MPOC has set up a Wildlife Conservation Fund to conserve the wildlife in Malaysia like Orang Utan, Pygmy elephant, clouded leopard and rhinoceros. What does the Wildlife Conservation Fund do to conserve these animals? For example, what are the programs that you come up with to conserve these animals?
The Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund or MPOWCF was an initiative we created out of MPOC in order for the Malaysian palm oil industry to actively participate in conservation and wildlife biodiversity in Malaysia. This was also partly in response to the many wild and often unfounded accusations from Western NGOs that the palm oil industry was on a blatant path of destruction. When we asked around much was being undertaken within the country but there was often no focus with respect to the involvement of the palm oil industry.
We therefore launched the MPOWCF with a revolving fund of RM20 million, with half of this amount being contributed by our government and the other half from the industry, pulled out of MPOC’s own reserves. The fund is managed by MPOC. This has allowed us to directly negotiate with many interested parties that are able to bring the required expertise and propose meaningful studies and actions. We hope that in the long term these could allow the harmonized and caring existence between the palm oil industry and fulfills the need to maintain and preserve conservation of both flora and fauna throughout our country.
Since its inception we have funded a variety of conservation efforts. To mention some of our larger initiatives:
(i) Undertook and completed a survey of the orang utan population in Sabah which allowed us to map out many of their dwelling sites and ascertain their numbers. This information, generated by working with the Sabah Wildlife Department, the French NGO Hutan and the Borneo Conservation Trust has been a crucial factor in mapping out most future actions that will be needed in Sabah to ensure the long term conservation of orang utan.
(ii) Grant to the Malua BioBank in Sabah to undertake studies on wildlife and potential conflict with forested areas and fringes of oil palm plantations. MPOWCF also funded rope bridges within Malua to see if orang utan in the wild are capable of using such man made bridges aimed at functioning as corridors connecting isolated populations.
(iii) With Sabah Forestry Department helped establish an active jungle patrol to monitor and act against poaching of protected wildlife
(iv) Research program with Cardiff University (Danau Girang Field Centre, Sabah) and Houston Zoo to study and undertake conservation measures for the Bornean Banteng in Sabah
(v) Major funding for the establishment of the Borneo Elephant Wildlife Sanctuary in collaboration with Sabah Wildlife. Since our commitment, a group of Japanese companies have also expressed an interest to fund and participate in the sanctuary.
(vi) Working with Sarawak Forestry Cooperation to monitor wildlife especially orang utan in several protected areas in Sarawak that share common boundaries with oil palm plantations
(vii) Helped establish and co-fund the Wildlife Rescue Unit in Sabah with Sabah Wildlife Department
(viii) Provide funding for the orang utan infant care unit in Bukit Merah, Perak. This has helped to ensure better survival of orang utan infants born within the facility. More important we are seeing much interest especially from overseas conservation research centres wishing to use the facility for orang utan related research.
These are simply some examples of the type of work that is undertaken through MPOWCF funding. Interestingly at the recent Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium we saw that nearly 30% of the conservation efforts reported were part funded by MPOWCF.
- Who do you work with to execute these programs? Local and/or overseas NGO?
We are open to funding proposals from anyone who is interested in conservation in relation to the palm oil industry. We already have a track record of working with local wildlife experts as well as NGOs, both local and international. Proposals submitted are thoroughly scrutinized including through peer review by external experts. Only when such proposals survive the review process, will they be funded and at the funding stage we are open to work with as many NGOs as possible.
- How does MPOC and NGO work together to preserve the Orang Utan habitat and control the declining number of the species?
Currently much of the orang utan conservation efforts in Malaysia are managed in Sabah and Sarawak by their respective wildlife departments. We are actively working with the state wildlife departments since they are in reality the guardians of all the wildlife in these states. The state authorities themselves have a record of active partnership with international and local NGOs. When an interest is generated we sit down with all parties proposing such ideas and work towards the proposed objectives. In this way we succeed in bringing to the table a large range of expertise that would otherwise be divided and unfocussed. We think our current model of multiple party engagement for the projects we fund are beginning to generate the right outputs and help increase awareness about all conservation efforts in general.
- Is the Wildlife Conservation Fund part of MPOC’s CSR project?
