Ang Ngan Toh
Sarawak is targeting to gazette areas of about 1.1 million hectares as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries or totally protected areas (TPAs) by the year 2020 in an apparent bid to refute critics that the government is destroying the state’s rainforests.
“We have achieved about 780,000 hectares of gazetted TPAs and more than half of these areas are trans-boundary in nature,” said the Sarawak Forestry Department’s acting deputy director Sapuan Ahmad yesterday at the opening of the ‘Heart of Borneo: Investigators and prosecutors course for wildlife crimes’ in Kuching.
Sapuan said the Batang Ai National Parks and Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary, with a combined area of 1,927 square kilometres, are adjacent to Indonesia’s Bentung Kerihun National Park.
“There are over 2,000 orang utans found in the Batang Ai National Parks and Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said.
He said the state government does not neglect nature conservation in its quest to sustain the physical development of the state.
“The state acknowledges the importance of providing ample land areas for the conservation of wildlife habitats.
“Therefore, the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 and the National Parks and Nature Reserves Ordinance 1998 were enhanced from the 1958 and 1990 editions after the state accepted Sarawak’s Wildlife Master Plan, a report prepared for the state in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1998,” he said.
He said it had become a policy tool for the state government and helped in improving the state laws protecting wildlife.
Sapuan said when both ordinances and their subsidiary laws were passed by the state legislative assembly in 1998, more animals and plants were declared as protected or totally protected in the state.
‘Accusation by western NGOs totally untrue’
Speaking to reporters later, he rubbished suggestions by western non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that logging activities and clearing of forest areas for oil palm plantations have been largely to blame for the depletion population of wildlife in the state.
“That (the accusation by western NGOs) is totally untrue,” he insisted.
Logging companies have been issued licences over thousands of hectares of forests, and large forested areas have been cleared for oil palm plantations by the Sarawak state government over the last 15 years.
The state government intends to open up one million hectares of land, including forested areas, for oil palm plantations by 2020, allegedly in the guise of eradicating poverty.
Most of the licences have been allegedly issued to crony companies or companies owned by family members of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Among the most vocal critics of Taib and the state government are the western-based NGOs, Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) and Survival International (SI).
The Swiss-based BMF had insisted that logging activities in the interiors of Baram and Limbang had not only displaced the natives but had also caused destruction to the habitats of wild animals.
The London-based SI had accused the Sarawak government of issuing licences to clear thousands of hectares of forests for oil palm plantations, thus destroying wildlife habitats and displacing the native people.
Sapuan denied that logging activities and oil palm plantations had done more damage to wildlife than poachers or traffickers of wildlife.
‘Very clear policy on forests’
“In Sarawak, we have a very clear policy on forests. We have 12.3 million hectares or about 70 percent of Sarawak being under forest cover, and these constitute the most important and valuable natural resources in the state,” he said.
He said the state is committed to providing protection for wild animals and plants, especially those involving trans-boundary areas.
Sapuan also dismissed claims that the loggers are involved in large-scale hunting of wild animals for distribution to restaurants and other eating outlets.
“As far as I know, they do not have any guns with them.
“If we know that the loggers have violated conditions issued to logging companies, we will not hesitate to take action,” he said.
He said the Forest Department had engaged over 5,000 locals as honorary rangers to act as the eyes and ears of the department.
“They will inform us if they have information about loggers hunting wild animals for commercial sale,” he said.
Sapuan said as far as he knew, the department had not been informed about any hunting of wild animals by outsiders, including loggers.
He said that the government has enough legislation to deal with conservation and protection of its biological resources.
These included the Forest Ordinance 1948, Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998, Wildlife Protection Rules 1998 and Forest (Planted Forests) Rules 1997.