The Habitat Expert Series webforum, A Future for Primates in Malaysia, organized with the Malaysian Primatological Society (MPS) on 28 July 2020 provided a timely platform to discuss steps that can be taken to address the declining status of Malaysia’s primate species. Malaysia is blessed with 26 species of primates, the second highest number in an Asian country after Indonesia. This is an honour that few Malaysians are aware of. The reclassification of many of these species and Endangered in the latest assesment of the IUCN Red List has been a wake-up call to all those working in biodiversity conservation. It signals an urgent need for all sectors to work together to address some of the main threats which include habitat loss and fragmentation as well the illegal pet trade.
A Future for Primates in Malaysia featured presentations by Dr Nadine Ruppert from MPS, Jo Leen Yap of Langur Project Penang, Dr Felicity Oram of PONGO Alliance, and Dr Sharmini Julita Paramasivam of the Animal Neighbours Project. It also featured the inspiring wildlife photography of Peter Ong of #projectmonyet and Roots & Shoots Malaysia, who spoke of his ongoing quest to capture images of all our native species in the wild. An officer of the Department of Wildlife & National Parks (PERHILITAN), Ms Hani Nabilia was also present to highlight the practices that are illegal and the heavy penalties that await offenders. The webforum succeeded in attracting researchers, academicians, conservation practitioners, naturalists as well as civil society to participate in the discussion. MPS reported that it would soon be launching a research project with PERHILITAN to draw up a Conservation Action Plan for Small Apes in Malaysia with funding support from the IUCN and in-kind support from The Habitat Foundation.
Moderated by Justine Vaz, General Manager at The Habitat Foundation, the web forum was live-streamed on YouTube. You can view the recorded session here. Our lineup of accomplished panellists each shined a light on current conservation research and conservation initiatives that seek to address the threats and challenges faced by primates nationwide. The active discussion session which followed the presentations demonstrated the keen interest among diverse participants in working towards solutions to protect our primate speices. We hope that The Habitat Expert Series will continue to foster similar conversation among stakeholders covering a wide range of sectors.
Our first panellist, Peter Ong, is a musical theatre performer with a keen interest in wildlife photography. Through Project Monyet, Peter has been on a year-long quest to photograph all 25 species of primates found nationwide. Currently, he has already documented 14 out of the 25. He showcased his selection of inspiring photographs and recounts his journey to discover Malaysia’s rich primate diversity.
Dr Felicity Oram of PONGO Alliance highlighted the current efforts being taken in the Kinabatangan to ensure long-term viability for Asia’s only great ape, the orangutan. Here she spoke about the rapid land-use change in the Kinabatangan lowlands that have lead to the fragmentation of orangutan populations, and how conservation practitioners along with visionary oil palm growers are working together to play a part in conserving this emblematic species.
Dr Nadine Rupert of the Malaysian Primatological Society shared with us an overview of the challenges faced by primates in Malaysia, with a special focus on her research involving a population of southern pig-tailed macaques in Perak. Her research challenges the common belief that macaques living in oil palm plantations are pests. Instead, she highlighted the evident pest-control services that macaques have on oil palm plantations and the possibility of more productive and sustainable palm oil through the protection of primates.
We were also delighted to have had Dr Sharmini Julita Paramasivam on the panel to speak to us about the often vilified long-tailed macaque. Animal Neighbours project, a brainchild of Dr Sharmini, is a project that aims to mitigate human-wildlife conflict specifically in urban settings. She highlighted the possible improvement of management strategies for human-macaque interactions in urban Malaysia, and how human behaviour is at times the root cause of human-macaque conflict.
Jo Leen Yap, founder of Langur Project Penang provided an in-depth view of the conservation efforts for dusky langurs and other arboreal species in Penang. Here she explained the importance of multi-stakeholder engagements in realising practical conservation initiatives, such as an urban canopy bridge that LPP has put in place. She also highlighted the effectiveness of citizen science as a means to get the general public involved in conservation efforts.
Our last speaker Hani Nabilia of PERHILITAN, spoke to us about the laws and regulations which surround primate conservation in Malaysia. She has given us a stark reminder that while conservation efforts in the field are important, one of the major threats to primates in Malaysia is the illegal pet trade which remains rampant on cyberspace.
This web forum was just one of many initiatives that are being taken nationwide to strengthen primate conservation, and it has echoed The Habitat Foundation’s commitment to conserving biodiversity and the wider natural environment.
You may watch the repeat of the livestream on our Youtube channel.