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Riparian forest protection vital for survival of proboscis monkeys

17th December, 2018

KINABATANGAN: Despite protection, lowland swamp forest habitats that are important for the Proboscis monkeys are still decreasing, mainly through forest conversion to oil palm plantations.

“One reason for the relatively stable population could be that there were only minor losses of forest along the rivers where proboscis monkeys are generally found.

“These reduced losses were the result of increased protection measures for these habitats in the Kinabatangan floodplain over the past decade,” said NGO Hutan director Dr Marc Ancrenaz in a statement yesterday.

He said their analysis of habitat changes showed that within scientific protected reserves, there was relatively little forest loss in the potential range of the proboscis monkey – located mainly within an 800-metre buffer from riverbanks.

“This suggests that the protection of riparian forests can contribute immensely to the sustainability of proboscis monkeys within these important habitats.

“However, larger losses of interior forests mean that habitats had generally become more degraded and fragmented, and this could have caused reduced group sizes and limited population growth,” added Dr Ancrenaz.

Proboscis monkeys are endemic to the island of Borneo and they are classified as ‘endangered’ according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and listed under Appendix I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“They are also totally protected in Sabah under the Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997,” Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga said.

Meanwhile the director of Danau Girang Field Centre and Reader at Cardiff University Dr Benoit Goossens said although the protection of forests within the proboscis monkeys’ range had proved effective, this was however, not the case in unprotected forests, where 12 per cent of the forest was lost during this time.

He said as a result of this, 22.7 per cent of the population could be threatened eventually.

“At least a third of these forests has been allocated for oil palm cultivation but much of these were unsuitable for oil palm because they are subject to seasonal or daily inundation. “Further efforts must be made to more effectively conserve high value habitats and to restore riparian areas that could go a long way to ensuring the long-term viability of this species,” Dr Goossens said.

Meanwhile, it is said that nearly one-half of all primate species are threatened with extinction, with habitat destruction being the key driver.

Studies on the impact of habitat changes on primate populations are limited and often based on inferences because primates are long-lived mammals with slow life cycles, and generally respond very slowly to environmental changes.

Such information is however, essential for developing effective management plans for long-term conservation.

A study, recently published in Oryx, and led by a team of researchers from Chubu University and Hokaido University (Japan), Sun Yat-sen University (China), Living Landscape Alliance, the NGO HUTAN, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Danau Girang Field Centre (Sabah) assessed the population trends of proboscis monkeys over 10 years in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain.

Comparisons of directly counted 2004 and 2014 population sizes revealed subtle changes, where population densities fluctuated and had neither monotonically increased nor decreased, but with significantly reduced group sizes.

The scientific paper can be accessed freely until December 31, 2018 at the following link: https://doi.org/10.1017/ S0030605318000467.

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