ABOVE: Using a ladder to attach a young fig sapling to a mature oil palm on the Kinabatangan floodplain at Bukit Durian, Sungei Pin, Sabah. The oil palm estate is owned by Sawit Kinabalu. Sawit Kinabalu is owned by the Sabah State government part of a 68,000 ha investment in oil palm estates all over Sabah.
The Kinabatangan floodplain has some of the richest soil in Sabah as well as some of highest densities of wildlife in Borneo. When parts of the Kinabatangan floodplain were developed for agriculture in the 1970’s, thousands of hectares of land that was suitable for wildlife but not suitable for agriculture (because of regular flooding) was planted with oil palm. This High Conservation Value (HCV) forest should never have been cleared and once this was realized numerous ongoing attempts have been made to restore the degraded land to forest and make the existing oil palm more wildlife friendly.
Currently the preferred tree for Kinabatangan forest restoration projects is Mitragyna speciosa (local name Sepat) because deer, elephants and orangutans will NOT eat it. In Thailand M. speciosa is known as Kratom and widely misused as a hallucinogenic drug known as “poor man’s opium”. The use of Kratom/Sepat leaves is banned as a dangerous drug in Malaysia.
How much better to reforest with with plants that feed rather than poison wildlife !
Strangling figs are a keystone resource for wildlife in Borneo. Many animals such as hornbills, gibbons and orangutans rely on figs to provide fall back foods during the lean season where few trees are fruiting. Previous attempts to restore forest with strangling figs in Borneo have failed because the young saplings are eaten by deer and elephants if planted at low level or in the ground.
By planting figs high up in existing oil palms the fig is protected from deer and elephants until it can survive on its own. The eventual result is a animal rich wildlife corridor running along the ecotone between the forest and the oil palm.