KUCHING (August 16): In an exciting development in wildlife research, camera traps set up by WWF-Malaysia for wildlife research have captured images of orangutans in Gunung Lesong forests in Sri Aman region.
WWF-Malaysia said in a statement that this provides the first historic camera trap images of the elusive primate for the region and highlights the need for better protection of forests outside Gunung Lesong National Park.
He said these newly emerged images not only bring good news to Sarawak, especially to stakeholders in this landscape working together to protect and sustainably manage the landscape as a potential ecotourism complex, but it is also timely in terms of the upcoming International Orangutan Day. It falls on August 19 every year.
WWF-Malaysia senior field biologist Lukmann Haqeem Alen said that after months of setting up camera traps to get basic wildlife information for the area, the team is excited to see images of the orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus, on camera.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time we have caught orangutans using camera traps in Gunung Lesong.
“Locals reported seeing orangutans in the area more often during fruiting season,” he said.
He shared that in December last year, a community member managed to record a video that is believed to contain an orangutan.
“Camera trap footage of the orangutans once again confirmed what the locals had said.
“We can confidently say that there are three individuals based on their body size and facial features. “One of the captivating footage captured shows a mother orangutan with her cub, which is an encouraging sign that the population is still breeding in this region.”
Noting that there is no definitive answer yet as to why these orangutans landed in this region, the President said that normally orangutans spend most of their time in the trees.
“But they do occasionally land on the ground, and this behavior has been observed elsewhere,” added Lukmann.
In a series of camera trap footage of the female orangutan with her baby, the primate appeared from a nearby creek before climbing a tree. The orangutan may have descended in search of water before seeking a safe haven in the trees again.
Gunung Lesong is a mountain about 850 meters above sea level, historically revered as a sacred place among the Iban in Sarawak.
The presence of orangutans on the mountain is one of the factors that led to Gunung Lesong being declared a national park in 2013.
Nearby, the predominantly peat bog Ulu Sebuyau National Park was officially declared in 2010.
Both Gunung Lesong and Ulu Sebuyau national park form an extensive orangutan habitat complex that encompasses community lands in between.
The existence of community lands in a significant range of orangutan habitats has prompted WWF-Malaysia to work with them to protect the precious ecosystem of surrounding Gunung Lesong.
One of the key activities is the recognition of the Gunung Lesong-Ulu Sebuyau Corridor for orangutans by keeping the forests intact in this 389-hectare corridor and allowing orangutans to move between these areas.
Under the Sri Aman Development Agency (Sada) master plan, Gunung Lesong and the orangutan are integral parts of the ecotourism complex.
The presence of orangutans inside and outside national parks is a testament to the Sarawak government’s effort to protect this iconic species and the forest in which they live, according to Sada special administration officer Datu Indit Bangai.
“Under Sada, we will continue to work with all key stakeholders, including WWF-Malaysia, to develop a community-based ecotourism model for this region and protect the orangutans and their habitats.
“We’re really happy with the camera trap footage of orangutans in this area,” he said.
WWF-Malaysia hopes this will bring the same excitement to all stakeholders who are part of this conservation journey for this area.
One of them is the Gunung Lesong Community-Based Ecotourism Committee, which was established in 2018 to promote ecotourism and sustainable livelihoods and is represented by the communities living there.
Dr Victor Luna, chairman of the committee, said the committee encourages local communities to participate in conservation-related activities that not only protect the environment and orangutans, but also generate income for people through cultural and tourism activities.
“The Ministry of Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts has determined that this area has great potential to be successfully transformed into an ecotourism site, but above all, we must sustainably manage and prevent the degradation or conversion of orangutan habitats here.
“Gung Lesong is also my hometown and I envision people here pursuing sustainable livelihood options such as ecotourism and agroforestry,” he said.
The project to protect orangutan habitats and the implementation of communities’ livelihoods could not have been undertaken by WWF-Malaysia alone without the support of other stakeholders.
Sri Aman Resident Office, Pantu and Lingga District Offices, Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Sarawak Forestry Department, Agriculture Department as well as Land and Cadastre Department came together to develop a local zoning plan. the field that includes conservation and sustainable development through agroforestry and community livelihood activities.
Key to these successes are the local Gunung Lesong communities, which embrace the concept of coexistence with orangutans and pledge unwavering support to protect their orangutan habitat.
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