Lambir Iban project

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Indigenous Local community for Biodiversity conservation: Do the present Iban community in Bukit Lambir support the Lambir Hills National Park Concept?



A community survey on local Iban communities living nearby in Lambir Hills National Park was conducted to discover if they support the national park . Considering the Iban people have a long history and a tremendous knowledge of the forest, a combined conservation effort with park services would be advisable. To investigate their perspective on the Lambir Hills National Park , data was collected directly via active-verbal questionnaires about the effect the national park has on biodiversity and future conservation. Forty-six randomly selected people of various age groups from three Iban longhouses were sampled. Statistically significant differences by Wilcoxon's test were reported on all nine questions. Half of the results showed positive responses to the National Park while the other answers were negative. Correlation analyses showed a significant difference among gender on the basis of their knowledge on biodiversity . Moreover, employed and unemployed Iban individuals showed a disparity in their attitude towards residing in the city rather than in longhouses . Our results suggest that Iban community has neutral support on the national park concept (i.e. they do not positively or negatively support the national park concept) . Our suggestion is that local Iban people have their own rights to remain intact with the forest though their current activities may threaten the forest. In order to reduce disturbances to the forest, the local government should implement a long term conservation project mutually with indigenous local communities.


Lambir Hills National Park

Figure 2: Map of Iban Longhouses around Lambir Hill National Park.

The Lambir Hills National Parks covers an area of nearly 70sq. km. which can be easily recognized by the jagged outline that resembles the crown of a rooster. There are basically two types of forest in Lambir, mixed dipterocarp forest and heath forest. The former is by far the most widespread and is believed to be at least 1.6 million years old (Hazebroek & Morshidi, 2000).

The old “park” concept by Riney (1972) was that forest land was preserved as hunting grounds for use by the nobility and the wealthy as well or for religious or other reasons. This park concept has been extended and modified from the old concept. The main difference is that the old park concept was that parks were exclusively for use by certain privilege groups of people while the modern park is meant for public use.

According to Ashton (1995), the mixed dipterocarp forest of Lambir Hills is one of the richest in terms of tree species ; with more than 1100 tree within 0.5sq. km. Certainly, this recognition has significantly enhanced the desire to safeguard this endangered tropical forest, and helped attract many international institutes such as the Plant Ecology Laboratory of Osaka City University (Japan), the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and the Center for Tropical Forest Science of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (USA) to base their long-term research projects in such a superb tropical rainforest (Biodiversity in Malaysia, 2006).

Iban Community

Figure 3: A single long house made up of Ironwood.

In addition to the park, there are several groups of Iban people who have settled adjacent to the park (Fig 2.). These people still live in single-community longhouses measuring roughly 75 to 100 meters in length. Each has an average of 13-18 rooms (Fig. 3). Carving and traditional weaving have been influenced by both the availability of trees and rattans, and by natural motifs. Traditional carvings of Iban houses, for example, incorporate designs of leaves, seed pots, tendrils, buds and flowers . Rattan baskets and containers are made using natural plant dyes obtained from jungle fruits. Besides incorporating components of biodiversity into their cultural life, Iban people use forest products for food and medicine (by illegal hunting) (Biodiversity in Malaysia, 2006).


The main objective of the project is to understand the present perspective of the local Iban community on the Lambir Hills National Park Concept. The Concept mainly emphasizes biodiversity conservation while maintaining sustainable economic development.

Materials and Methods

Study sites and Sample Size

Three longhouses, Seman Ak Udut longhouse, Beli Ak Saleh longhouse and Ringkai Ak Brinau longhouse (see Figure 2 of Appendix D) were surveyed, which <--! together they encapsulate?--> encapsulated 46 Iban individuals of various age groups ranging from 15 to 80 years old. Surveys were conducted mainly during the evening and were randomly selected based on their presence at the communal living hall.  

Sampling Methods

Data was mainly collected directly through active-verbal questioning in Bahasa Malaysia translation . A total of 9 multiple-choice questions, each with five response-answer choices (see Appendix A) were postulated. A pseudo-score system was allocated for each response-answer choice, where a score of 0 would represent the worst-case scenario for the National Park Concept and vice versa. For example, ‘What would you think if all the plant and animal species vanished forever?’ - Very Happy (0)| Happy (1)|Don’t Care (2)|Sad(3)|Very Sad(4).

