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)  were 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”. Personal 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  ! 

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This is the first ever attempt to use mature oil palms to establish fig trees along the edge of oil palm estates where it is contiguous with existing protected forest. Note that the fig container is being strapped to the trunk of the oil plam with plastic string.
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Fig saplings are obtained by “marcotting” the figs grown in the rhino food orchard  at the BORA rhino  compound at Tabin in Sabah.
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Strangler fig saplings transported to the planting site
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Preparing the planting pots which are made from plastic water bottles to mimic tree knot holes.
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A strangling fig successfully planted on a mature oil palm.
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The successful  fig planting project team  led by Junaidi Payne  (centre middle row). Junaidi Payne is the CEO of the BORA (Borneo Rhino Alliance ) project based at Tabin and devised this scheme to make oil palm estates more wildlife friendly and restore damaged forests.
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Program Penanaman Pokok Ficus Abedon Sdn Bhd.
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This innovative strangling fig planting project could be  easily replicated  for the thousands of kilometers  of ecotone habitat where oil palm estates adjoin protected forest or wildlife reserves in Borneo and Sumatra.

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.

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