Kinabatangan Wildlife Corridor Rehabilitation Program Update
- By Michelle Noronha and Albert Teo -
Universiti Malaysia Sabah Tree Planting in 2000
Sukau Rainforest Lodge’s (SRL) tree planting project was recently renamed ‘KWICORP’, which is an acronym for Kinabatangan Wildlife Corridor Rehabilitation Program. The project which is run by the staff at SRL and BET, aims to regenerate a 64 acres site of riverine forest corridor along the lower Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysia.
This lower section of the Kinabatangan River has been recognised nationally and internationally as one of the worlds most biodiverse regions. Sections of this area were recently gazetted as protected wildlife sanctuary, further proving such recognition.
The KWICORP project aims to regenerate forest in one of the many ‘gaps’ or fragments along the river, by planting local tree seedlings at the site.
Since its inception in 2000, a total of RM 43,329 was spent on this effort and donation received from volunteers is RM 31,809. A total of 4,459 tree seedlings were purchased from the local community and planted at the site.
The importance of maintaining this forest corridor primarily lies in the following:
- The riverine fringe provides good fish habitat, and good fish stocks are important to the local people (Orang Sungai) because fishing in the lower Kinabatangan region is one of their main sources of income.
- Providing habitat for wildlife in the lower Kinabatangan Region is necessary in an area which has already lost large tracts of natural habitat to past and present land uses, particularly that of palm oil estates.
- Riverine vegetation provides bank stabilization and reduces soil erosion due to tidal fluctuations and waves created by the movement of boats along the Kinabatangan River.
Tree planting by HRH Prince Henrik, Consort of Denmark (2002)
The project was officiated on the 4th June 2000 by the Assistant Tourism Development, Environment, Science and Technology, Datuk Hj Nahalan Hj Damsal, and at the time incorporated 64 acres of river land near Tenegang Kecil, in the lower Kinabatangan Region.
There were a number of factors causing the slow progress of this project in the early stages. They are summarised as the following:
- Soil at the site is quite compacted due to the site previously being a logging dump i.e. difficult for the roots of the young trees to establish themselves.
- Soil is infertile and lacking in organic matter in majority of the site.
- Elephants were previously trampling the area during their migration (currently fencing from neighbouring palm oil estates inhibits this).
- Flooding has occurred on a number of occasions with flood levels at times 1.5 to 2m high; most recent flooding occurred in 2006. Seedlings which are not well established or above the flood levels do not survive.
- Insects attack the foliage of the young leaves, slowing down the overall growth rate of the seedling, and sometimes resulting in death of the seedling.
- Previously a lack of site maintenance; lack of experience and weeds (especially climbers) were hindering the growth of the trees.
Prior to September 2007, guests staying at SRL contributed to the project by planting a tree at the KWICORP site as part of their tour package. However this program was changed in mid-September for two reasons in particular:
- The trees planted at the KWICORP site were already at a high density of trees per area.
- Urgent site maintenance work was required in regards to containing weeds at the site, and soil improvement activities on a regular basis.
Faizul (SRL) & Michelle (KWICORP Volunteer)
As a result the activities at the KWICORP site have now been limited to the staff members of SRL and incorporate site maintenance and soil improvement activities. Guests who stay at SRL are still given the opportunity to visit the site and are informed of SRL and BET’s conservation efforts through the guides and slide show presentation at SRL. Furthermore, guests are still invited to contribute to the project through donation.
The staff at SRL are currently in charge of the activities related to KWICORP. These have been summarised below, although they are not limited to the following. Rather they were the recommendations left to them by an Australian work experience student before her departure in mid December 2007. They are summarised as the following:
Recommended actions for SRL staff in regards to the maintenance of the KWICORP site:
1.) Conduct site maintenance and soil improvement activities
- Ensure the weeds are not smothering the trees planted by cutting back the weeds
- Place dead leaves and/or water hyacinth around the trees planted (as a mulch)
- Place elephant dung around the trees planted (as a fertiliser/soil improver)
- Bury kitchen food scraps near the trees planted (as a fertiliser/soil improver)
2.) Collection of soil improvement materials
- Collect dead leaves in sacks to take to the tree planting site (i.e. when raking is done around the lodge site, collect the leaves which have been raked)
- Search for and collect elephant dung
(N.B. only when they are in the area and when the dung is dry i.e. no rain for a few days)
- Collect vegetable and fruit scraps from the kitchen in a separate bag
3.) Evaluation and monitoring
- It is recommended that a meeting with management staff is held once a month to report on the activities conducted for KWICORP and any observations in regards to the progress of the project. The people who should be present include the manager and/or assistant manager, Hassan and Ali (from the gardening department) and Winston (resident naturalist/guide). The meeting minutes or outcomes should then be forwarded to the KK and Sandakan offices.
KWICORP Site in 2008
The recommended actions in points 1 and 2 above need to be conducted on a regular basis. The number of times and the time of day the site is visited each week will vary according to climatatic conditions i.e. rain, extreme heat. However staff should be consistent with the maintenance of the KWICORP site and also persistent in their efforts to rehabilitate the site as a contribution to conservation in the lower Kinabatangan Region.
In summary, although there have been a number of significant issues affecting the progress of KWICORP, there is evidence at the site of successful plantings from previous years, and thus it can be said that the overall aim of the project to rehabilitate degraded land is being achieved to an extent.
More valuable is the lesson learned by the staff that all successes come from the need for self discipline, perseverance in the face of challenges, learning from mistakes and right attitude. With the continued persistency of the staff at SRL with this challenge, and through the financial and moral support and advice from Borneo Eco Tours, work experience students and international guests staying at SRL who have knowledge in this field, KWICORP has the potential to become a base model for successful rehabilitation of degraded land in the lower Kinabatangan region.
Borneo Eco Tours has recently in February 2008 made a request to the government to identify another site for KWICORP Phase II project.