Apart from these questions, data such as age, gender, highest-academic qualification and occupation were also recorded for each sampling unit (or individual). Additional opinions (if any) were also noted.

Statistical Analysis

R statistical analysis tool, version 2.9.0 was used to statistically test the data matrix collected for each question in general. Two main hypotheses were postulated:- Ho: There was no significant difference in the response data set for Qn in general; p-value > 0.05. Ha: The response data set was skewed (or bias) for Qn, either positively support (with a score of 2 – 4) or negatively support (with a score of 0-2) the National Park Concept; p-value < 0.05 whereby, Qn = Question ‘number’

On the other hand, Wilcoxon’s test was employed to statistically test the significant correlations between the response data sets for a particular question and other non-parametric factors such as gender and employment.


Figure 4: Number of People (Frequency) Vs. Score for a particular question.

Table 1 summarizes the statistical results in our data matrix (Fig. 4), and concludes that there were statistically significant differences between the response data sets ( p-value < 0.05 ) for the Iban peoples queried for each question postulated. Four questions showed positive response to the National Park Concept i.e. Q2,Q6,Q7 and Q8, while the remaining questions showed negative response (with exception of Q3, slightly higher than average ).

Table 1. Descriptive Summary for all the 9 questions.

Question*  p-value    Mean Score  Remark
---------  ---------  ----------  -----------------
Q1         9.253e-08  0 - 1       Negative response
Q2 (a)     1.799e-09  3 - 4       Positive response
Q3         2.008e-09  2 - 3       Average
Q4         0.001508   1           Negative response
Q5 (c)     3.647e-07  0 - 1       Negative response
Q6 (b)     3.244e-09  4           Positive response
Q7 (a)     3.330e-09  3 - 4       Positive response
Q8 (b)     6.474e-10  3 - 4       Positive response
Q9 (c)     6.541e-05  0           Negative response

* Questions of similar topic denoted by same letter
Figure 1. Relationship between response data of Q1 and gender.

The p-value reported for the above correlation was 0.0203, and rejected the null hypothesis of no differences between the response data sets of question 1 with sex ratio . Figure 1 shows the correlation between these two components, suggesting that males in general have much deeper knowledge about the types of flora and fauna in the forest than the females.

Figure 2. Relationship between response data of Q4 and employment.

The p-value reported for the above correlation was 0.0291 , and so rejected the null hypothesis of similarities between the response data sets of question 4 for employed and unemployed Iban individuals. Figure 2 shows a correlation between these two components; there was a higher preference for unemployed Iban individuals to remain in the village than migrating into the city: Darker area > lighter area.


The results of our study suggest that Iban groups in Bukit Lambir mainly access the forest for water consumption; they hunt forest animals that enter their residence . At present, the local Iban community the rules and regulations of the National Park which restrict their free access into the forest for daily water needs. To make it more difficult, these people are charged for entrance into the National Park . Even with regulations , the Iban still prefer to live in traditional longhouses. They cite a choice of residences which give a peaceful and healthy mindset over the city and its myriad of problems . Some generalized that the city’s atmosphere is highly polluted and expensive. Meanwhile, others especially the elderly, dislike the city due to their language barrier .

Results (see Q9 of Appendix C show that majority of the local Iban people have an extensive preferences for forest animal meat because they believe that it is far more fresh and healthy for consumption than dairy farm produce . Some also generalized that wild animals rarely get sick and do not transmit pathogenic viruses such as H1N1 . Despite high preference for forest animals, most of the local Iban people have shown certain conservation values such as sustainable crop harvesting and practice selective hunting . Meanwhile , the local Iban community also harvests other forest materials including rattan and timber for making mattress, traditional baskets, and for construction and extension of longhouses respectively.

Various conservation projects with the aid of the local Iban community could be proposed by the government and other NGOs. This would assist in monitoring while preserving the biodiversity of the forest. For example, the Semai, an indigenous community in Perak, are working with the Malaysian Nature Society to develop an eco-tourism project that will help protect the Raja Brooke’s Birdwing butterfly and Rafflesia flower in that area (Biodiversity in Malaysia, 2006). Through this, the Semai community provides magnificent home-stay programmes which include an interpretive center which allows visitors to enjoy protected species living in situ. This encourages visitors to abstain from collecting butterflies or harvesting the buds/flowers for sale in the local market primarily used for decor and traditional medicine purposes (Biodiversity in Malaysia, 2006).

