1. Project Pteropus (2011-2022)
Lead Researcher: Sheema
Collaborators/Partners: Reuben (Sunway University), Sri (Kenyir For Life), Junn Kitt/Liew (Project Limestone), Mohd. Azlan Jayasilan (UNIMAS), Giam Xingli (University of Tennessee), Sara Bumrungsri (Prince of Songkla University), PERHILITAN, Tree Climbers Malaysia, Cintai Tioman (Reef Check), Lindsay Gasik (Year of the Durian), Anak Rimba Books
Our work on flying fox conservation started in 2011, and led to the official creation of Project Pteropus in 2013. Project Pteropus was Malaysia’s only project focused on the conservation ecology of flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) and other Old World fruit bats (Pteropodidae), as Peninsular Malaysia’s two flying fox species (Pteropus hypomelanus & P. vampyrus) were locally Endangered due to hunting and habitat loss, yet still classified as low conservation priorities on the IUCN Red List.
Pteropus vampyrus in Terengganu
This underscored the need for localised conservation action to address country-specific flying fox declines, and Project Pteropus was established specifically to address these gaps in research and conservation. Understanding fruit bat ecosystem services and conflict situations with humans was a crucial step towards developing effective conservation solutions.
In Phase 1 of Project Pteropus (2013-2016) we developed the first, pioneering study investigating flying fox pollination of durian (Durio zibethinus), leading to the world’s first scientific confirmation of flying foxes functioning as durian pollinators. We also investigated situations of potential conflict and coexistence between flying foxes and humans, and provided the first dietary information for Pteropus hypomelanus in the wild.
Pteropus hypomelanus on Tioman Island, Pahang
Our long-term conservation approach was to investigate, understand, document, and highlight fruit bat ecosystem services such as durian pollination and island eco-tourism. We also sought to understand and address conflict between fruit bats and humans, and as such our project implemented a two-pronged strategy to promote conservation of fruit bats and their habitats. Flying foxes served as our flagship and umbrella species – an approach that helped benefit other fruit bat species as well.
Our second and last phase of research and conservation work covered all pteropodid bat pollinators of durian. Phase 2 of Project Pteropus (2018-2022) was a crossover with Project Limestone, as our project scope included the cave nectar bat (Eonycteris spelaea), rousettes (Rousettus spp.), and long-tongued nectar bats (Macroglossus spp.). Therefore, while smaller bats are significantly less threatened than flying foxes, fruit bat conservation will also benefit other cave-roosting bats and their karst habitats, and also conservation efforts for mangrove habitats. Our approach was to engage fruit growers and island residents constructively as equal partners to explore collaborative solutions throughout Peninsular Malaysia.
Eonycteris spelaea from Gua Kelam, Perlis
Our specific objectives:
(1) Assess and monitor flying fox (Pteropus spp.) populations across Peninsular Malaysia, and help protect and manage their critical habitat/refugia.
(2) Work through partnerships with key durian growers and other relevant stakeholders in Peninsular Malaysia to conduct research on, promote, and achieve an economic valuation of the critical pollination services provided by fruit bats (all relevant Pteropodidae species) to the durian industry.
(3) Improve the standard of information available to facilitate fruit bat conservation, and support outreach efforts targeted at raising awareness and promoting positive attitudes towards fruit bats, including mainstreaming bats in the public consciousness and eco-tourism sector through partnerships with other organisations.
We were also involved in a SEABCRU regional project funded by USFWS to address hunting of flying foxes (2018-2019).
As Project Pteropus has now ended, the results of all our research are currently in the process of being published. We are no longer working on Tioman Island, and our fruit bat conservation work in Terengganu is being absorbed by Kenyir For Life under NBS.
Our work has successfully contributed towards getting Pteropus vampyrus uplisted from Near Threatened to Endangered on the global IUCN Red List.
2. Kenyir For Life (2020-2022)
Principal Investigator: Sri
Core Team Members: Reuben, Tajang
Collaborators/partners: Terengganu State Parks Management Council, Conservation Finance Alliance, Rainforest Trust, Woodland Park Zoo, Panthera Malaysia, Gaia, Projek Takop, Justice for Wildlife Malaysia, Jeffrey Sachs Center (JSC) on Sustainable Development, and the World Bank Green Financing Working Group
Kenyir For Life is the latest incarnation of our conservation work to protect the Kenyir watershed in the state of Terengganu, continuing the work started under the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor project, and later Project Black Cloud and the Harimau Selamanya project.
