Winner of the Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats, donated by The Arcus Foundation

Community conservation

In 1990 Melvin initiated Sarawak’s pioneering Integrated Conservation and Development Project which involved local Iban land owners in protected area management for the first time. He now works with stakeholders at all levels to protect over 2,000 km2 of contiguous orang-utan habitat in Sarawak which is home to the rarest subspecies of Bornean orang-utan, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus.

Melvin Gumal profile

Steep decline

In the past 20 years, over half of the Bornean orang-utan’s habitat has disappeared as forest is lost to logging, mining and fire or converted to oil palm plantations. During the last 60 years the species has declined by over 50%, with the majority of those remaining living outside protected areas. Hunting of orang-utans for bushmeat and sale to the pet trade is also a growing problem.


Increased protection

Melvin is Director of the Malaysia Programme at the Wildlife Conservation Society. He is leading a programme to increase the amount of Bornean orang-utan habitat under protection in the Engkari-Telaus Community Conservation Landscape in Sarawak, and create an environment where orang-utans have an opportunity to thrive alongside local communities.

Team shot, MGumal, backrow, green top and blue cap, at field site, March 2014

With his project Melvin will:

  • Conduct surveys in parts of the landscape that have not yet been studied.
  • Use the results to secure legal protection of these areas and other important habitat for orang-utans in the region.
  • Educate local Iban people to reduce hunting of these primates and instil pride in local wildlife.

Why it matters:

  • If action isn’t taken, orang-utans will be lost from the wild within a few decades.
  • Conserving orang-utan habitat benefits countless other species.
  • Orang-utans have cultural importance and could bring revenue to local people through eco-tourism.

“We all need to contribute to saving nature and not assume that others will do it for us. For some species, time is not on our side.” 

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