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WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND LOCAL COMMUNITIES IN SARAWAK, MALAYSIA
Paper presented at the second regional forum for Southeast Asia of the IUCN World Commission For Protected Areas
Pakse, Lao PDR ~ December 1999
Oswald Braken Tisen, Sapuan Haji Ahmad, Elizabeth L. Bennett, Michael E Meredith
Sarawak is one of the states which make up Malaysia, but its first National Park - at Bako - was established even before Malaysia existed. This tradition has been continued in the State with the creation of nine further National Parks and three Wildlife Sanctuaries. In Bako National Park, local communities' tradition of collecting poles from the mangrove area was written into the legal instrument establishing the Park, and the newer protected areas also included privileges for local people to hunt and gather forest products. One advantage of this is that many communities are now requesting that their surrounding forests become protected areas. Currently, there are plans to extend this into a comprehensive system of protected areas for the State, which should eventually cover more than 10% of the State's land area (Bennett and Zarina, in press). The Sarawak Forest Department is responsible for managing these protected areas as well as all wildlife affairs in the State.
Sarawak is culturally very diverse. There are Malay villages near the coast and a large Chinese component in the towns. But, in addition, the interior of the State is home to more than 25 indigenous ethnic groups, each with its own language, history and culture.
In Sarawak, as in many tropical forest regions, the lives of rural people and wildlife are linked very closely together. First, wildlife is an integral part of indigenous culture (Wildlife Conservation Society and Sarawak Forest Department, 1996). Different animals are the foundation of legends, of traditional belief systems, and of art and culture. Animals are imitated in dances, and their trophies are worn as personal decoration. They are the basis of much of the oral tradition of the indigenous communities. Much of the art that can be seen throughout Sarawak, from Kuching right up to longhouses in headwaters of the major rivers, is based around wildlife. Some of the most important Iban rituals centre on carved images of the Rhinoceros Hornbill, and other ethnic groups use hornbill carvings on their graves (Bennett et al., 1997). People of many groups wear hornbill feathers in their hats and use them for traditional dances. Indeed, wildlife is an integral part of so much that makes Sarawak and its culture unique. If the wildlife which underpins this culture disappears - if young people have never seen the animals on which their legends, dances and art are based - then the culture will slowly fade away.
Secondly, wildlife is hugely important as a resource for rural people in Sarawak, by providing wild meat. An average of 29% of all meals eaten by rural people throughout the interior contain wild meat, and this can be almost 70% in remote parts of the Highlands (Bennett et al., 1999). Replacing this with domestic meat would cost nearly 50 million US dollars per year (Wildlife Conservation Society and Sarawak Forest Department, 1996)! So wild meat is of enormous indirect economic benefit to rural Sarawakians, and forms a major subsidy to rural economies, by providing a vital source of protein for many of the most remote people in the State. Hence the need to ensure a sustainable supply of this wild meat to those rural areas in the future. Indeed, it is because many people have access to wild meat that they have a healthy diet, even if cash is scarce and markets are far away.
So for cultural reasons, as well as rural food supplies, the lives of rural people and wildlife are intimately linked. But as in the rest of the world, wildlife has been declining greatly in recent years because of changes brought about as Sarawak develops. One major and increasing problem for wildlife, and hence for rural people, is loss of habitat. As oil palm and other plantations spread, then the area for wildlife declines.
However, wildlife has also declined within forested areas. By far the greatest reason for this has been a major increase in hunting in recent years. There are several reasons why hunting has increased, and they include (after Bennett et al., 1997, 1999):
The rural people were hunting more - using more shotguns and cartridges, selling wild meat to town folk, and hunting outside their own area when they were working in logging camps. But this was leading to a problem: a loss of the wildlife on which they and their communities depended.
The State has recently taken major steps to stop the decline in wildlife. The State's legislation was revised and new laws were passed: the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998, and the National Parks and Nature Reserves Ordinance 1998. These provided the legal basis for the new measures.
First was the ban on the sales of wildlife taken from the wild. It is important to note that this does not ban hunting, it just bans sales of wildlife. The aim of this is to stop the unsustainably high trade in wildlife, and to keep the wildlife resources in rural areas, thus increasing the sustainability of hunting in rural areas. If ALL of the wild meat goes just to rural people who need it for their own subsistence, and NOT to outside hunters and markets, then rural hunting levels should be much more sustainable. Legislators from rural areas understood that it was a good measure for their constituents, and the new law was strongly supported and passed unanimously. Moreover, rural people themselves are starting to support the new law, once they understand its implications. The Education Unit within the National Parks and Wildlife Division has put considerable effort into work with rural villages and longhouses, using drama to stimulate discussion of the issues involved. The support of rural people is essential if the law is to succeed in curbing the commercial wildlife trade.
The second major step contained in both of the new Ordinances is provision for Special Committees for each of the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. The aim of these is to involve nearby communities in the management of protected areas in the State, and to move towards a system of co-management. In a place like Sarawak, where protected areas are often large, and in remote, rugged areas, it is impossible for the Government to protect them without the support and collaboration of the local people. And people are unlikely to support the protected area if they feel that they have lost at least some of their rights over the land, yet are getting little in return. The best way to get local peoples' support is to enlist their help in managing the area, and to link this to benefits from the area. This will create a sense of ownership and pride, and a wish to protect it.
