.

"The unit will conduct day and night patrols to monitor and prevent illegal activities such as encroachment in riparian reserves, illegal logging and hunting along the 260 kms of river within the LKWS, from Lokan to Abai villages," Dr Acrenaz added.

The River Keeper Unit was established jointly by the Wildlife department, HUTAN and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and is being funded by Elephant Family and the Kinabatangan-Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association (KiTA).

The River Keeper Unit will be based at the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) in Kinabatangan and will also monitor tourism activities along the Kinabatangan river, stopping any boats getting too close to the elephants.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said although tourism can boost economic development, ill-managed activities could also be a nuisance to elephants and their habitat.

"With this in mind, one of the major roles of the River Keeper Unit will be to investigate elephant responses to tourism activities along the Kinabatangan and to come up with wildlife-watching guidelines that will be provided to the different tour operators in the Kinabatangan with the goal of minimizing tourism disturbance for wildlife," he said.

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