From: Associated Press
Published April 5, 2006 12:00 AM

WWF Praises Malaysians for Imposing Logging Ban in Sabah to Protect Rare Animals

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Worldwide conservation group WWF welcomed a Malaysian state's decision to phase out logging in a large forest that is home to endangered orangutans, Bornean pygmy elephants and Sumatran rhinos.

Under the plan, large-scale timber harvesting in the forests of Sabah state on Borneo Island would end by 2007 and be replaced with sustainable forest management practices.

WWF, also known as World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement Monday that the Sabah government's decision "is one of the most important actions ever taken to secure the future of Borneo's endangered wild mammals."

The statement quoted Ginette Hemley, WWF's vice president for species conservation, as saying the state's Cabinet has shown "tremendous foresight" in making the decision.

"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."

"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," she said.

Foregoing large-scale logging will cost the Sabah state economy about US$270 million (euro220 million) in the short term. The government expects the preserved forests will render at least three times that amount over the long-term.

WWF plans to 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.

Studies by Sabah's Wildlife Department show that about 4,400 orangutans live in the forests of Malua and Ulu Segama surrounding the Danum Valley where logging will be banned. Danum Valley is near the northeast coast of Borneo, a large island shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

According to WWF, less than 2 percent of orangutans' original forest habitat remains. Besides shrinking habitat, poaching and trafficking are the biggest threats to the animals.

Overall, 13,000 orangutans are thought to live in the wild in Sabah, accounting for one-fifth of their total population.

An expedition in the jungles of Sabah last May found evidence of at least 13 Sumatran rhinos, giving hope to conservationists that a species thought to be nearly extinct could flourish again if poaching is controlled.

Sabah's forests are also the only habitat for the pygmy elephant, a unique species standing up to 2.4 meters (8 feet) tall -- 30 to 60 centimeters (one to two feet) shorter than mainland Asian elephants. Their current population is estimated to be 1,500.

Source: Associated Press

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