This watershed is rich in biodiversity, harbouring at least 44 mammal species and more than 290 bird species. It provides local communities important ecosystem services such as the provision of drinking water, flood mitigation, erosion control, pollination, seed dispersal, and the sustenance of fisheries resources. Yet it faces a significant poaching threat from local and foreign syndicates, which our previous work has been successful in reducing.
While we have worked with the Terengganu state government to successfully protect part of the watershed as Kenyir State Park, many other forested areas there are still earmarked for logging. In order to mitigate climate change, there is an urgent need to prevent further forest conversion, not just for wildlife, but to sustain the livelihoods of people in Terengganu dependent on Kenyir for water and flood mitigation. We need to develop alternative mechanisms to help protect the entire Kenyir watershed ‘for life’, while providing economic benefits to the state government.
This project thus involved the development of ‘green’ financing schemes to generate revenue for financing: i) long-term forest management and protection strategies within the existing state park area; and ii) expand the area under protection. This would effectively ensure the entire Kenyir watershed comes under both protection and responsible management, for life – a framework that’s the first of its kind at this scale, showcasing sustainable financing for the protection of forests in Peninsular Malaysia.
Outcome 1: Reduction of poaching via forest patrols
Outcome 2: Climate change mitigation via green financing mechanisms
Outcome 3: Improved management of the Kenyir watershed via collaborative engagement with local communities
Outcome 4: Improved management and protection of the new 30,000 ha Kenyir State Park via capacity-building
As of 1 April 2022, KFL is now wholly managed by a non-profit social enterprise known as Nature-based Solutions (NBS; 1395980-U). NBS is seeking long-term partners who are interested to invest in Kenyir For Life. For more details please contact Sri at: sri AT nbsmalaysia DOT com.
Principal Investigator: Tajang Jinggut
Collaborators: Reuben, Sri, Sheema, Mary-Ruth, World Bank, Terengganu State Government
Economics can be a practical solution to steer conservation policies towards better decision-making. It is possible to reduce deforestation, and promote conservation while increasing productivity by financially evaluating the benefits of biodiversity, and the costs of species loss and ecosystem degradation. Placing an economic value on ecosystem services and biodiversity can help stakeholders consider their decisions, and aid in the argument to pursue conservation and sustainable development.
Hutanomics aimed to develop these ideas, working in collaboration with our Kenyir For Life project to build on existing knowledge and establishing networks with government, private sector and academia to carry out scientific and economic research to support the development of biofinancing solutions for forest and biodiversity conservation. The goal of the project was:
“Developing biofinancing solutions through scientific and economic research for the conservation of threatened species and ecosystems”
Hutanomics has continued in a new incarnation: non-profit private entity Nature-based Solutions, which now directly manages the Kenyir For Life project.
4. Project Cerberus (2018-2021)
Lead Researcher: Sai
Core team members: Shauna, Erin, Xuan
Partners: PERHILITAN, Scent Imprint for Conservation Dogs, Malaysia Airlines Berhad, Justice for Wildlife Malaysia, Panthera Malaysia
Malaysia is a source and transit country for internationally trafficked wildlife products including ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, tiger parts, live birds, and testudines. As a source country, Malaysia has several numerous species that are poached to be traded both domestically and internationally. As a transit country, Malaysia is a popular smuggling hub for wildlife and wildlife parts. While the use of canine units for wildlife conservation is common and established in Africa, it is fairly new in Southeast Asia. Project Cerberus aimed to conduct research on the use of anti-poaching and anti-wildlife trafficking dogs to combat wildlife crime through the following approaches:
- Anti-poaching K9 team: This project worked closely with the Harimau Selamanya Project (now known as Project Kenyir under Panthera Malaysia) to conduct research on the use of tracking dogs and their ability to effectively track down poachers in the harsh tropical rainforests of Malaysia.
