Editor’s Note: The Malaysian Star interviewed Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC)’s new CEO Dr. Kalyana Sundram. This is part four of four excerpts published from this interview. Prior to being appointed to this post in January 2017, Sundram was MPOC’s Deputy CEO and Science and Environment Director. A well-respected professional, Sundram has served on committees at the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences. He holds 21 palm oil-related patents and has published extensively on palm oil.
Malaysian Star: You manage the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund. Is the industry threatening our environment?
Sundram: Oil palm cultivation was accused of being a driver for deforestation and (contributing to) the end of the orangutan population.
The Internet was flooded with claims that by 2010, the orangutan would be gone. So, we created a fund, worked with wildlife and forestry departments, and implemented initiatives to ensure that the orangutan population would remain viable. It’s a self-imposed target. And now that we have a very viable population – 1,200 in Sabah and about 2,500 in Sarawak – we must ensure that the effort to save, conserve and allow them to thrive in the wild and coexist with oil palm plantations, continues in the right direction.
In the past when pygmy elephants were poisoned in Sabah, it was the wildlife rescue unit we helped establish, and currently fund, that trekked the entire jungle to uncover what happened. Many thought the plantation workers were responsible so together with the Sabah Wildlife Department, we offered a RM100,000 reward to anyone who could help bring the culprits to court.
The reward wasn’t claimed. There wasn’t any proof that plantations were involved.
Even autopsies of the elephant carcasses couldn’t clearly determine that the poisoning was due to plantation activities. The animals may have consumed the poison elsewhere. But because of their size, it took a while for the poison to work. When they died, it happened to be in the vicinity of a plantation.
Again, it was our wildlife rescue unit that recently saved and placed a tracking collar on the rare sabre-tusked pygmy elephant.
Unfortunately, poachers struck almost immediately after it was released into the wild, killing this magnificent species.
These deaths were not triggered by the plantations, but we’re now even more determined to play a bigger role in wildlife conservation.