Development halted in crucial wildlife corridor in Malaysia

Jeremy Hance
November 07, 2012

Kenyir Wildlife Corridor in northeast Malaysia is teeming with wildlife: elephants, gibbons, tigers, tapirs, and even black panthers (melanistic leopards) have been recorded in the 60 kilometer (37 mile) stretch of forest. In fact, researchers have recorded over 40 mammal species (see species list below), including 15 threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List. When these findings were presented by scientists to the Terengganu state government action followed quickly: all development projects have been halted pending a government study.

"We will not hesitate to gazette the site if the findings reveal that it is of environmental importance," Datuk Toh Chin Yaw, chairman of the Terengganu State Industry, Trade and Environment Committee, told fz.

Connecting Taman Negara National Park—the country's largest—to other forests in Terengganu, Kenyir Wildlife Corridor sports a stunning abundance of wildlife, according to Reuben Clements, who has been taking remote camera photos in the forest for years.

A melanistic leopard, more popularly known as a 'black panther,' photograph in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor. Photo courtesy of Reuben Clements.
A melanistic leopard, more popularly known as a 'black panther,' photograph in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor. Photo courtesy of Reuben Clements.
"This corridor has been highlighted by the Federal government as one of Malaysia's primary ecological linkages and it's a vital bottleneck for animals," Clements, a PhD student at James Cook University and a Research Associate with Universiti Malaya, told mongabay.com. "[The] diversity [of wildlife] is as high as that recorded from camera trap surveys conducted in Taman Negara more than 10 years ago."

In addition to over 40 mammal species, the forest is also home to nearly 290 birds, including nine of ten of Malaysia's hornbill species. Still a halt on development plans does not mean the corridor is saved or that its species don't face additional threats.

"The main threats to this corridor is conversion of forests to improperly planned eco-tourism infrastructure and poaching, especially by foreigners from Indo-China," Clements says. "There is also a threat from the legal conversion of forest reserves to monoculture rubber plantations, but the state government has assured us this won't happen for now."

Clements and colleagues are now working with the state government in hopes to secure full protected status for the corridor.

"We have submitted our recommendations to the state government and environmental consultants, detailing areas in the corridor that should be spared from conversion, as well as measures to deter poaching," he notes.

Scientists say that increasing protection for corridors like Kenyir could be key to preserving populations of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), and other species that require a huge expanse to thrive and don't heed protected area boundaries.

The halted development is another success story for a unique and young organization of scientists, Rimba. Another Rimba member, Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, has been working closely with government agencies to mitigate human-elephant conflict across peninsular Malaysia.

A dhole photographed on camera trap. This species is considered Endangered. Photo courtesy of Reuben Clements.
A dhole photographed on camera trap. This species is considered Endangered. Photo courtesy of Reuben Clements.
Founded just two years ago, Clements explains that "Rimba is not an NGO, consultancy nor a society—they are non-profit research group registered in Malaysia and are dependent on grants and donations to remain operational."

He says Rimba is not against economic development, but believes "impacts can be minimized."

"Apart from pursuing fundamental research, Rimba conducts applied scientific research with the ultimate aim of developing evidence-based management recommendations to help decision-makers reduce threats to ecosystems and species in Malaysia," Clements adds.

It appears that the Malaysia government, both at the national and state levels, are listening.

"The state government has been receptive to scientists who can provide adequate justifications for the environmental causes they are pursuing," Clements says, nothing that, "earlier this year, the state government helped us ban the hunting of flying foxes (Pteropus vampyrus) after submitting a proposal that highlighted the economic and biological importance of this threatened species."

Mammal species found in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor to date

Dhole (Cuon alpinus), Endangered
Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Endangered
White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar), Endangered
Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica), Endangered
Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), Endangered
Asian Tapir (Tapirus indicus), Endangered
Binturong (Arctictis binturong), Vulnerable
Gaur (Bos gaurus), Vulnerable
Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), Vulnerable
Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus), Vulnerable
Banded Palm Civet (Hemigalus derbyanus), Vulnerable
Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina), Vulnerable
Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Vulnerable
Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata), Vulnerable
Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor), Vulnerable
Leopard (Panthera pardus), Near Threatened
Golden Cat (Pardofelis temminckii), Near Threatened
White-thighed Leaf Monkey (Presbytis siamensis), Near Threatened
Pale Giant Squirrel (Ratufa affinis), Near Threatened
Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus), Near Threatened
Large Indian Civet (Viverra zibetha), Near Threatened
Small-toothed Palm Civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata), Least Concern
Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus macrourus), Least Concern
Prevost’s Squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii), Least Concern
Moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura), Least Concern
Crab-eating Mongoose (Herpestes urva), Least Concern
Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura), Least Concern
Three-striped Ground Squirrel (Lariscus insignis), Least Concern
Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis), Least Concern
Yellow-throated Marten (Martes flavigula), Least Concern
Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntjak), Least Concern
Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), Least Concern
Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Least Concern
Banded Linsang (Prionodon linsang), Least Concern
Bamboo Rat (Rhizomys sumatrensis), Least Concern
Wild Pig (Sus scrofa), Least Concern
Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga), Least Concern
Malay Peninsula Pithecher (Pithecheir parvus), Data Deficient

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (November 07, 2012).

Development halted in crucial wildlife corridor in Malaysia.