Our survey also showed that the majority of the local Iban community is interested and willing to work for the National Park (see Q6 of Appendix C). As a basic rationale for forest biodiversity conservation and economic importance, it is encouraged that more job opportunities should be allocated for the local Iban people, based on their highly valued indigenous knowledge about the forest dynamics and their close experiences with the rainforest. However, this indigenous knowledge is gradually degrading (see Q1 of Appendix C), which may disconcert the ideology of engaging them with the National Park. Hence, it would be vital for the local state government to encourage, promote and preserve the Iban’s culture and heritage world. Small incentives from the government to support their livelihood, such as basic education, water supply and electricity should also be prioritized for these Iban communities. Awareness programmes about the values of biodiversity should be frequently conducted via active forum and discussion session annually.


  • Ashton, P.S. (1995) Biogeography and ecology. In: Soepadmo, E. & Wong, K.M. (eds.) Tree Flora of Sabah and Sarawak. Vol.1. Forestry Research Institute Malaysia, Sabah Forest Department and Sarawak Forest Department, Kuala Lumpur. Pp. XLIII-LI.
  • Hazebrowk, H.P. & Morshidi, A.K. (2000)National Parks of Sarawak. Natural History Publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu. Pp 154
  • Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment (2006) Biodiversity in Malaysia, Malaysia.


Our sincere gratitude goes to the organizers of the Biodiversity of Borneo Harvard Field Course 2009, particularly Dr. Campbell Webb for his kind guidance, supervision and encouragement. We would also like to thank the head master and community of the Iban longhouses for being friendly and polite in answering our research questions, Dr. Rod Eastwood, Dr. Stuart Davis – CTFS, Mr. Kamal – Park Manager, Lambir Hills NP, Bekti, Ross and all our friends for their constant support and encouragement.  

Appendix A – Questionnaire

  • 1. Are you able to identity many plants, birds, mammals, and other animals that live in the forest? ( NONE | FEW | SOME | MANY | VERY MANY )
    • Aim: to find out if they know much “Biodiversity” personally? How many species can they identify?
  • 2. What would you think if all the plant and animal species vanished forever? ( VERY SAD | SAD | DON'T CARE | HAPPY | VERY HAPPY )
    • Aim: to find out the personal value of biodiversity to the respondent.
  • 3. Q: Do you approve of the rules of the National Park? ( STRONGLY DISLIKE | DISLIKE | TOLERATE | APPROVE | STRONGLY APPROVE )
    • Aim: to recognize their willingness to obey the rules and regulations and to the legislations in the national park.
  • 4. If you had the opportunity, would you like to go to the city and leave your village? ( DEFINITELY NOT | NO | DOESN'T MATTER | YES | STRONGLY YES )
    • Aim: to assess how happy they are with their village life
  • 5. If you had no access to resources from the forest (food, medicine, bird song...), how difficult would it be? ( VERY DIFFICULT | DIFFICULT | WOULD NOT MATTER | PLEASED | VERY PLEASED )
    • Aim: to identify do they want to depend on the forest or not?
  • 6. Would you like to get a job in the National Park, protecting the forest? ( DEFINITELY NOT | NO | DOESN'T MATTER | YES | STRONGLY YES )
  • 7. Would you like to get a job in an oil palm company if it meant that you would be clearing all the forests around the park? ( DEFINITELY NOT | NO | DOESN'T MATTER | YES | STRONGLY YES )
    • Aim: to understand if the actual reason for the illegal felling, hunting and other destructive activities on the forest is the economy?
  • 8.Do you like tourists and researchers to be in the forest? ( DEFINITELY NOT | NO | DOESN'T MATTER | YES | STRONGLY YES )
    • Aim: They may think the presence of the public in the forest prevents them from performing their activities in the forest.
  • 9.Which food you preferred mostly? Farm animals or forest animals? (FARM ANIMALS STRONGLY | FARM ANIMALS | DON'T MIND | FOREST ANIMALS | FOREST ANIMALS STRONGLY )
    • Aim: to understand do they like to consume meat from forest even if they have enough money to buy meat from city.

Background questions:

  • What is your occupation? (LIST)
    • Aim: To understand how many people in a selected community engaged with occupation directly depend on forest.
  • What is your age?
  • Male/female
  • Highest level of schooling reached