The provision of natural resources: Gunung Mulu National Park (Malaysia)

Provisioning services are the material benefits that are directly obtained from an ecosystem. Protected areas, in addition to safeguarding regulating and supporting ecosystem services, can also provide provisioning services that can be directly utilised by local people. They can take a wide variety of forms, from fuelwood and timber for construction, to non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as medicinal plants, and bush-meat. These provisioning services allow local populations to meet their basic subsistence needs, support their livelihoods, and to live their lives as they choose. These two case studies - the Gunung Mulu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef - illustrate the benefits derived from terrestrial and marine provisioning ecosystem services.

Key Messages

- World Heritage sites can significantly benefit human well-being through the provisioning ecosystem services.

- These provisioning services can be used to meet a number of different stakeholders needs for example:

- Indigenous peoples who rely on these services to meet their basic subsistence needs, support their livelihoods and underpin their way of life

- Recreational users who use the resource for recreational purposes, potentially generating an income for those who manage the resource.

- Conflicts between the conservation of a World Heritage Site and making use of its provisioning services need to be carefully resolved to ensure that a balance between conservation and sustainable use is reached.

- Once management strategies have been emplaced, ongoing monitoring is necessary to ensure that they are having the desired results, and that they can be adjusted if necessary.

Gunung Mulu National Park (Malaysia)

Location and World Heritage designation

Located on the island of Borneo within the State of Sarawak, a combination of its rain-forest covered mountains, wild rivers contained within deeply-incised canyons, sheer limestone pinnacles, long cave passages and immense caves makes Gunung Mulu national park a site of incredible natural beauty. Geologically the landscape is fascinating, holding records of over 1.5million years of change (UNESCO, 2014e), and providing one of the world's finest examples of collapsed karst terrain in the world (UNEP-WCMC, 2011a), with over 295 km of caves and tunnels in addition to the Sarawak Chamber, the world's largest known cave chamber (Eavis, 2006).

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000 (UNEP-WCMC, 2011a), Gunung Mulu National Park covers almost 53,000 ha (UNESCO, 2014e), is home to a large number of species endemic to the region, ranks near the top globally in terms of palm diversity, and features an extensive network of caves. These caves are home to millions of swiftlets and bats (UNEP-WCMC, 2011a), and provide a unique opportunity to study the origins of cave fauna.

The land adjacent to the national park is home to a number of tribes collectively referred to as the ‘Orang Ulu' (Sarawak Tourism Board, 2012). One tribe, the Penan is of particular interest to this case study. While the majority of the tribe has settled outside the boundaries of the national park, a small nomadic group lives in the eastern regions of the site. To protect the livelihoods of these people, the national park upon its inauguration gave them the rights to gather plant resources and hunt pig and deer within the subsistence zones of the national park (UNEP-WCMC, 2011a).

Provisioning services: food security, materials and health

The various indigenous tribes of the region have lived within the ecosystems of Gunung Mulu for a long time, with archaeological expeditions finding human remains, and evidence of burial rituals almost identical to those used today dating back 3,000 years (UNEP-WCMC, 2011a). Living alongside the biodiversity of the region for so long has allowed these communities to evolve traditional knowledge allowing them to fully utilise the natural resources for food, medicine, clothing and shelter.

In acknowledgment of this heritage both Penan and Berawan indigenous people who live beside and within the boundaries of the site were given hunting and collecting privileges allowing them to hunt and harvest semi protected species, such as the wild boar, for subsistence consumption (UNEP-WCMC, 2011a). This use of natural resources for helping local communities is important not only for helping them meet requirements in terms of food, but also in terms of respecting the tribe's customs and way of life.

In addition to helping overcome food security issues, the right to harvest timber and NTFPs from Gunung Mulu National park also contributes to the well-being of local populations by providing them with materials with which build and make the various items they need for day to day to life, traditional medicines, and goods. For example, a study conducted by Naming (Naming et al., 2008) found that the Penan communities of the Gunung Mulu region made use of a total of 490 different plants for a wide variety of uses. Of the plants identified by local communities, over half of the plants identified were used for medicinal purposes, with some examples of other uses including poisons, antidotes, insect repellents, ritual usage and food flavouring (Naming et al., 2008). 

To recognise the different users of the site, the management plan defines various zones within the National Park (UNEP-WCMC, 2011a). Traditional zones have been set aside for use by the indigenous population in these areas where indigenous populations have the right to hunt and gather. High density zones include some of the more easily accessible caves for use in tourism and the buildings necessary for the management of the park. The final zone designated are the wilderness zones which cover approximately 90% (UNESCO, 2014e) of the National Park area, and which are not open to the general public. Strict rules are in place to ensure that high density areas have a minimal impact on the local fauna as possible (Anderson et al., 1982; UNEP-WCMC, 2011a).