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WWF-Malaysia celebrates International Day of Forest, Plants Fig Trees for Habitat Restoration

Lahad Datu: Around 940 fig (or Ficus) seedlings were distributed and planted in several locations including Tabin, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu and Tawau in conjunction with the International Day of Forests celebrated every 21st day of March.

Through WWF-Malaysia’s Sabah Landscapes Programme (SLP), in collaboration with Bringing Back Our Rare Animals (BORA), the initiative also involved local non-profit organisations and private companies including 1Stop Borneo Wildlife, HUTAN, APE Malaysia, Tabin Wildlife Resort, Sabah Softwoods Berhad and oil palm grower Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK), each planting fig trees in their respective project sites.

In the Tabin landscape, WWF-Malaysia, together with 14 employees of Sawit Kinabalu Group planted 100 trees at the Bagahak Ecological Corridor, Lahad Datu yesterday. The state-owned palm oil company have set land aside to establish a 4 km-long wildlife corridor to reconnect Tabin Wildlife Reserve to the isolated Silabukan Forest Reserve through forest restoration. 

“We welcome this opportunity to work with Sawit Kinabalu Group and other palm oil companies in the Tabin and Tawau-Kunak landscapes to protect wildlife, produce sustainable palm oil and restore important natural habitats,” said Dr Robecca Jumin, WWF-Malaysia Head of Conservation Sabah. "It's a step in the right direction towards stopping deforestation and protecting important forest areas," she added. Meanwhile, another 100 fig trees will be planted in Mt Wullersdorf, Tawau this week. 

The wildlife corridor will help facilitate wildlife movement for their survival and climate change adaptation in the future. The project also aims to enhance riparian function by active restoration for erosion control and improved water quality to support sustainable production. 

It is also part of SLP’s continuous plan, through its Restore Pillar, to restore degraded forests in its priority landscape, Tabin and Tawau-Kunak. To date, over 7,702 tree seedlings have been planted in both Bagahak Ecological Corridor and Mt Wullersdorf since October 2022 covering a total of 20 hectares.

BORA’s executive director, Dr John Payne added that focusing on species that provide food for rare wildlife, rather than the wood species that are typically planted to revitalise degraded land, is a new approach to habitat restoration.

“Not only are figs consumed by a wide range of wildlife, including orangutans, but they also sustain wildlife during times of fruit scarcity as the majority of fig plants fruit all year around,” said Dr Payne. 

To this end, BORA has planted more than 6,500 fig plants on 150 hectares and has also set up the largest fig seed bank and living fig plant centre to sustain living examples of every fig species for future generations. This programme is called the Sabah Ficus Germplasm Centre, situated in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. 

“There are over 80 native fig species in the BORA nursery,” added Payne, “with different species fruiting at different times through the year, and many can be propagated vegetatively, without having to wait for the fruiting time. They can grow fast, up 4 metres tall in the first year if the soil is good and frequent weeding is done.”  

This work is also part of a three-year project funded by Unilever, in collaboration with WWF-Malaysia to support BORA’s aim to boost orangutan food supplies in the oil palm landscapes. Unilever is also helping to restore and maintain a 14km-long wildlife corridor, covering 1,067 hectares within a commercial plantation in Tawau to link up fragmented areas of natural forest and protected reserves for wildlife movement.

Based on the three pillars of Protect, Produce, Restore, WWF-Malaysia’s SLP combines both conservation and sustainable development by integrating the protection of forests, wildlife and rivers, with Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified production of oil palm, and restoration of ecological corridors and riparian reserves.

WWF-Malaysia’s SLP Restore team, together with employees of Sawit Kinabalu Group planted 100 trees at the Bagahak Ecological Corridor, Lahad Datu to celebrate International Day of Forest on 21 March.
Photo (c) WWF-Malaysia

Sawit Kinabalu Group’s Bagahak 1 Estate Senior Manager, Osinton Magansal planting a fig tree at the Bagahak Ecological Corridor. Photo (c) WWF-Malaysia

The ripe figs of Ficus benjamina, known locally as beringin. Its leaves and fruits are eaten by a wide range of wildlife species, from orangutans to small birds. Photo (c) BORA

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