An iconic pygmy elephant is once again enjoying life in its natural habitat, thanks in part to a collaborative effort between the Malaysian palm oil industry and the Sabah Wildlife Department. In this Borneo Today article, Sabah Wildlife Department Assistant Director Sen Nathan explains that palm oil sustainability is paramount to protecting Malaysian wildlife. Orangutans and pygmy elephants will have a chance to thrive when the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification program is fully in place.

Development has been creating pressure on the habitats of these majestic creatures. Since 2010, the number of wildlife-human interactions has been increasing, with multiple human-elephant contacts reported. A 2012 international study gave additional warnings about primate habitats becoming isolated, with Nathan stating that, “… isolated populations of orangutan are expected to suffer localized extinction unless the palm oil industry stepped in to help create the Corridor of Life.” Big wildlife, such as elephants, need more than isolated pockets of protected land.

The MSPO is a nationally-mandated certification program for sustainable palm oil production in Malaysia. Achieving MSPO became mandatory as of 2020, and the country is working toward 100% compliance.

Because MSPO works with both industrial plantations and small farmers, they can ensure that wildlife do not become isolated in cut-off pockets of land. Nathan points out that MSPO has the necessary clout to ensure key wildlife areas are preserved for wildlife. “In addition to industrial plantations, the MSPO influence on smallholders through the [Malaysian Palm Oil Board] will help to ensure that there are no broken links when local villagers own lands in between industrial plantations.”

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Nathan states that working together, the MSPO and non-governmental organizations can show the world that palm oil can be produced in Malaysia in a sustainable manner that does not threaten orangutans, pygmy elephants and other wildlife with extinction. “The Malaysian palm oil industry, through its conservation funds, have funded conservation measures including the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary and the Wildlife Rescue Unit,” he points out.

Nathan sums up his article by saying, “As certification under the MSPO progresses, the goal of creating a favourable environment for Sabah’s iconic wildlife is starting to look very achievable so let us not stop.”

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