Back in 2005, traveling to the Kinabatangan River region was not so easy but both palm oil plantations and tourism have literally paved the roads to the eastern side of the island. It is still 6 hours by car and boat but the paved roads wind their way across the island making it a bit less difficult to get around.
Then of course this occurred in February and early March:
A group of about 200 followers of the Sultanate of Sulu had entered the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah on Borneo island on February 9 to claim the territory as their own, citing ownership documents from the late 1800s. The group is asking Malaysia to renegotiate the original terms of a lease on Sabah by the Sultanate to a British trading company in the 19th century.
This unfortunate incident led to loss of lives on both sides and some security concerns for foreign travelers. That region – about 3 hours south of the Kinabatangan field sites, is a gateway to tourism for Danum Valley and the coral reefs and scuba diving off Semporna and although we are not heading out that way, there are still some concerns about foreigners moving about but tensions are down enough that everything is getting back to normal at most of the field sites.
What is most striking traveling across the island the past few years is the never-ending views of palm oil plantations. You read about it on our websites and social media but it is another thing to see and have to drive through for most of the day. Palm oil has become the most difficult of scenarios here; It is the islands cash crop and is in the majority of the products we (consumers) use in one form or another. It is also the reason for loss of habitat and fragmentation among the forested areas which has out pressure on all wildlife species here as well as the local communities and fishing villages. The argument over what is sustainable use and what is not will go on for years and it is critically important the local government set aside corridors for wildlife through and around these plantations if there is ever to be success in protecting orangutans, clouded leopards, hornbills, elephants, rhinos and the hundreds of other species dependent on thus landscape.
We will be out in the Kinabatangan the next few days to catch up with a number of project partners we support including carnivores, elephant, banteng (wild cattle) and a number of other field researchers and report back at the end of the week.
Stay tuned for more from Peter Riger.