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Finding Harmony With The Elephants

By Cassandra Albanus, 9 February 2017

Elephants have long roamed the land we live on – before tall buildings decorated our sky, before the Internet and memes, and before a lot of our land was converted into oil palm plantations. Development is happening at a rapid rate, so how do we, as humans, protect these sensitive and highly intelligent creatures? How can we live together in harmony?

Oil palm plantation in Telupid. Picture courtesy of Cynthia Ong.

In Telupid, a small district located in the heart of Sabah, elephants are called, out of respect, “Aki” (grandfather) and “Odu” (grandmother). They are referred to as the “Elders” when they are discussed, as if they were people and members of the community, rather than wild animals.

When a group of Forever Sabah coordinators met with the Telupid communities from Kg Liningkung and Kg Gambaron back in July 2016, they told us heartbreaking stories of elephants looking for food near their homes. This caused quite a stir among the people who live there as crops and properties were damaged.

Eulramio Aguinaldo, a villager from Kg Liningkung shared his story of the Elders passing by his house last year, leaving a dent in his car. Instead of feeling angry, Eulramio expressed sympathy and compassion because he felt like the Elders were sending him a message – “we have no choice but to come here and look for food. We have nothing much left in the forest.”

Kg Gambaron, a neighbouring village, was also visited by the Elders in search of food. One of the villagers told us that in 2015, there was an incident in which a calf used its trunk to push a lady. Sadly, the story was not told as it was in the news, saying she was stepped on instead. This gave the elephants a bad reputation and caused unnecessary unrest.

In 2014, a herd of 30 elephants visited Kg Bauto, Telupid. This elephant was captured and chained by the Sabah Wildlife Department to be translocated. Picture courtesy of Cynthia Ong.

McWesley Widin of Kg Liningkung told us of his experience communicating with two Elders when they came to his village for 3 weeks in May 2016. He was scared so he made his own version of an instrument to produce loud sounds. Despite having a tool to scare the Elders away, he was instead moved to communicate with them in a respectful way.

He mustered up his courage and spoke to them directly when they were 10-20 meters away from him. He said, “Nek, jangan sudah kacau ini sawit sebab ini saja yang kami ada,” which translates to “Odu, please stop disturbing our oil palm because this is the only one we have.”

To his astonishment, one of the small elephants let go of the young oil palm shoot and they moved to another place. He had two other encounters where he communicated respectfully with the Elephants and were understood by the Elders causing them to move to a different place. This protected his fields until they were captured to be translocated.

In July 2016, Forever Sabah, various NGOs including The Forest Trust (TFT), WWF Malaysia, Danau Girang Field Center (DGFC), HUTAN and PACOS Trust, and communities from Kg Liningkung, Kg Bauto, Kg Gambaron and Kg Ulu Muanad, gathered in a hall in Kg Gambaron to better understand the background of the issue and the relationship between elephants and people.

The communities from Kg Gambaron, Kg Liningkung and Kg Bauto showing us the routes that the elephants use in Telupid

After listening to comments made by the villagers – some were filled with worry, anger and hate – there were some who strongly voiced their opinion about finding a way to live in harmony with the Elders. They wanted to know more about how to communicate with them and be their protectors. Some of them even think that one of the causes of migration is the multiple land openings that has been happening.

This process lead to more gatherings and discussions to come up with a proposal for an integrated plan that includes four core components:

  1. Community Elephant Ranger Team (CERT)
  2. Identify Ele-Zone to secure Optimal Habitat for Elephants Outside Conflict Area and Facilitate Movement through the Landscape
  3. Strategic Electric Fencing (to ensure protection of key urban/village areas)
  4. Research Capacity/Function (program establishment in Telupid)

The integrated plan will be developed and implemented through a collaboration comprising of the three villages – Kg Bauto, Kg Gambaron and Kg Liningkung – with technical support from the research organizations and NGOs, in consultation with Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Wildlife Department, under the auspices of the Telupid District Office and facilitated by Forever Sabah.

Forever Sabah will play a lead role in establishing a budget and raising the financial resources necessary for this process.

We will keep you posted on the outcome of the Human-Elephant Harmony project through our Facebook page and website. If you’d like to know more about our work, do message us on Facebook.










Ramsar Community Group 8 (RCG8)

By Cassandra Albanus, 27 December 2016

In early 2015, a process was facilitated to bring together all communities in the Ramsar site in partnership with the Sabah Forestry Department, to open a space for better interactions and collaboration.

This process culminated a collective now known as the Ramsar Community Group of 8 villages, a collective of stakeholders in the Lower Kinabatangan Segama Wetlands Ramsar site.

Here is the introductory video on the Ramsar community group process under Forever Sabah’s Communities, Coasts, Islands and Seas programme. If you’d like to know more about our work, do message us on Facebook.


Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES): Babagon Dam Pilot Project

By Cassandra Albanus, 18 December 2016

It was a slightly wet Sunday morning on the 6th of November when a team of FS coordinators made our way up to Kampung Babagon Toki. It was a good thing we brought our sturdy 4x4s as parts of the road were unsealed and it had been raining all morning, but in the end we made it to a cosy Dewan.

