Conservation of the Kinabatangan River Corridor
The Kinabatangan River is a 560km river running through the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. The lower 100km of this river flows through a densely forested floodplain that is teeming with exotic plants, tropical birds and rare primates.
Unfortunately, the forest surrounding the Kinabatangan River has been under threat of development since the 1950s. The lush, alluvial floodplain lends itself well to agriculture, which has created substantial economic pressure to clear this land for cash crops. Thanks to great international effort, this forest and its inhabitants remain preserved to this day.
During the 1980s, Malaysia began rapidly converting much of its natural forests into palm oil plantations. Malaysia is currently the largest producer of palm oil in the world and Sabah is the largest palm oil producing region in Malaysia. This form of agriculture has contributed significantly to the growing economy of Malaysia, yet it has also destroyed a large portion of wildlife habitat.
Palm Oil (Elaeis guineensis) is native to West Africa but has spread like wildfire in Southeast Asia. 90% of the world’s supply of palm oil is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia. Despite new vegetable and algae based oils, palm oil remains the cheapest vegetable oil to produce. It’s also an incredibly versatile oil. Palm oil is used in biofuels, butter, cosmetics, cooking oils, ext. Demand for the commodity is expected to rise rapidly. In response to this growing demand, local governments have set palm oil production targets to increase to 40 million tons by 2020.
In an attempt to preserve the Kinabatangan forests from encroaching palm plantations, the WWF-Malaysia (World Wildlife Fund) began to focus conservation efforts on this riparian zone back in the late 1990s. By 2005, the WWF-Malaysia, working with the Sabah state government, successfully set aside 26,000 hectacres of land. This conservation effort created the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. This sanctuary status means this stretch of river forest is now off limits to the palm oil industry.
The wildlife sanctuary is called ‘The Corridor of Life’, which is an accurate name. This thin slice of forest is overflowing with wild animals: orangutans, proboscis monkeys, elephants, langurs, gibbons, tarsiers, ext. In a strange twist of fate, the rise of palm oil farms in Sabah has enriched the Kinabatangan Sanctuary with primates and other forest creatures. As the surrounding forests, outside of the sanctuary were cleared and converted to palm farms, the animals had no other option but to crowd into the Kinabatangan River riparian zone.