WASHINGTON - March 24 - World Wildlife Fund today praised a surprise decision by the government of the Malaysian state of Sabah to protect its most important remaining lowland forests on the island of Borneo. This decision will permanently preserve one of just two places in the world where the endangered orangutans, Bornean Pygmy elephants and the critically endangered Sumatran rhino co-exist and where forests are still large enough to maintain viable populations of each.
The plan, long sought by conservationists, places three forest reserves, which cover an area the size of Rhode Island, under sustainable forest management. Large-scale timber harvesting would end by 2007 and be replaced with sustainable forest management practices.
"This is one of the most important actions ever taken to secure the future of Borneo's endangered wild mammals," said Carter Roberts, CEO and President of Word Wildlife Fund - U.S. "We applaud the commitment by the Sabah State Cabinet and we look forward to working with the Malaysian government to make this commitment a reality."
The decision covers the entire Ulu Segama and Malua Forest Reserves, which are priority areas for WWF and part of the Heart of Borneo program. Borneo contains some of the most biologically diverse habitats on earth that contain a staggeringly high numbers of unique species across all groups of plants and animals.
Foregoing large-scale logging will cost the Sabah state economy about $270 million in the short-term. But the government expects the preserved forests will render at least three times that amount over the long-term.
"The Sabah State Cabinet has shown tremendous foresight in making this decision," said Ginette Hemley, WWF's Vice President for Species Conservation. "If done right -- and we still have a long way to go -- these forests will always be a home for some of the most critically endangered animals in the world while still contributing in a very significant way to the Malaysian economy."
WWF will work with the Sabah state government to create a management plan for the new reserves, identify restoration needs, conduct detailed species surveys and support enforcement and anti-poaching brigades. Poaching, deforestation and illegal trafficking are the biggest threats to rhinos, elephants and orangutans in Borneo.