Sabah is world’s top eco-tourism spot


Sabah, Malaysia—The Malaysian state of Sabah has further bolstered its image as the world’s eco-tourism haven with the recent discovery of new wildlife species and its increased tourist arrivals.

The discovery, made by the Heart of Borneo project of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, found 123 new exotic species, 67 plants, 29 invertebrates, 17 fish, five frogs, three snakes, two lizards, and a brand new species of bird.

Rainforest at Danum Valley (photo by Cede Prudente)

Most of these animals are found in Sabah, which occupies the northern part of Borneo, the world’s third biggest island.

Incepted in 2007, the project aims to conserve the rainforests of Borneo Island, which scientific estimates place at 130 million years old, the oldest in the world, and is home to ten species of primates, more than 350 birds, 150 reptiles and amphibians, 10,000 endemic plants, and 10% of the world’s known orchid species.

The Heart of Borneo project hopes to conserve 220,000 square kilometers of rainforest, described by noted evolution scientist Charles Darwin as “one great luxuriant hothouse made by nature for herself.”

The undertaking is supported by the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei which share Borneo.

Sabah boasts of 70,097 hectares of wildlife, bird and marine sanctuaries, 909,401 hectares of forest reserves, and 265,749 hectares of parks, including coral reefs, which are well managed by the state government agencies.

According to Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, ecotourism consultant to the United Nations, the new findings will further strengthen Sabah’s position as a prime ecotourism destination.

Wildlife studies made by the National Geographic revealed that 10 square kilometers of Sabah has more flora and fauna than North America and Europe combined. The state also belongs to the Coral Triangle, comprised mostly of Southeast Asian nations, which is the center to three-quarters of the world’s marine biodiversity.

On the tourism front, the Malaysian state was ranked as one of Southeast Asia’s top 10 tourist spots in 2009, with 5.4 million tourist arrivals, and took second spot in Global Traveler Tested Awards’ list of best travel destinations.

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital city, is host to the 75,370-hectare Mt. Kinabalu Park, home of Southeast Asia’s tallest peak and a Unesco World Heritage Site, as well as the marine parks of Tunku Adbul Rahman and Pulau Tiga.

Meanwhile, the eastern city of Sandakan has been dubbed Sabah’s nature city because of its nature-oriented attractions such as the Sepilok Urang Utan Rehabilitation Center, the Rainforest Discovery Center, Gomantong Cave, Tabin Wildlife Reserve, and the Maliau Basin and Danum Conservation Areas.

Also in the city is the Turtle Islands Park, one of the world’s most important nesting areas of sea turtles because of the massive conservation efforts by the Sabah Wildlife Department. Composed of three small islands, it is situated near the waters of the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi, where the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) was formed in 1997, the world’s only trans-frontier protected area for sea turtles.

Sources at the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) say that the TIHPA has been inactive for the past seven years, and they are looking forward to reactivating it with their Philippine counterparts.

Sandakan’s iconic tourist spot is the 540-kilometer long Kinabatangan River in Sukau district which has the largest concentration of wildlife in all of Malaysia. A favorite site for wildlife watching and photography, it is habitat to tropical animals such as hornbills, various bird species, proboscis monkeys, and the Bornean pygmy elephant, the world’s smallest elephant species.

Sandakan will also host the second International Bird Festival in October which will gather bird watchers and conservationists from all over Asia to determine collaborative efforts to conserve the remaining endemic species in the region.

Cognizant of its biodiversity, the SWD recently set up the Wildlife Rescue Unit to undertake wildlife rescue and translocation operations throughout the state. The first of its kind in the country, it will also carry out enforcement, monitoring, and liaison with the stakeholders such as WWF Malaysia and the plantation sector.

(Source: Internet News, 02 Jun 2010)

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