February 27, 2017

Saving Sabah’s Proboscis Monkeys

Saving Sabah’s Proboscis Monkeys

A proboscis monkey gazes pensively at a camera. Photo Credit: Animals Club

Even in Sabah’s biodiverse forests with their cornucopia of exotic animals, proboscis monkeys are stand-outs. The reddish-brown primates are famous for their flamboyant looks, thanks largely to their large and elongated nozzles. They use those mighty sniffers to amplify the sound of their calls through the canopies of forests they call home.

Like many wildlife species in Borneo, however, proboscis monkeys have fallen on hard times. They have lost out to rampant habitat loss, forest fragmentation and poaching. Only 6,000 of them remain scattered around the mangrove forests of Sabah as their numbers have been steadily in decline.

A proboscis monkey munches on leaves in a Malaysian mangrove forest. Photo Credit: Bernard Dupont via Flickr

Encouragingly, however, conservationists and local officials are working to save the flamboyant primates from further harm. The Danau Girang Field Centre and Sabah’s Wildlife Department recently held an international workshop in Sabah with the aim of helping delineate an action plan for saving the beleaguered monkeys.

Experts at the workshop highlighted the increasing genetic isolation of the various groups of monkeys that are being separated from one another through the fragmentation of their habitats. A lack of proper gene flow between them may lead to increased risks of inbreeding, explained the Field Center’s director Dr. Benoit Goossens.

Their loss of ancestral habitats also means that the monkeys have come to be at increased risk of being harmed by people, either willingly or unwillingly. “The sight of proboscis monkeys ending up as roadkill is also fast becoming a common sight especially in the East Coast,” noted the Sabah Wildlife Department’s assistant director Dr. Sen Nathan.

Saving the state’s wildlife, including iconic species like proboscis monkeys, is a must in Sabah. It’s not only a moral duty but also good business. State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun agrees. “Both [human] population and wildlife are equally important,” the minister said. “Development is not just about building towers but also about ensuring that future generations would also be able to see wildlife.” He added: “We don’t want to see animals only in zoos or let them suffer the fate of the Tasmanian tiger, which is now gone forever.”

Agreed.

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