If not, “it is entirely possible that the Proboscis monkey can be gone completely 100 years from now”, Cardiff University biodiversity Professor Michael Bruford says.
What he actually said was if Sabah can now put in place the measures: (1) stop the hunting (1) stop the habitat loss and (3) systemise monitoring and resource it, Proboscis monkey populations will rebound!
Mighty promise tempered with dire warning which Bruford said when he presented the PHVA results at the International Workshop on Proboscis Monkey Conservation in Sabah at Narada Hotel, Putatan on Feb 23.
As usual, Daily Express probed him to clarify the measures he cited that will decide the destiny of this unique monkey for Sabah to act on.
Here’s our Q&A:
Don suggests three measures to help populations rebound
- Measure 1: Monitoring Daily Express (DE): You stress monitoring a lot, why?
Bruford: Monitoring is very important so that we don’t have to keep sweeping up the mess afterwards when somebody goes in and clear a big chunk of forest which is having a Proboscis monkey group living in it.
We need to be vigilant and stop things before they happen or as they are about to happen.
DE: How do you ensure monitoring measures are effective?
Bruford: You actually need to put boots on the ground, it needs to be properly resourced and people need to have systems in place to increase vigilance. The systems have to be vigilant. It is more feasible to monitor protected areas than outside protected areas. That’s why the bigger picture is how to enable the people to look after the forests and mangroves outside the protected areas. One of the ways of doing it is Citizen Science which empowers local communities to do it. The size of Sabah is an obvious challenge but there are people out there all the time – people visiting those sites.
So you just need to put the system in place but they need to be resourced properly.
One cannot do without the other. With the Proboscis monkey, there had been situations where we found after the fact that big chunks of forests were gone. So, doing things after the fact is also false economics.
People think monitoring is expensive and that is why they say it’s ineffective.
But when you chop down a lot of forests, how long and how much money it takes to rehabilitate it?
So it’s false economics.
- Measure 2: Stop hunting DE: You said If we put in the measures now to stop hunting and stop habitat loss, then the whole thing can rebound? Please elaborate.
Bruford: Yes, we are thinking about first of all of all stopping the low level hunting that we model after 20 years and also stopping the loss particularly the mangrove habitat destruction after 40 years.
So we model those two scenarios at the same time, and the large populations rebound.
DE: Where are our bigger or main populations?
Bruford: The biggest population is the one that links Kinabatangan, the southern Sandakan, Ulu Segama – that big area there that’s got a very large population. The Klias Peninsula as we have heard (from Dr Henry Bernard) – that’s another very big population. So those are the two big populations. Then you got small populations up in the north- Kudat, Pitas and then down south in Tawau, Sebatik island – another reasonably large population down there as well.
DE: But do we know the total population.
Bruford: I don’t think we know because John Sha did his census in 2006, so that’s out of date but it’s probably 5,500 to 6,000 something of that nature.
“The only problem is that the smaller populations where nearly all the habitat is mangrove they take a big hit as they are really crushed in size.”
That was just one scenario.
- Measure 3: Stop Business As Usual, Stop habitat destruction is big priority “With mangrove we can’t afford to let the habitat destruction go on for very long, because especially the Eastern population are nearly all mangroves and the mangrove is the one way for the animal can go from one population to another. So actually I think the mangroves are a big priority for the proboscis monkey.
DE: Why are mangrove populations a priority when you say they are small populations?
Bruford: But they are linked. If you look at the coasts, mangroves also act as a way some of these populations can link to each other – a corridor if you like. So that’s why they are very important.”
“But this is the ‘Business As Usual’ issue I am coming into: In terms of habitat destruction the fact that Sabah has been losing 2.5pc of mangroves per year – that’s the big problem and priority I would say so.
And mangrove don’t get that or very rarely get that kind prioritisation that they needed.”
Sure way to exterminate the monkey – the ‘Business As Usual’ model development DE: ‘Business As Usual’ - this model of development is the surest way to eventually wipe out Sabah’s Proboscis monkeys, you pointed out at the Workshop. Can you explain, because it is a useful concept to go for change. Bruford: Business As Usual is to have habitat degradation continue for the whole of 100 years of the model.
So if you allow 2.5pc loss of mangroves, if you allow half or 1pc loss every year and if you have hunting in the Model as well and just assuming that the current level of El Nino events like the 1997-8, if you have those going-ons well, then every population except Klias and Sandakan, Kinabatangan and Ulu Segama, will go extinct!
The first extinction will start around 40 years from now and even the two big populations in the Eastern and Western Sabah although the majority of the simulations survive, there is still a 20pc chance that they can go completely. But after 100 years, it is entirely possible that they can go completely.
Workshop that turns the tide of extinction?
DE: In other words, this 3-day Workshop is a very instructive platform to sink in the destructiveness of Business As Usual?
Bruford: Yes, one of the things I think is really important about this workshop is it highlights a really, really important feature – the mangroves that are really under appreciated. They mitigate against nutrient loss, they are a very important way of regulating water quality and if we can use a workshop like this not only to enhance the conservation of the Proboscis monkey but also the habitats in which they live, we begin to see the big picture.
If we can use this animal as an icon for the mangrove forests as well as the riparian forests, that’s the big picture.
In a way individual species don’t matter, well they do, they are iconic but by themselves they are not the big picture.
Prof’s plea for riparian forests DE: You brought riparian forest into the big picture. Why is it so important?
Bruford: We have a Paper coming up soon, which shows that if you cut down riparian forests you will lose the river banks which will start eroding so rapidly that you lose lots of land and soil where the oil palm companies have planted right to the edge of the river. So the river banks just go whoosh – they just lose their integrity.
So you lose land if you take the riparian zones out and of course they are very important for wildlife as well.
The Kinabatangan for example has lots of issues anyway, I mean the populations are fragmented, illegally planted oil palm is everywhere and there is some riparan buffer strips but they are very narrow and even absent and those are huge issues for the Proboscis monkey because it removes any connectivity. And we can’t afford to do that much longer. Because I have been in this game so long I know we can’t afford to carry on doing this.
Sukau bridge – look at every (and any) alternative DE: So what do you think of the proposed Sukau Bridge?
Bruford: I can’t imagine it being a positive thing in anyway for the wildlife in the Kinabatangan.
I think it’s an unbelievable decision. For me I think we should be looking at any and every alternative to the bridge.
So from my perspective, I fully understand people need improved infrastructure but why not improve the current infrastructure.