- Anti-wildlife trafficking K9: This project assisted PERHILITAN in setting up a pilot Wildlife K9 Program to be used for enforcement purposes through collaboration with enforcement agencies and transport companies to conduct research on the use of wildlife detection dogs and their ability to detect wildlife parts such as ivory and rhino horn at wildlife smuggling points such as airports and seaports. This aspect involved collaboration with Rimba’s spin-off Justice for Wildlife Malaysia (JWM).
As of 1 January 2022 Project Cerberus has now been absorbed by JWM, and they continue to work in the Kenyir landscape in partnership with the Kenyir For Life project.
5. Harimau Selamanya (2014-2020)
Lead researcher: Reuben
Core team members: Wai Yee, John, Ant, Charina, Akmal, Sri
Government partners: PERHILITAN, Economic Planning Unit, Terengganu State Forestry Department and Terengganu State Government.
This project aimed to conserve three big cat species in the Kenyir-Taman Negara Core Area, Terengganu: the Malayan Tiger Panthera tigris jacksoni (‘harimau belang’ in Malay), the Leopard Panthera pardus (‘harimau kumbang’) and Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa (‘harimau dahan’). The name Harimau Selamanya literally means ‘big cats forever’.
This project continued the work started by the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor Project and Project Black Cloud. This project not only helped contribute to the conservation of large carnivores and other wildlife in and around Taman Negara and Primary Linkage 7, but to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ National Tiger Survey and National Tiger Conservation Action Plan. As of 1 January 2021 it has now spun off from Rimba to become a separate entity, known as Project Kenyir, managed wholly by Panthera Malaysia, and a partner of the Kenyir For Life project.
6. Project Limestone (2016-2020)
Lead Researcher: Liew
Core team member: Junn Kitt
Limestone karsts are renowned for being arks of biodiversity, but are gravely imperilled by quarrying for cement and marble, which have caused extinctions of species in Malaysia.
This project had two components:
(1) To collate information from biodiversity surveys and the literature to update our publicly accessible online database, which provides fine-scale information on the distribution and biodiversity of limestone karsts in Malaysia. This database will help support the protection efforts of specific limestone karsts and their endemic biodiversity.
(2) To engage constructively with stakeholders of limestone hills including quarry companies and the state and federal governments to help improve the protection and management of Malaysia’s limestone karst biodiversity.
This project collaborated with Project Pteropus during the 2018-2020 period. It has now ended, and the results have now been published.
7. Project Black Cloud (2013-2014)
Lead researcher: Laurie
Supervisors: Ahimsa and Reuben
Government partners: Economic Planning Unit, Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN), Terengganu State Forestry Department
The dense tropical rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia are home to three enigmatic and beautiful big cats – Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), Leopard (Panthera pardus) and Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). All three are globally threatened with extinction; classified by the IUCN Red List as ‘Endangered’, ‘Near threatened’ and ‘Vulnerable’ respectively. While much research has been carried out in Malaysia in order to improve our knowledge of the largest and most threatened of these cats – the Tiger, to date there have been few studies focused specifically on either Leopard or Clouded Leopard in Peninsular Malaysia. Consequently, very little is known about their regional conservation status in Malaysia or basic ecological information.
Many studies have employed camera traps to individually identify tigers using their unique stripe patterns. However, unlike anywhere else in the world, the population of leopards in Malaysia is almost entirely composed of individuals with black coats. Whilst they still possess the spots and rosette patterns that ‘yellow’ leopards elsewhere around the world display so vividly, these are masked by the uniform black colouration of their coat. Conventional camera traps that rely on a flash to illuminate the subject are unable to show these patterns in their photographs. However, by using a strictly infrared flash, the patterns hidden within the coat are revealed. With this new technique we could now begin to undertake research to finally understand more about these big cats (for further discussion, see this Mongabay article).
Project Black Cloud focused on these melanistic leopards and clouded leopards. We deployed double-sided camera trap stations over an area of roughly 150km2 in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor. From the data collected, we determined the density of both species’s populations in the corridor. Other information may include how the highway that bisects the corridor affects these animals, and whether their activity patterns are correlated with any potential prey species.
