The Armoured Volkswagen of Gaya Island


Gaya Island, situated very close to Kota Kinabalu city, is renowned for its marine wildlife attractions, captivating both international and local tourists. However, beyond its aquatic wonders, the island holds terrestrial marvels. Within its borders resides the Sunda pangolin ( Manis javanica ), a critically endangered species, finding refuge due to its diminishing numbers in the wild.

Miss Elsiey Ercy Jomes Joseph, a young and energetic researcher from the Forest Plantation and Agroforestry program at the Faculty of Tropical Forestry, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, is presently engaged in studying the Sunda pangolin’s ecology on the island for her Master’s degree in Forestry, under the guidance of Dr. Jephte Sompud.

Miss Elsiey’s investigation delves into the Sunda pangolin’s dietary preferences on the island and explores the perceptions of Sabahans regarding this unique creature. Over the span of about a year, she meticulously collected data on the tracks and signs of Sunda pangolins, correlating their presence with the availability of ants and termites. Her findings thus far indicate that the Sunda pangolin endures on Gaya Island primarily due to the ample natural food sources supporting the species. Elsiey notes the scarcity of peer-reviewed online information on the Sunda Pangolin in Sabah; only two publications from the Faculty of Tropical Forestry at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) focus on this species.

Mr Fred Tuh, the officer responsible for Research and Education at Sabah Parks, points out that Sabah Parks Board of Trustees has managed Gaya Island since 1974. Mr. Fred also serves as the research counterpart for the ongoing Gaya Island’s Sunda pangolin study.

He states, “Our initial publication with UMS, based on camera traps, highlighted the presence of Sunda pangolins on Gaya Island in 2019. With the current study, we’re examining the diet preferences of the Sunda Pangolin and the perception Sabahans have of this species. Our study indicates that approximately 70% of Sabahans are unaware of the presence of this Critically Endangered species on Gaya Island. The survival of the Sunda Pangolin on the island is attributed to the available food sources and the effective management of the island by the Sabah Parks Board of Trustees. To ensure the future conservation of the Sunda pangolin on Gaya Island, it’s recommended that Sabahans play a more active role in public participation for species preservation. This should align with the SDG2030 objectives, encouraging the local research community’s contribution to the global agenda of conserving life on land and the ecological role of the Sunda Pangolin.”

Associate Professor Dr. Normah Awang Besar @ Raffie, the Dean of the Faculty of Tropical Forestry, emphasises the faculty’s proactive engagement in research and education to uphold Sabah’s rich biodiversity, aligning with UMS’s commitment towards the Sustainable

Development Goals. She further emphasises, “The Sunda Pangolin serves as a crucial wildlife species that maintains forest ecosystem equilibrium by regulating termite and ant populations, as these are natural prey for the species. Safeguarding and preserving this species is vital for the present and future generations.”


(Article written by Dr. Jephte Sompud, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Tropical Forestry, UMS)

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