Bukit Piton: A Case of Reforestation Success

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A recent aerial image of Bukit Piton, captured using a drone. ©WWF-Malaysia

Amidst endless acres of palm oil plantations in the district of Lahad Datu lies a Class I Protection Forest Reserve that is small in size but vast in importance – Bukit Piton Forest Reserve. Located in the Northern Part of Ulu-Segama Malua Forest Reserve, Bukit Piton is not only a lesson in the effects of poor logging practices but also an encouraging reminder in what we can do if we were to be serious about conservation.

The forests of Bukit Piton, or previously known as North Ulu Segama (NUS), suffered not only in the name of men’s strive for economic gains, but also the wrath of Mother Nature. During the 1980s to 2007, the area was logged extensively and harvested using unsustainable practices. This, combined with drought-induced forest fires in 1983 and 1997-98, resulted in a degraded forest that was vulnerable for conversion to agricultural land, not unlike the areas that surround it.

Bukit Piton: A Case of Reforestation Success

The orangutans at North-Ulu Segama

But NUS had one last card to play. The forest is home to an estimated 300 (Alfred et. al., 2010) orangutan individuals, rendering its population survival at a critical stage. To make matters worse, the orangutan population in the area is also completely isolated. Palm oil plantations to the north and east of the area and the Segama river to the south prevents the orangutan from migrating out of this isolated area for food and breeding purposes, and if nothing was done, the chances of the population’s survival is close to none.

Recognising the dire importance of restoring North Ulu Segama in order to preserve its orangutan population and at same time protect other forest biodiversity, WWF-Malaysia together with the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) spearheaded the forest restoration programme in North Ulu Segama in 2007.

The North Ulu Segama reserve, then known as a Class II – Commercial Forest Reserve, was reclassified by the Sabah State Government as a Class I – Protection Forest Reserve in 2012 and renamed as Bukit Piton. The change in classification is a significant one as it meant that the forest is protected by law from any form of land conversion, timber exploitation or extraction of any forest products.

Bukit Piton, a decade later

An orangutan spotted up a tree at Bukit Piton. ©WWF-Malaysia

Today, a little over a decade later, things are looking up for Bukit Piton. 2,266 hectares (ha) of the degraded forests in Bukit Piton have been restored, just over 150ha shy of its target of 2,400ha. Trees are seen to thrive in the area, growing and maturing at its expected pace.

But the mark of a true success of reforestation is when wildlife begins to make use of replanted trees, be it for food or for shelter. Thus the test to see whether or not Bukit Piton was a success story when it comes to reforestation depended heavily on whether or not the orangutans of the area utilised the replanted trees either for food, traveling or as nests.

In 2011, after years of careful observation on the field, WWF-Malaysia’s Orangutan Conservation Team have found that the orangutans have indeed utilised the replanted trees in Bukit Piton. Nests can be found on the Laran and Bayur trees that lined the forest. Individual orangutans have also been observed to be eating on fruiting trees.

Conservation’s unsung heroes

From Left: Program Assistant Zuraimi Rahman, Senior Program Assistant Middle Seen Kapis @ Bob, Senior Program Assistant Tinrus Tindok @ Kalut, and Senior Program Assistant William Joseph. ©WWF-Malaysia

Yet the work here is far from done. The orangutan population at Bukit Piton will be monitored from time to time by WWF-Malaysia’s Orangutan Conservation Team under the Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme (STCP). The four men – Bob, William, Kalut and Zuraimi – will make regular trips back to Bukit Piton to monitor orangutan’s behaviour and use of planted trees for food, nesting and travelling.

Over the years, these men have observed the orangutan from afar, gathered data and studied their behaviour. Of the 300 or so orangutan individuals that inhabit Bukit Piton, these programme assistants have named and identified approximately 80, giving them endearing names such as Koyah, Maya and JJ amongst others. They meticulously note down the features and characteristics of the orangutans that they encounter and record their movement and food species. These informations help us to better understand what tree species are favoured by orangutan that need to be protected or planted.

What you can do to help

Here are some easy ways that you can do to help protect the forest and wildlife:

  • Reuse, reduce and recycle paper. In this way, we will eventually reduce the demand for paper and therefore decrease the numbers of trees cut down for human consumption
  • Be vigilant. Report to the Sabah Wildlife Department should you come across the selling and buying of wildlife that are usually sold in parts. These include but are not limited to orangutans, elephants, pangolins and sun bears.
  • Where possible, use Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) products.
  • Donate to our cause (http://www.wwf.org.my/how_you_can_help/donate_main/). WWF-Malaysia currently runs crucial conservation projects aimed at protecting the forests, rivers and seas as well as saving endangered species such as tigers, elephants and orangutans. Your contribution to the work that WWF-Malaysia do will help create more success stories like Bukit Piton and hopefully conserve our wildlife well into the future.

Aside from donating, you can also help further WWF-Malaysia’s cause through volunteer work, symbolic adoption and fund-raising. For more information on how you can take action, please visit wwf.org.my

About WWF-Malaysia

WWF-Malaysia (World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia) was established in Malaysia in 1972. It currently runs more than 90 projects covering a diverse range of environmental conservation and protection work, from saving endangered species such as tigers and turtles, to protecting our highland forests, rivers and seas. The national conservation organization also undertakes environmental education and advocacy work to achieve its conservation goals. Its mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the nation’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

Elaine Clara Mah T: +6088 262 420 Ext. 121 E: emah@wwf.org.my W: http://www.wwf.org.my/media_and_information/media_centre/