As tigers continue to disappear from landscapes across their range, information on other large carnivores occupying the same habitat may become increasingly valuable – for instance to determine whether these other carnivores might potentially occupy the niche that has been vacated by tigers. We hope that apart from providing vital information to shed light on these less understood carnivores, this project can also provide support for our ongoing efforts to gazette the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor as a protected area. This project has now ended and the results are in the process of being submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Its work continued via the Harimau Selamanya project.
8. The Kenyir Wildlife Corridor Project (2010-2013)
Lead Researcher: Reuben
Collaborators: Distinguished Professor William Laurance, Dr. Susan Laurance and Dr. Miriam Goosem
Government partners: Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN), Economic Planning Unit, Terengganu State Forestry Department and Public Works Department
Project description: Several highway underpasses (some termed as ‘eco-viaducts’) have been built by Malaysian road authorities along highways with the intention of helping mammals to cross underneath highways safely.
Several studies that have quantified the effectiveness of highway viaducts as wildlife crossing structures have only been conducted in temperate countries such as Canada – none have been conducted in the tropics so far. As such, we do not know whether underpasses in tropical countries such as Malaysia can help reduce mortality, nor have any telemetry studies been conducted locally to characterise animal movement patterns through these viaducts.
This project evaluated the effects of 20 highway underpasses (in Perak and Terengganu) on large mammal movement in Peninsular Malaysia. The focal taxa includes seven large mammal species: Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Asian Tapir (Tapirus indicus), Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntjak), Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor), Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), and Wild Pig (Sus scrofa).
The project had strong field ecological and applied conservation policy components, with the latter contributing to Outcome 4 of the National Tiger Action Plan for Malaysia and the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Master Plan for Ecological Linkages. Fieldwork was conducted within priority areas for tiger conservation in Peninsular Malaysia, as well as two primary ecological linkages (Primary Linkage 7 in Terengganu and Primary Linkage 8 in Perak) identified in the CFS Master Plan. Suggested improvements were also proposed to build more effective wildlife crossings if current highway viaducts are ineffective.
This project has now been concluded. It found that underpasses only had limited effectiveness in mitigating the impact of roads on wildlife.
Based on a huge camera-trapping survey effort (38,631 trap nights from 340 camera trap locations), it appears that all 20 underpasses could potentially be effective crossing structures for only one of the seven large mammal species – the Asian Elephant (i.e. the number of detections of elephants in the forest was similar to that of each underpass). However, we have no evidence that the elephants used the underpassess to cross the road.
Underpassess were also not effective crossing structures for three large carnivores – Malayan tiger, leopard and clouded leopard. Tiger individuals were detected on either side of the road, but were never photographed under the underpassess – this means that they never used the underpasses to cross the road. In fact, a leopard roadkill was found on the road above one of the underpasses during this study.
Unfortunately, roads and viaducts can also provide encroachers with greater access to adjoining forests. In fact, campsites and photographs of people with guns were detected under many of the 20 underpasses. This means that viaducts without effective monitoring or enforcement against poaching and encroachment can in fact help create an increased threat to wildlife.
Therefore, this study concluded that wildlife crossings should not be touted as a universal mitigation solution for road development, and given their exorbitant cost, Rimba’s official position at this point in time is that we cannot recommend underpassess or overpasses as a viable mitigation option for large mammals in Malaysia, particularly for new road projects being planned.
Our view is that it is preferable to not build the road in the first place – and that, wherever this is unavoidable, road user management should be implemented instead, involving measures such as speed cameras, speed bumps, speed-reducing strips, warning lights, wildlife signs, and if feasible, road closures during the night.
The results of this project are in the process of being published in peer-reviewed journals. The project’s work to protect the corridor has been continued in other forms, first via Project Black Cloud, then via Harimau Selamanya, and now Kenyir For Life.
9. A Lifedesk for Malaysian terrestrial molluscs (2013-2014)
Lead Researcher: Liew
Project description: We have set up a ‘Lifedesk’ on Malaysian terrestrial molluscs under the Encyclopedia of Life Program. This online database contains information on Malaysian terrestrial molluscs from literature and reference collections. In the end, we hope to complete a corpus of literature for each land snail species from Malaysia for public access on the internet. This endeavour will allow scientists and the public to better understand molluscan systematics through the development of identification resources and tools to manage molllusc classifications and synonymies.
