Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are the major threats to orangutan survival. In Sabah, Malaysia,35% of orangutan habitat has been lost since the early 1980’s. In August 2005, a broken stretch of forest made up of 12 parcels (mostly isolated from each other), covering about 26,000 ha and lying along the Kinabatangan River was officially gazetted as the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS). However, this forested corridor is bordered by growing human activities, both by local communities and extensive oil palm plantations.
Former habitat reduction and fragmentation have resulted in many environmental issues, such as an increased rate of wildlife conflicts, pollution, depletion of timber and wildlife resources and lack of space to develop new economical activities. It is feared that the always-increasing human pressure on the last remaining natural resources of this floodplain might jeopardize the viability of these habitats.
Since 2005, the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP) has collaborated with the Sabah Wildlife Department to elect members of local communities to be directly involved in the conservation and management of the LKWS by becoming ‘Honorary Wildlife Wardens’. These wardens are able to enforce laws and apprehend offenders when necessary.
The Wildlife Warden teams monitor and protect the wildlife and habitat within the Sanctuary and they also engage in community outreach and conservation programmes in the area. Vigilance is critical to ensuring the maintenance of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and its orangutan population. Wardens play a critical ‘on ground’ role in ensuring encroachment, illegal logging and other human activities are identified swiftly and responded to with appropriate law enforcement.