Community-Based Ecotourism as a tool to reduce poaching in Malaysia

Completed initiative 2007

Published February 2019

A female Sumatran rhinocerus nuzzling her four-day old offspring

When the Tidong community was given the opportunity to engage in ecotourism - which generated alternative incomes and livelihoods - the incidence of illegal hunting decreased.  However, when the funding bodies and associated professional managerial staff departed and the ecotourism venture was handed over to the community, and without adequate training to run the business or understanding of the global tourism market, the business crashed. The subsequent loss of income and employment saw a return of poaching by members of the community. The Tidong community is an example of a community that is yet to see the long-term benefits accruing from conservation in terms of improved personal and community income.

Location

The Tidong Wildlife Reserve (TWR) was established as a wildlife reserve in 1984 and covers an area of over 120,521 ha. The TWR is an important breeding ground for wildlife and serves as a refuge for animals displaced by palm oil plantations. The most significant species in the TWR include Bornean pygmy elephant, orangutan, banteng, proboscis monkey, sun bear, clouded leopard, and bearded pig, as well as one internationally rare species, the Sumatran rhinoceros.

Tidong community - comprised of 3 villages and home to approximately 518 people - is situated close to the boundaries of the TWR. The majority of community members have Tidong (Dyak) ethnicity and adhere to the Muslim faith. The forest both inside and outside of the TWR provides important sources of medicine, water, timber, rattan cane, and food, including fish and animals for the community (Majail, 1996). While not permitted within the protected area, some hunting for species such as wild boar is permitted in a surrounding buffer zone although permits are required.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected Banteng Bos javanicus , Bornean Bearded Pig Sus barbatus , Borneo Pygmy Elephant Elephas maximus borneensis , Sumatran Rhinocerus Dicerorhinus sumatrensis , Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus , Pangolins

Overview of the problem

In Borneo, poaching for subsistence (i.e. traditional hunting) and for IWT is reducing the populations of many of its prominent species, including within protected areas. 

In the villages adjacent to TWR, species of particular value are wild boar (for meat), sun bear (for many products, but particularly gall bladder and paws), Bornean pygmy elephant (tusk), and the Sumatran rhinoceros (for its horn). Wildlife species such as deer and wild boar and to a lesser extent pangolin are also used for household consumption.

While some families were almost completely reliant on natural resources for survival, for most the forest provides a supplementary food source and for a small number of respondents, it was seen as a hobby that provided extra money. Where hunting was for cash it often occurred in response to orders from outsiders for specific products such as exotic meats (e.g. pangolins) and Chinese medicines.

The anti-IWT initiative

In 2002, an outreach project funded by the Bornean Biodiversity and Ecosystem Conservation (BBEC) program was introduced to educate communities about the value of biodiversity and ecosystems and the importance of conserving them. The implementation phase was based on a top-down approach and designed to achieve specific conservation outcomes for the TWR. Funding for the program came from a consortium comprising the Malaysian government and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

An associated aim of the project was to fund a nature-tourism project to provide employment and encourage community members to give up traditional activities such as poaching and hunting. As one of its objectives the program funded the establishment of a home-stay style tourism venture in Kampong Dagat and employed external professional staff from Sabah Wildlife Department for a 2 five-year period (200 2007) to undertake training of community members in management and marketing. External professional staff were employed to manage the project.


At the conclusion of the project in 2007 responsibility for managing the project was handed over to the community and funding for marketing previously provided by the consortium was withdrawn. 

The strategy

Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship

Tourism
Further detail

A nature-tourism project was introduced to provide employment and encourage community members to give up traditional activities such as poaching and hunting. This included the establishment of a home-stay style tourism venture in Kampong (village) Dagat and employed external professional staff from Sabah Wildlife Department for a five-year period (2002-2007) to undertake training of community members in management and marketing. External professional staff were employed to manage the project.

Improving education and awareness

Further detail

In 2002, an outreach project was introduced to educate communities about the value of biodiversity and ecosystems and the importance of conserving them.