In addition to the assembling of photographs and literature database, general species descriptions, ecological information and taxonomic status will be provided for each species. We welcome suggestions, participation and any information that will enrich this database.
10. Dhole Conservation Case Study (2012)
Lead researcher: Laurie
This short-term project was funded by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund to evaluate the effectiveness of scent-baited traps to obtain hair samples from Dhole/Asiatic Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus) and other threatened carnivores in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor, for the purposes of population genetic studies.
Population estimates of dhole in Peninsular Malaysia have yet to be determined, in part due to their low detection rates in rainforests. Without sufficient knowledge on their conservation status, it would be difficult to prescribe specific management interventions to help conserve this species. During our camera-trapping surveys, a group of five individuals was recorded in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor. Apart from this species, other threatened (i.e. Endangered and Vulnerable IUCN threat status) carnivore species that can be found in the same habitat include the Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) and Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata). This corridor is threatened by potential conversion to rubber plantations and infrastructure, and gathering more information on the conservation status of dholes and other carnivores can be used to justify calls for gazettement of this corridor as a ‘no-conversion’ area.
Unfortunately, scent-baited hair-trapping was found to be unsuitable for the collection of hair samples from dholes in Malaysia, in part due to this species occurring at very low densities within the landscape. This method may also be unsuitable in areas with significant elephant presence as there does not appear to be any way of securing the hair traps against damage by elephants (Elephas maximas). Nevertheless, this technique requires further investigation, as positive rubbing responses were recorded for tigers and clouded leopards. However, not all individuals responded, and therefore this method may be inappropriate for mark-recapture population monitoring due to the possibility of false non-detections. Thus, scent-baited hair-trapping may only help answer certain ecological questions such as understanding the genetic diversity of individuals within certain carnivore populations.
11. Ecology and conservation of blackwater fishes under land-use change (2010-2013)
Lead Researcher: Giam
Project description: Peat swamp forests are one of the most unique, but at the same time, one of the most critically imperiled ecosystems on Earth. Despite being rich in fish species — many of which are strict endemics found nowhere else — Southeast Asian peat swamp forests are being lost at unprecedented rates. While previous studies have surveyed the fish communities in the peat swamps of Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak, the ecology of peat swamp fishes with respect to their spatial/temporal species richness patterns, community structure, and response to habitat degradation remains unknown.
In this project, we hope to fill these knowledge gaps by studying fish communities across different land use types across flooded rivers of peat swamp forest (commonly known as blackwaters) in Sarawak and Sumatra. First, we examine the environmental factors that structure fish communities in intact peat swamp forests in both dry and wet seasons. Second, we will examine if species richness and community composition change across blackwaters in different stages of the peat swamp forest. Third, we will evaluate the impacts of logging and oil palm plantation conversion on peat swamp fish communities. Finally, we explore options such as buffers to mitigate any negative impacts of land use on those fish communities.
Our study represents the first attempt to understand the impacts of land-use change on the unique fish biodiversity of peat swamp forests and elucidate how fish communities are structured across different stages of a peat swamp forest. Our work on mitigating the impact of oil palm agriculture will also help to inform policy aimed towards preserving biodiversity while fulfilling concomitant human development goals. As peat swamp forests are underexplored, it is likely that new fish species will be found in our project especially given recent discoveries of the world’s smallest fishes in the peat swamps of Sarawak and Sumatra. By advancing the hitherto limited ecological and conservation knowledge of peat swamp forests, we hope our study will contribute toward the continued preservation of this highly imperiled habitat and its unique fishes.
12. Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) (2010-2014)
Lead Researcher: Ahimsa
Project description: The ‘Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants‘ — or MEME — is a research program that aims to (1) assess the effectiveness of current elephant management policies in Peninsular Malaysia, (2) develop a practical long-term management strategy based on scientifically sound knowledge of elephant behavior and ecology, and (3) build local capacity to produce a new generation of wildlife researchers and managers of high scientific caliber.
MEME previously started its life as a project initially under Rimba, in collaboration with the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor Project, but as of 2014 has become its own separate entity fully under the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. MEME also has its own website and Facebook page, or you can download the quarterly MEME Updates.