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Habitat prioritization and corridor restoration are important steps for reconnecting fragmented habitats and species populations, and spatial modelling approaches are useful in identifying suitable habitat for elusive tropical rainforest mammals. The Endangered Bornean banteng Bos javanicus lowi, a wild bovid endemic to Borneo, occurs in habitat that is highly fragmented as a result of extensive agricultural expansion. Based on the species’ historical distribution in Sabah (Malaysia), we conducted camera-trap surveys in 14 forest reserves during 2011–2016. To assess suitable habitat for the banteng we used a presence-only maximum entropy (MaxEnt) approach with 11 spatial predictors, including climate, infrastructure, land cover and land use, and topography variables. We performed a least-cost path analysis using Linkage Mapper, to understand the resistance to movement through the landscape. The surveys comprised a total of 44,251 nights of camera trapping. We recorded banteng presence in 11 forest reserves. Key spatial predictors deemed to be important in predicting suitable habitat included soil associations (52.6%), distance to intact and logged forests (11.8%), precipitation in the driest quarter (10.8%), distance to agro-forest and regenerating forest (5.7%), and distance to oil palm plantations (5.1%). Circa 11% of Sabah had suitable habitat (7,719 km2), of which 12.2% was in protected forests, 60.4% was in production forests and 27.4% was in other areas. The least-cost path model predicted 21 linkages and a relatively high movement resistance between core habitats. Our models provide information about key habitat and movement resistance for bantengs through the landscape, which is crucial for constructive conservation strategies and land-use planning.
The Endangered proboscis monkey Nasalis larvatus is endemic to the island of Borneo. Habitat loss is a major threat to this species, and an understanding of long-term demographic trends is crucial for its conservation. We assessed the population trends and group sizes of proboscis monkeys over 10 years in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Comparisons of observed populations between 2004 and 2014 revealed significantly reduced group sizes, which is probably a result of forest fragmentation. Three long-term studies over 34–73 months in specific areas showed fluctuating estimated densities in each area, but no overall population increase or decrease. Riparian forests are the most important habitat for these monkeys, and one reason for the relatively stable population could be that there were only minor losses of forest along rivers during 2004–2014 because protected areas have been established in the region in 2005. However, proboscis monkey habitat remains under threat in areas allocated for oil palm, and protection of these areas is paramount to maintaining this population.
Largely as a result of the expansion of oil palm Elaeis guineensis, forest fragmentation has occurred on a large scale in Borneo. There is much concern about how forest-dependent species, such as the Vulnerable sun bear Helarctos malayanus, can persist in this landscape. The absence of sufficient natural food in forest fragments could drive sun bears into oil palm plantations, where they risk coming into conflict with people. We interviewed oil palm plantation workers and farmers in the Lower Kinabatangan region of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, to ascertain if sun bears were utilizing plantations, if they were causing damage to the crop, and how the bears were perceived by people. To obtain a comparative baseline we extended these questions to include other species as well. We found that bears were rarely encountered in plantations and were not considered to be destructive to the oil palm crop, although they were generally feared. Other species, such as macaques Macaca spp., bearded pigs Sus barbatus, and elephants Elephas maximus, had more destructive feeding habits. Sun bears could use this readily available food resource without being targeted for retribution, although incidental human-related mortality remains a risk. Although bears could gain some nutritional benefit from oil palm, plantations do not provide the diversity of food and cover available in a natural forest.
The oil palm industry is blamed for the demise of iconic species such as the orang-utan Pongo pygmaeus in Borneo but production of, and demand for, this commodity continue to expand. Therefore, a better understanding of how the orang-utan is adapting to human-transformed environments is crucial for conserving the species. Results from a combination of repeated ground transects, aerial presence/absence surveys, and interviews of workers in mature plantations of the lower Kinabatangan River floodplain (eastern Sabah) provide an overall picture of the current status of orang-utans in an established agro-industrial oil palm landscape. Our results show that orang-utans disperse into mature plantations, use oil palm trees for nesting, and feed on mature fruits. Most oil palm workers report orang-utans of all age–sex classes within the estates but fail to report any negative effect of the animals on productivity of mature palms ≥5 years. Our surveys also show that orang-utan presence in the mature oil palm landscape is correlated with proximity to natural forest patches. These results suggest that forest patches, even when small, fragmented and degraded, are required to sustain the species in human-transformed landscapes. Homogenous oil palm plantations are incompatible with viable populations of orang-utans. The cessation of further forest conversion to agriculture and the enforcement of better management practices are needed to reduce the threat of oil palm development to orang-utan survival.
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