Has the initiative made a difference?

During the five years that the project was externally funded the community experienced a significant improvement in their standard of living. During each year of the project, more than 2,000 Japanese tourists visited the community generating sufficient income for the families involved to enable them to meet their monthly cost of food, and when operating at capacity the project employed a significant number of community members as drivers, cooks, gardeners, housekeepers, and in a few instances in managerial roles such as temporary wildlife rangers managing the forest around the villages.

Correspondingly, there was a decline in poaching. The community generally understood animals were a major tourism drawcard and needed to be protected to continue attracting tourists. This view was common throughout the kampongs (villages). 

However, in 2007, the withdrawal of funding for professional managers, in particular, created a major crisis for the project in part because of inadequate training of the community to run a project of this nature and their lack of knowledge of the global tourism market where their product was sold.

As a consequence, the community was unable to continue funding promotional activities leading to a steep decline in visitors to an average of 100-200 per year by 2010.

Income to the community and the individuals involved rapidly declined, most tourism-related jobs were lost, and the number of homestays supporting the enterprise fell by three quarters. As income from the tourism venture declined many community members felt pressured to resume hunting. While aware of the damage caused by poaching and expressing regret that this situation existed, villagers reported they felt they had little alternative but to resume poaching.

What works and why

When tourism income was high, village elders supported tourism and a reduction in poaching based on an understanding that live animals were a valuable tourism resource.

Factors for success

Clear and tangible benefits to local communities from wildlife (These may be financial and/or non-financial)

What doesn’t work and why

The loss of funding and experienced managers, and lack of capacity building of community members to effectively engage in and continue the tourism venture resulted in the ecotourism enterprise collapsing and a return to poaching by villagers. Noting that some members of the community continued to play an active role in many wildlife and forest conservation programs within the adjacent reserve, possibly because this was one of the few sources of paid work available to them.

While conscious of the adverse impacts of poaching respondents expressed a fear that if they failed to take advantage of the resources in the present they will miss out because others will take all the available animals - aggravated by illegal hunting by people outside of the community who are seen as not caring about their impact as they will move on when the resource is finished.

Surveys indicated that villagers continued to poach to earn additional income and to provide food for their families and that if tourism offered a better level of income they would be prepared to give up poaching.

Without money from tourism, we had to go back to the forest to hunt even though we did not really want to.”

In summary:

  • Training to enable the community to develop appropriate managerial capacity was inadequate. Previous research has identified similar failings in other projects leading to the view that this must be a key criterion for success in future projects of this type.
  • The single market approach, in this case, based on Japan, lacked wisdom given the propensity for markets to make rapid changes in the style of product desired.
  • The exit strategy was time and budget based. A more appropriate strategy would be to base the exit strategy on the demonstrated capacity of the community to continue the project on a long-term commercial basis.
  • It is difficult to overturn centuries of tradition in a relatively short period of time. In the case of the Tidong community, the use of certain types of meat at community special events is based on hunter-gatherers traditions that in a sense define the community and the way in which it sees the world. Redefining traditions is a slow process that in some cases even legislative prohibitions are unable to overturn.
  • Unless a community-based ecotourism project is able to demonstrate that the economic benefit of tourism provides a superior and sustainable standard of living over the long term it is difficult to overcome resistance to change both at the individual and community levels.

Factors that limited or hindered success

Lack of long-term donor support that is flexible, adaptive and/or based on realistic time goals

Lack of supportive, multi-stakeholder partnerships with a shared vision

Further detail

The period of support by sponsoring organisations was not sufficient to train the community to a standard where they were able to deal with the global tourism supply chain at a level that gave the project a capacity to achieve long-term economic sustainability. This is not surprising as the transition from an inward-focused community that lived a semi-subsistence lifestyle to a community that had the capacity to engage with the global supply chain can be difficult
 

Organisers, donors and partners

For further information contact (peoplenotpoaching@gmail.com).