57% of Kota Kinabalu city’s water supply comes from the Babagon Dam. (Picture taken from Kampung Babagon Toki)

We met with the communities from the villages of Kampung Babagon Toki, Kampung Kolosunan and Kampung Tampasak to present, and seek consent and input for a potential Babagon Dam Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) pilot project. These villages are the closest to Babagon Dam, which provides 57% of Kota Kinabalu city’s water supply.

Linggit explaining the good and bad of PES. All voices are heard and all questions are answered.

There was much to discuss during the day long gather – what activities do the communities want to run? Who is going to be in charge? How will we execute them together? Is everyone willing to work hard? And the burning question – can and will everyone work together?

We are always multitasking. Who says you can’t present and eat at the same time?

In additon, we took time to listen to the communities so they could ask questions, share their concerns and make recommendations. Throughout the discussion, it was clear that the project would be challenging, but after four intense hours (with the support of a lot of good food and coffee), all three communities agreed to participate and asked FS to begin the process of preparing a project concept paper.

6pm and everyone is still smiling!

Since then, we have met with the communities from the three villages again to present the draft of the PES concept paper to further incorporate their input. We will keep you posted on the outcome of this pilot project through our Facebook page and website. If you’d like to know more about our work, do message us on Facebook.


Citizen Science: Transforming River Management in Malaysian Borneo

By Cassandra Albanus, 9 December 2016

After having multiple cups of coffee (to stay awake and brave the cold) at Sabah’s International Heart of Borneo Conference, the Forever Sabah team made its way to Meeting Room 4 where the ‘Community Engagement’ talks were taking place. Informative, touching, highly entertaining and inspiring are a few words to describe the people and stories they shared.

Below are excerpts taken from written by Ken Wilson PhD, Technical Advisor to Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), a Malaysian NGO, on how citizen science is transforming river management in Malaysian Borneo.


Indigenous citizen science is not for technophobes: here villagers on the Moyog River use an affordable underwater sonar scanner donated by a sympathetic fisherman from England to assess populations on a “Tagal” section where taboos mean only “non-intrusive” sampling techniques can be used.

Casey Ng runs Forever Sabah’s “Freshwater For the Future” (FFF) program. Among other things, FFF deploys citizen science in documenting fish species so as to enable Kadazandusun villagers to monitor river water quality in the Moyog catchment of Western Sabah, and the impacts of their “Tagal” indigenous river management systems (which uses community oath-stones and taboos to manage fishing intensity in space and time). In the Moyog the issue is not oil palm: it is about maintaining forest in the face of hill cutting for construction material, rubber establishment, poorly conceived settlements, a poultry facility, waste disposal, etc.

In his presentation on the Moyog River at the Heart of Borneo conference Casey emphasized how citizen science often built off indigenous knowledge – such as where and how to catch indicator fish species – and that its power was the fact that it was driven by local questions that immediately connected people to what they value about “their own place.” Despite challenges with getting citizen science published and accepted by mainstream science, Casey described it as “relevant, practical, affordable, inclusive, and above all communicative to the stewards of local rivers.” At this point in the proceedings over 200 people from communities and government, civic organizations, universities and private companies in Sabah savored this new idea, perhaps compared it to the performance of mainstream science at solving local problems, and applauded him enthusiastically.

Casey’s presentation at the Heart of Borneo was alongside Notoruss village elder Vitalis Galasun, who, in 1994, ushered in the modern era for “Tagal” management systems when his community took a collective oath to not fish their section of the river with formal recognition for the first time from the Native Courts, local Assemblyman, Police, and ultimately the Fisheries Department. To frequent applause, Vitalis told his audience at Heart of Borneo that there are now 29 registered “Tagal” programs in the Moyog region alone (the Fisheries Department now registers about 600 state-wide on 200 rivers in 17 districts) and Vitalis welcomed current efforts to integrate citizen science with traditional knowledge in the management of these programs. Explaining this, he described how they didn’t need any measurements to be convinced how rapidly most fish stocks recovered, but that other questions remained, like why some species declined even as others expanded, and whether there were invisible pollutants getting into their rivers. This matters because, as Vitalis explains in this delightful video about the making of “bosou,” a local fish pickle, “all of the species in this river are delicious” – and fish are the main source of protein in Borneo.

Read the full article here.


Stories From The Ground: The Indigenous Tidung People

By Cassandra Albanus, 6 December 2016


The indigenous Tidung people from the Lower Segama Conservation Area are one of the eight communities Forever Sabah is engaging with in the Ramsar Community Group process. It is a long- term programme under Communities, Islands and Seas, to bring together communities, civil society and government in advancing governance towards a thriving wetland.

This short film was produced by the KOPEL media unit and Forever Sabah in collaboration with the communities in the Lower Kinabatangan Segama Wetlands with support from the GEF SGP Malaysia and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The story of Kampung Dagat was chosen at this year’s Borneo Eco Film Festival, held in Suria Sabah from 6th to 8th of October 2016.