Protecting the Elephant Transboundary Landscape between Sabah and North Kalimantan
Communications Officer - Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme, WWF-Malaysia
For decades, elephants have been moving through the narrow corridors connecting Sabah and North Kalimantan in search for food and shelter. While Borneo elephants typically inhabit the central and southern ranges of Sabah, North Kalimantan is the only remaining habitat for elephants in Indonesia. Therefore, the existence of the corridor connecting North Kalimantan to Sabah is vital to the survival of these gentle giants, especially those inhabiting the Indonesian side of Borneo.
However, the existence of these corridors are threatened, now more than ever as plans for economic and infrastructure developments are beginning to put pressure on governments and companies to convert the land for various uses. Recognising this, WWF-Malaysia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Wildlife Department in October 2017 to secure the southern landscape on the Sabah side of the corridor. Through the MoU, all parties seek to maintain, establish and restore landscape connectivity for animals, plants and communities by harmonising and balancing the competing land uses within the area.
WWF-Malaysia and WWF-Indonesia have also been conducting field surveys since 2012 to search for signs of elephants using the transboundary landscape. This ground data serves as a crucial advocacy tool to lobby for the protection of their habitat.
Securing the Sabah landscape is only one part of the solution with the other being to secure the landscape in North Kalimantan. In order to protect the transboundary landscape between the two countries, WWF-Malaysia and WWF-Indonesia co-organised a study visit to North Kalimantan in February 2018 to develop a better understanding of the landscape in order to identify suitable areas for connectivity across the border. This visit is part of a larger project exploring FMU25 in Sabah that is funded by WWF-Belgium, which also serves as a stepping-stone for the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia to develop an effective conservation management plan.
The Sharing of Experiences
WWF-Malaysia Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme (STCP)’s Julia Ng and Dr. Cheryl Cheah joined the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department on their visit to the sub-district of Tulin Onsoi in North Kalimantan where they shared with the local communities there on the elephant conservation work done by the STCP team in Sabah. Dr. Cheryl presented on the elephant collaring work in Sabah and explained to the local community there how data obtained because of elephant collaring is used to manage human-elephant conflicts. She suggested that collaring an elephant at the sub-district would assist WWF-Indonesia and the villagers to monitor elephant movement as an early warning system, therefore reducing the potential for conflict.
For Sabah and North Kalimantan, the work has just begun. To ensure a protected corridor for the elephants to traverse through the border for years to come, WWF-Malaysia and WWF-Indonesia will have to work in close partnership with each other and with the various stakeholders involved. A series of workshops and field visits on both sides of the border have been planned to better understand elephant activity and engage with local governments to enforce proper regulations to ensure a future for these endangered species.