PETALING JAYA - Ten years ago, a heavily-logged forest in central Sabah was nearly empty of its original dwellers, the orang utan.
The tall trees that once dotted the Ulu Segama-Malua forest range had been wiped off by loggers, leaving the area with bushes and only a few small trees.
Today, the great apes are coming back, thanks to WWF-Malaysia, which has been planting trees in an area a quarter of the size of Petaling Jaya.
"After so many years of logging, Sabah's forests had become badly degraded … The quality of forest wasn't good enough to support the orang utan.
"Now we're seeing nests in areas where there were none," WWF-Malaysia chief executive Datuk Dr Dionysus Sharma told The Star.
He said orang utan were less likely to breed if the forests were in a poor state, with little food to eat or if there were any disturbances like logging.
Orang utan are also solitary animals with females having one baby every five to six years, he said.
Dr Sharma hoped that by having a more complete forest, the great apes would return. This, he said, was done by putting in fruit trees and other plant species.
There are only about 53,000 to 60,000 orang utan left in all of Borneo, one of only two places worldwide where they exist.
The island was home to 300,000 orang utan in 1900. Many died because of logging and over-development.
After nearly a decade of replanting, WWF's work there led the state government to turn 2,400ha of the jungle into a Class One forest reserve, meaning it cannot be logged. It was even given a new name, and is now known as the Bukit Piton Forest Reserve.
However, some 300ha of forest still needs to be replanted with more new trees.
"It is back-breaking work and also expensive," said Dr Sharma.
Some RM8mil (S$2.8 million) was spent to reforest the first batch of 2,100ha and RM2mil is needed for work that will go on until 2017.