The aim of this is NOT to hand over total management to the local communities. It has been shown time and again that if that happens, the conservation aim is lost, and the area is over-exploited (e.g., Redford, 1989). The primary aim of Sarawak's protected areas is conservation, and the task of the National Parks and Wildlife Division is to ensure that laws are respected and that the primary conservation goal is met at all times (see Bodmer and Puertas, 1999). But the local communities are partners too, to work together with government to help to meet those goals and to share in the benefits which may arise from conservation, hence the term CO-management.
The new legislation allows for financial benefits from protected areas to be shared with local communities. This is essential if co-management is to work, and seeks to ensure that local people do indeed benefit as much as possible from the protected area. This has yet to be implemented, but under the law it is now possible for a percentage of the entrance and accommodation and other fees for parks to be shared with the local communities through the Special Park Committees. In other parts of the world, such as Africa and Nepal, it has been shown that this is the best way to get people to support parks - work with them so that they get direct benefits from the protected area (Wells and Brandon, 1992; Wells, 1993; Weber, 1995). And those benefits come with a direct and clearly visible link to conserving the park: conserving and managing a good national park links directly to increased tourism revenue and increased benefits to the community. It is important to remember that these funds must be tied to the local communities' contribution to co-management. They should not just receive the funds as a hand-out, otherwise they will develop a welfare mentality, and still not respect the park. It must be tied firmly to their being involved in decision making and management.
The percentage of the fees which goes to local communities of course will vary greatly with area and with circumstance. In Africa, values from 5% to 75% have been suggested (Weber, 1995). Obviously a balance must be struck between winning peoples' support, and meeting the revenue needs of the Government, thereby maintaining state support for protected areas. In Sarawak, it was initially suggested that revenues be divided equally between Government and local communities; this would bring significant revenue to both. But in fact it needs to be calculated on a case-by-case basis. For example, Bako National Park is depriving very few people of their rights, and already bringing benefits to many through jobs as boat drivers, canteen operators and the like. A lot of visitors go there, providing a major source of Government revenue, so most should probably still go to the Government. On the other hand, Batang Ai National Park has many communities who are directly dependent on the resources of the Park, who have traditional land rights inside, and who need considerable incentive to support protection of the area. The total number of visitors going is relatively small, so a far greater percentage should go to the local communities if they are to value the benefits. So this needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis, which is possible now under the law.
In some cases, receipt of this revenue might need to be tied to agreements on reducing use of the protected area, especially for hunting. It has been calculated that for tropical forests in general, hunting is only sustainable if there is less than one person per sq km. If more people than that are using wild meat from an area as their source of protein, then the amount of meat consumed is greater than that produced, and wildlife populations will decline (Robinson and Bennett, 1999).
In many of Sarawak's protected areas, the number of hunters with legally gazetted hunting rights or privileges is more than one person per sq km.
The table shows that hunting levels by people with privileges in these three protected areas are unsustainably high, even on the conservative assumption of only six people per household. Even if the law is fully enforced, then legal hunting will result in declines in wildlife.
So one role of the Special Committees will be to consider a reduction in hunting in the protected area, probably through linking community's income from tourism and other revenues from the area to their willingness to reducing their rights to hunt there, at least in some zones.
There are three final elements needed to make this whole relationship between local communities and protected areas work well, to the maximum benefit of all. The first is education: the Division's Education Unit needs to work with the staff of individual protected areas to forge links with all their neighbouring communities and to ensure that interests are mutually understood.
The second element is monitoring: if this management approach really IS having the effect of protecting wildlife populations, it should be continued or even expanded. But it is NOT, appropriate changes must be made. So wildlife must be monitored in all protected areas, and the results communicated directly to the Special Committees, as well as to government, so that adaptive management can be pursued (see Margoluis and Salafsky, 1998).
And the last of these elements is increasing the total area protected: unless this is done, the area of forest for breeding of animals and for reservoirs of plants on which local people depend will shrink. Their collection of resources will be concentrated in decreasing areas of forest, and the balance between their needs and conservation can no longer be met.
Sarawak has already come a very long way to maintain the links between rural communities and wildlife. A ban on the trade in wildlife aims to keep wildlife in the rural areas and increase the sustainability of subsistence hunting there. New laws provide for the involvement of local communities in decision making for protected areas, and for them to receive the direct benefits from tourism and other activities in their areas. This provides a platform for moving towards co-management of the protected areas with local communities. The final steps to consolidate this and make it work are to put those special committees into effect, and make the system of revenue sharing work, possibly linking it with agreements to reduce hunting. And the area of forest which is protected must be increased to allow the balance between conservation and rural needs to be maintained. With all of these steps, Sarawak will be leading the way in tropical forest areas to maintain the intricate links between wildlife and local cultures, to the long-term benefit of both.
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