By Ahmad Shahdan Kasim
Developing countries such as Malaysia rely on agriculture to generate income for its economy. In order to make way for this agricultural activity, some land especially forested land may need to be converted. During such conversion, some biodiversity is lost and this is indeed inevitable.
A significant number of conservation efforts conducted today are based on the assumption that biodiversity is in a declining trend worldwide and needs urgent actions to arrest such losses. A recent study conducted by researchers at the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM), have shown that the situation is not as bad as what was assumed previously.
The study represented an audit of 244 species of ground–dwelling mammals and birds in 15 tropical forest protected areas in Central and South America, Africa and South East Asia. This study was done by analysing primary data collected by camera traps, a recognized, standardized protocol to monitor wildlife. More than 2 million pictures captured by more than 1000 camera traps, were analysed and the study result showed that in the last 3-8 years, 17% of the species monitored actually registered an increase in their population whereas 22% remained constant while 22% showed population declines(1).
This finding differs from previous reports of widespread biodiversity decreased based on secondary data and expert opinions(2). For example, severe biodiversity declines was previously estimated by the Living Planet Index (LPI), wherein LPI reported a 56% decline in tropical populations, a 39% decline in global terrestrial populations, and an 18% decline in terrestrial populations in protected areas between 1970 and 2010(3). These findings by LPI may have given the wrong directions for subsequent conservation efforts.
On the other hand, the results by TEAM have demonstrated the effectiveness of maintaining some forested area as permanent forest reserves or national parks in an overall conservation effort. Despite the fact that Malaysia has converted some forested land into agriculture land that was planted with many agricultural crops including rubber and palm oil, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) in year 2012, some 14.5 million hectares of forested land had been gazetted as Permanent Forest Reserves (PFE) or Permanent Forest Estates (PFE)(4). This together with another 6.5 million hectares of wildlife reserve and state land forest, provided for a whooping acerage of 21 million hectares of total forested area. Malaysia is thus holding on to its commitment of keeping at least 50% of its land as forest and green cover.
Additionally, according to Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2015 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the forest cover in Malaysia is indeed in an increasing trend. The report stated that forest cover in Malaysia was recorded at more than 22 million hectares in year 2015(5). This healthy trend of forest cover is indeed good news for Malaysian biodiversity conservation and efforts. This FAO report is available to be downloaded at (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4808e.pdf).
As a conclusion based on the TEAM findings and the FRA report, the biodiversity scenario in Malaysian tropical rain forests are doing better than what was previously thought and challenges many accusations made earlier. It is very important to correct this, not-so precise assumption as any conservation effort that is to be taken is made based on the scientific data that is available. Wrong decisions made based on wrong information will not help conservation efforts to save endangered species.
The findings made by TEAM are key indicators to show the importance of reserving some forested area as protected areas to protect valuable biodiversity that exist in such forested area. It also emphasizes the importance of the role, long played by government agencies such as the forestry department and wildlife departments in Sabah, Sarawak, and Peninsular Malaysia, in protecting the forest and the biodiversity in it.
4. 5th Report To Convention On Biological Diversity, Ministry Of Natural Resources and Environment, Malaysia