KOTA KINABALU – Not many people may know that Dr. Maklarin Lakim, who was appointed Sabah Parks director in January last year, is an expert on the red leaf monkey or lotong merah, one of Borneo’s endemic primate species.
The first phase of his study on the species was from 1996 to 1998 while he was doing his Master’s degree at University Kebangsaan Malaysia, and the focus of his research was the separation of the niche red leaf monkey species.
Maklarin, 53, who holds a degree in zoological science, then spent another six years from 2002 to 2008 studying the primates’ ecology for his PhD degree.
For his research, Maklarin, who hails from Semporna, focused on the red leaf monkey population inhabiting the Tawau Hills Park (THP), about 24 kilometres from Tawau town on the east coast of Sabah.
The 27,972-hectare park, situated in the Brassey Crocker range, was gazetted in 1979 by Sabah Parks to protect the water catchment resources for Tawau and the Semporna peninsula.
RED LEAF MONKEY SOCIOLOGY
Maklarin said his research on the red leaf monkey, also known as maragang among the locals, was aimed at acquiring a broader understanding of the primate’s sociology in its natural habitat.
“To do so, I needed to observe the monkeys’ daily life in the THP forests from morning till sunset in order to collect data on their behaviour.
“My research also required me to identify the type of trees they lived on, the type of food they ate and their individual social distancing in the forest, as well as their resting time and fighting and breeding habits,” he told Bernama in an interview.
He said the primates prefer to spend the night on certain types of forest trees and would remain there until the next morning which, whilst doing his research in the forest, enabled him to return home at night and go back to the jungle the next morning to “continue my observation”.
All in, he managed to collect 2,000 hours of data on the red leaf monkey from his research conducted over a total of eight years.
“It took me months to analyse the data,” he said, adding that the data collected was required by Sabah Parks for management purposes.
Sabah Parks also shared the scientific information with selected local and foreign universities in an effort to add value to their previous collaborative research works.
According to Maklarin, there are four recorded lotong species in Sabah, namely the red, grey and silver leaf monkeys and the proboscis monkey, that are mostly found in the state’s undisturbed jungles.
“Among these lotong species, the red leaf monkey (also known as maroon langur) has the widest geographical distribution on the Bornean island. This species has the ability to adapt and live in the highland habitats which are normally avoided by other primate species,” he said.
He also said that the red leaf monkey is referred to as “red gold” because, like the orangutan, it is only found in Borneo. Fortunately, the species is not endangered and is listed as “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species.
Besides THP, the red leaf monkeys can also be found in Kinabalu Park, Semenanjung Klias, Sepilok Forest Reserve, Kinabatangan downstream, Danum Valley and Tabin wildlife reserve in Lahad Datu.
While carrying out his research work at THP, Maklarin has had some close encounters with other wildlife species such as the Bornean sun bear, white-haired monkey and even snakes.
“It was very exciting for me because many species of birds, including rhinoceros hornbills, can also be found in the THP forests, despite the fact that the park is literally surrounded by plantations,” he said.
RICH IN BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
Maklarin, who has also participated in several scientific expeditions in the state and carried out research on the amphibians and reptiles found in Kinabalu Park, said his main focus as Sabah Parks head was to continue the momentum of the agency’s 2015 to 2025 strategic plans.
This would include continued cooperation with international bodies involved in the protection of the natural environment such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, of which Sabah Parks is a member.
“Sabah Parks is also directly involved in international conservation pacts through the Coral Triangle Initiative and the Turtle Island Protection Heritage,” he added.
Maklarin said the most valuable insight he has gained throughout his career with Sabah Parks is the fact that Sabah’s protected forests and tropical oceans are rich in biological diversity.
“People should visit the state’s parks to enjoy their natural beauty and gain awareness on the importance of the conservation efforts carried out by Sabah Parks for the future generation,” he added.
Sabah Parks is a statutory body responsible for the conservation and management of the state’s national parks, including terrestrial parks and marine and wildlife reserves.