Almost 1000 hectares of degraded land in the area designated Heart of Borneo is to be restored as orangutan habitat, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between WWF-Malaysia and the State of Sabah yesterday.
The five year memorandum for the project - made possible with RM4.35 million ($US 1.27 million) grant from the ITOCHU Corporation of Japan - was signed during a regional forum on 'Enhancing forest eco-systems and corridors within the Heart of Borneo
The 967 hectare area is in the North Ulu Segama landscape of Sabah, where some orang-utan populations had become isolated due to a combination of the natural barrier of the Ulu Segama River and logging and other activities.
Poor quality habitat is expected to lead to further organgutan population declines.
Opening the forum, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, said the State was very serious about conserving its forests and very committed to the Heart of Borneo, adding that 250,000 hectares of forest had already been set aside for conservation.
However, he said financing remained a crucial subject. To this end he thanked the Malaysian Federal government for its contribution of RM5 million ($US 1.47 million) to the Sabah Forestry Department to kick-start programme implementation - but indicated more help was needed.
'It is the hope of the Sabah state government that 'friends' from European countries and the USA can lend support to this endeavour,' he said.
WWF's Heart of Borneo Initiative Leader, Adam Tomasek, congratulated the Sabah state government's commitment to the Heart of Borneo and emphasised his gratitude to Japan's ITOCHU Group for its generous contribution.
'These funds are vital for the restoration of a high priority landscape and long-term viability for orangutans. Healthy forest ecosystems are a priority for the three country Heart of Borneo initiative, and Sabah is providing a strong leadership example of working with the international community to realise this goal'
'ITOCHU's support is a clear sign of Japanese interest in the Heart of Borneo and as host of the 2010 UN Convention on Biological Diversity conference we look forward to profiling this growing partnership between governments and private sector,' Mr Tomasek said.