Yes you can call that if you wish. But in reality it goes beyond CSR. We are now keen to understand for ourselves how the oil palm plantations have impacted the overall conservation landscape. By such enhanced knowledge we are able to interact more meaningfully with our own industry members. Further our involvement has allowed industry to become more active in these areas and we continue to encourage them to become partners in some areas we undertake these conservation projects.
- How much do you allocate for the fund and where did you get the fund from?
MPOWCF has a revolving fund of RM 20 million and we use these funds very prudently. As we use up this current allocation, we will keep topping up the fund through a continued committed support from the government as well as through our own cess funds, which in reality are contributions from our industry.
- How much does the oil palm industry fund to support wildlife research and orang utan sanctuary?
This is now difficult to quantify. However, it is already evident that there are many individual palm oil companies that are undertaking their own conservation efforts and financing such efforts. The most visible of such activities is through the Yayasan Sime Darby. Many other examples are already obvious. Funding is not just confined to orang utan. You already know of funding to save rhinos, proboscis monkeys, tigers, elephants, hornbills, the sun bear etc. One of our wishes is that such contributors from our palm oil industry should better portray their efforts. However, many industry captains are often shy in such cases.
- How many orang utans do we have now? Most of them in Sabah & Sarawak?
Our survey established that Sabah has about 11,300 orang utans and this could probably develop into the most stable and viable population in the world. In Sarawak numbers are estimated at about 2000. Please be reminded that there are no orang utans in the wild in Peninsular Malaysia.
Overall we are all hopeful that through a more caring attitude our orang utan will survive and thrive long term in the wild and we can discard many of the wild and unsubstantiated claims that all our orang utan will be decimated and extinct by 2015??
- What are the other upcoming programs by MPOC to safeguard the Orang Utan welfare?
We are an active partner within the Sabah Action Plans for Orang Utan and other endangered species. Simply put we will be supportive and be part of any meaningful effort that will ensure the well being of the orang utan and other endangered species in the long term. We are also actively involved in explaining the importance of biodiversity and conservation to our industry members. This we hope will create greater awareness and greater responsibility among our industry.
- In your opinion, why do you think the westerners for example Australia did a campaign such as “Don’t Palm Us Off”?
The success of palm oil globally has irked our competitors and they have tried many tricks to ensure that palm oil retains a “bad image oil”. If you examine all their campaigns, they are emotionally strung and not based on available facts. Even when hard facts are presented, they find it difficult to swallow and continue with the string of accusations against palm oil. The Australian campaign is a glaring example. We are open and have even invited them to come over and see things for themselves. Despite this we make conscious efforts that some loose ends within our industry practices can be tightened and these are already being activated.
- In your opinion, what should be done by the stakeholders /authorities/ ministry to change the Westerners’ negative view on the local palm oil industry?
We need continued dialogues with all parties concerned and they must come to us with eyes and ears wide open. All parties must apply the facts and apply them factually. We cannot accept when overseas policy makers are emotional and are more interested in delivering only emotional statements that will only please their own constituents. We are simply asking for a level playing field. Meanwhile out of MPOC we engage many channels to try and convey the truth about palm oil.
- What is MPOC doing to prove that the palm oil industry does not harm wildlife? Do you have a body or an agent to monitor what the palm oil planters are doing?
Wildlife protection falls under the purview of the relevant wildlife authorities in Malaysia. We have been told that illegal, poaching especially of protected wildlife is a major problem. Many cases have been highlighted and some brought to the courts. Increasing in areas where protected forest areas share common boundaries with oil palm plantations, the authorities are seeking co-operation from plantation managements. Some have created Honorary Game Wardens and workers are being educated that there should be no poaching or killing of protected wildlife. If caught workers face expulsion from their jobs and offenders handed over to the wildlife authorities.
- What are the challenges faced by the local palm oil industry in order to safeguard the wildlife particularly Orang Utan?
Orang utan do not generally reside within plantations but there have been reported sightings. In Malaysia, plantations do not consider orang utans as pests or even offer rewards for orang utan as so falsely portrayed by some NGOs. Generally there is greater awareness when orang utans are sighted or are distressed within the vicinity of the plantations. Managements are acting responsibly and reporting such incidences to the wildlife authorities. In Sabah what is interesting is that when such is reported, the Wildlife Rescue Unit, part funded through MPOWCF swings into action.
These are positive outcomes we are seeing on a day to day basis. We hope to get greater involvement from the plantations in the future and they will hopefully be conservation partners with the authorities concerned.