Environment

Asia for Animals conference opens in Borneo

P1020474The 2015 Asia for Animals conference began yesterday in Kuching on the island of Borneo, with a packed programme of presentations covering a huge range of issues.

More than 300 delegates from 26 countries are attending the event. The presentations on the first day ranged from “pseudo conservation” in the palm oil industry and the welfare of confiscated and rescued animals to alternatives to shark hunting and whether the tapir could be reintroduced to Borneo.

Speakers also highlighted such issues as wildlife trafficking and the use of chimps and orangutans in shows and photo sessions in Malaysia and Thailand. They talked about the conservation of Bornean orangutans, the reintroduction of captive sun bears into the wild, dealing with rabies in India, and the sale of slow lorises as pets in Indonesia.

The conference is taking place under the banner “Partnerships breed success” and is being organised by the Asia for Animals Coalition and the Sarawak Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Along with such major organisations as Animals Asia, Human Society International, International Animal Rescue, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and TRAFFIC, a host of smaller groups are also represented. About 30 organisations are represented in total.

Paulinus Kristianto from the Centre for Orangutan Protection in East Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo called for an end to the ravages being caused to orangutan habitat by palm oil companies. He also appealed for more resources to be made available to fight the forest fires that are causing choking pollution in Southeast Asia. Paulinus’ own grandfather died fighting the blazes in West Kalimantan.

Fires on peatland drained by palm oil companies are still burning in Kalimantan and Sumatra, putting the lives of people and animals at risk and causing massive health problems.

Delegate Wong Siew Te gave a fascinating presentation about the work being done at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. He spoke of sun bears as “forest doctors” and “forest engineers”. The bears feed on more than 100 species of fruit and play a very important role in seed dispersal. They help prevent termite damage to trees and create nesting sites for other species, Wong Siew says.

There is now very patchy distribution of sun bears in south Asia, Wong Siew Te says. The animals are now listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. “We suspect that the populations might have decreased more than 30 per cent over the past 30 years.”

Wong Siew told delegates about the hunting and poaching of sun bears. “People eat sun bear paws and try to sell sun bear parts on the Internet. Because they are the smallest bear in the world, people want to keep the cubs in captivity. When they are small, they are cute, but that cuteness doesn’t last long.”

Wong Siew also spoke about the loss of sun bear habitat. In peninsular Malaysia, only 23 per cent of tropical lowland forest remains, he says.

Kathy Xu from a small organisation called The Dorsal Effect, based on the Indonesian island of Lombok, spoke about her efforts to combat shark hunting by encouraging local fishermen to engage in new eco-tourism projects.

Juanisa Andiani from International Animal Rescue Indonesia spoke about habitat destruction and told delegates that orangutans were being pushed onto rubber and oil palm plantations because they are desperate for fruit and water. “There used to be a lot of forest around the rubber plantations in Ketapang, but the trees have burnt down and suddenly the orangutans have to come and eat the rubber trees,” she said.

Adi Irawan, also from International Animal Rescue Indonesia, said there had been a 50 percent decline in orangutan populations in Indonesia over the past 60 years and most of the animals were now living outside protected areas. There are more than 1,000 orangutans in rescue and rehabilitation centres in Indonesia, Adi says. Hundreds of the animals are displaced or killed every year.

The plight of many other animals – rhino, pangolins, elephants, dogs, tigers, dairy cattle, macaques, pandas, and lizards – will be highlighted in the coming days.

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Full coverage to follow.

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