Jun­gle har­mony

In re­sponse to the R. AGE doc­u­men­tary, The Ele­phant In Our Room, two ex­perts dropped by our stu­dio to dis­cuss the orang asli- ele­phant con­flict in Perak.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R. AGE - By LIM MAY LEE allther­age@ thes­tar. com. my

WHILE the war be­tween the orang asli and wild ele­phants in the jun­gles of Perak rum­bles on, two men be­lieve a so­lu­tion is not that far off.

Af­ter R. AGE re­ported on the es­ca­lat­ing hu­man- ele­phant con­flict in the BelumTe­meng­gor for­est, seem­ingly sparked by the translo­ca­tion of over 36 ele­phants into the area since 2010, we brought two ex­perts to our stu­dio to state their cases – one for the orang asli, one for the ele­phants.

Ac­tivist Dr Colin Ni­cholas from the Cen­ter for Orang Asli Con­cerns ( COAC) and ele­phant con­ser­va­tion­ist Dr Ahimsa Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz first seemed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tives of dif­fer­ent camps, but they quickly found that their so­lu­tions to the hu­man- ele­phant con­flict ( HEC) were both strik­ingly sim­i­lar.

Af­ter a healthy on- cam­era de­bate, they con­cluded that it is pos­si­ble to pre­serve our pre­cious flora and fauna as well as the orang asli’s tra­di­tional way of life - the key lies in get­ting the orang asli’s help.

Both Dr Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz and Dr Ni­cholas agreed that the var­i­ous stake­hold­ers ( wildlife or­gan­i­sa­tions, state parks, the Orang Asli Devel­op­ment Depart­ment) needed to en­gage the orang asli to help more with con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

“There is very lit­tle land not in­hab­ited by peo­ple. If we don’t make these two com­pat­i­ble, we all lose.

“Speak­ing as a con­ser­va­tion­ist, there can’t be any con­ser­va­tion with­out the lo­cals’ sup­port,” said Dr Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz.

“We would be able to achieve our ob­jec­tives while help­ing the orang asli - as long as they do their part.”

Dr Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz also dis­missed sug­ges­tions that the orang asli’s tra­di­tional way of life, which in­cludes hunt­ing and for­ag­ing, would af­fect the ecosys­tem. “Malaysian forests are more threat­ened by log­ging, poach­ing and devel­op­ment than by orang asli ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Dr Ni­cholas pointed out that the orang asli, while de­fend­ing their tra­di­tional way of life, ac­tu­ally con­trib­ute to the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

Ac­cord­ing to him, Ulu Geroh, now a tourist at­trac­tion due to its Raf­fle­sia flow­ers, was al­most lost to devel­op­ment. The orang asli in­sisted on keep­ing the area pris­tine, as it was part of their an­ces­tral land, and source of in­come.

“( The land) was pro­tected by the orang asli,” Dr Ni­cholas said. “If it weren’t for them, it would be a rub­ber estate now.”

But com­ing up with a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion isn’t just about keep­ing the orang asli in the loop – they have to be ac­tively in­volved.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz, some orang asli crops are be­ing pro­tected by elec­tric fences, built to keep out wildlife like ele­phants.

But those fences are main­tained by out­side con­trac­tors, not the orang asli them­selves.

“Of course, the con­trac­tors do good work. But the in­dige­nous peo­ple, who will reap the ben­e­fits of the fence, will be more in­vested in the fence, and do a bet­ter job,” he said.

It’s not just about be­ing fence man­ager – it’s about the orang asli hav­ing a say in what goes on in their forests.

“The orang asli want to be al­lowed to coex­ist and co- man­age the for­est,” said Dr Ni­cholas.

“They don’t want to build plan­ta­tions, they just want the right to live in the for­est, in the way they think is suit­able.”

At­tempts at this col­lab­o­ra­tion have be­gun in Sabah, where orang asli were trained to help state park of­fi­cials re­port on the jun­gle’s sta­tus – how many an­i­mals there were and how much land could be used for their pur­poses.

COAC has since worked with the Se­lan­gor gov­ern­ment, draft­ing the pro­posed Na­tive Ti­tle Land ( State of Se­lan­gor) En­act­ment 2012 where, like Sabah, the orang asli may en­ter into some form of co- man­age­ment with the State Forestry Depart­ment.

Un­for­tu­nately, some orang asli set­tle­ments in the Belum- Temeng­gor area seem to have a deep dis­trust of the au­thor­i­ties.

In a video filmed dur­ing a re­search trip last year, we found many orang asli to be re­sent­ful at how they have been forced to change their way of life, all for the con­ve­nience of mod­ern devel­op­ment.

“While the goal is to min­imise con­flict be­tween the orang asli and the man­age­ment of pro­tected ar­eas, con­flict will hap­pen when new reg­u­la­tions are im­posed on them, lim­it­ing their op­por­tu­ni­ties with­out of­fer­ing al­ter­na­tives to meet their ba­sic needs,” said Dr Ni­cholas.

Com­pro­mises will have to be made, and stum­bling blocks over­come to­gether.

Be­fore the orang asli can fully co­op­er­ate with the new reg­u­la­tions, they need to be ed­u­cated on con­ser­va­tion, and how it can ben­e­fit them.

“We will have to be sen­si­ble and sen­si­tive,” said Dr Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz. “But we also have to talk to them, and tell them the im­por­tance of cer­tain an­i­mals that they used to hunt like pan­golins, and killing them wouldn’t be good for the en­vi­ron­ment.”

The ex­perts con­cluded that com­mu­ni­ca­tion is what will pre­vent the is­sue from spi­ralling out of con­trol.

It’s clear to Dr Ni­cholas, though, that the orang asli are ready to try, and they do see the ben­e­fits of con­ser­va­tion.

“The ones liv­ing in the for­est re­serves want to pre­serve their tra­di­tional lifestyles, and know con­ser­va­tion is the way to do it.”

“If they didn’t agree with you, they wouldn’t work with you,” he said to Dr Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz with a laugh.

An­other mat­ter is the orang asli’s chang­ing life­style, which would have to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion when work­ing out the kinks in the co­op­er­a­tion blue­print.

“We have to an­tic­i­pate what the in­dige­nous peo­ple will want, long- term,” said Dr Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz.

“Change is hap­pen­ing, and their tran­si­tion into the 21st cen­tury is much faster than ours was. We aren’t sure how they will in­te­grate, it might be dif­fi­cult for them to find a place.”

Dr Ni­cholas agreed that rules will have to be put in place for the orang asli as well, but stressed that they should be con­sulted first.

“The orang asli liv­ing in con­ser­va­tion ar­eas know the im­por­tance of keep­ing it that way,” he said.

“Cur­rently, when­ever the au­thor­i­ties say they want the orang asli’s par­tic­i­pa­tion, they only ask them to join when all the de­ci­sions have been made.

“That’s not what it’s about. There needs to be prior con­sent.”

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