1. The Kenyir Wildlife Corridor Project
Lead Researcher: Reuben
Collaborators: Distinguished Professor William Laurance, Dr. Susan Laurance and Dr. Miriam Goosem
Government partners: Economic Planning Unit, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Terengganu State Forestry Department and Public Works Department
Project description: Several highway viaducts termed as ‘eco-viaducts’ have been built by Malaysian road authorities along highways with the intention of helping mammals to cross 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.
Unfortunately, roads and viaducts can also provide encroachers greater access to adjoining forests. The East-West highway in Perak is currently the subject of increased anti-poaching effort due to numerous access points found along the highway. In fact, a possible hunting camp was found beneath one of the eco-viaducts.
This project evaluates the effects of highway viaducts on large mammal movement in Peninsular Malaysia. The hypothesis is that highway viaducts are utilised by all large mammals in the landscape and landscape factors influence their effectiveness more than structural factors. The focal taxa includes six large mammal species: Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni; Fig. 4), Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Asian Tapir (Tapirus indicus), Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntjak), Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor) and Wild Pig (Sus scrofa).
The project has 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 be conducted within priority areas for tiger conservation in Peninsular Malaysia, as well as the primary ecological linkages identified in the CFS Master Plan. Suggested improvements are also proposed to build more effective wildlife crossings if current highway viaducts are ineffective.
This project has now been concluded but its work to protect the corridor is being continued in another form via Project Black Cloud.
2. Management and ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME)
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.
Lead Researcher: Sheema
Project description: Fruit bats such as flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) are under severe threat in Peninsular Malaysia due to hunting (for food and medicine) and extermination (as agricultural pests). They are often viewed negatively, and are not charismatic flagship species, so there is little motivation to conserve them. Yet the decline of flying fox populations could have some serious implications for Malaysia’s forest ecosystems, as well as people’s livelihoods and wellbeing. This is particularly important as flying foxes still do not have total legal protection in Peninsular Malaysia. See here for further information on these issues and how Rimba has been involved.
Ecologists know that fruit bats provide important ecosystem services through seed dispersal and pollination. However, how do these processes happen? What are the specific benefits to people? How can we communicate to policymakers and local communities that this makes it necessary for us to conserve flying foxes? Can fruit bats and humans co-exist in peace? This PhD project aims to answer some of these questions and provide baseline data to support the conservation of flying foxes in Peninsular Malaysia. It will have a strong applied conservation approach, utilizing both ecological and social studies. In addition, Ahimsa is involved as a secondary supervisor for the project.
*Unfortunately, unlike big cats and elephants, it’s not easy to come by funding for bat conservation! Project Pteropus is currently seeking funding and financial support. If you are interested in donating or supporting this project, click here to download a copy of the project proposal, and please contact Sheema directly. We are also currently seeking volunteers to help conduct questionnaire surveys among local communities on Tioman Island, Pahang, and in Kenyir, Terengganu. Fluency in conversational Malay is a MUST, and knowledge of Mandarin and/or other Chinese dialects is a plus, but not essential. Contact Sheema for further details.
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.
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.
Lead researcher: Laurie
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 can now begin to undertake research to finally understand more about these big cats (for further discussion, see this Mongabay article).
Project Black Cloud focuses on these melanistic leopards and clouded leopards. We have deployed double-sided camera trap stations over an area of roughly 150km2 in the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor. From the data collected, we aim to determine 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 will also provide support for our ongoing efforts to gazette the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor as a protected area.