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Rungus Nahaba Village


Conservation benefit: Conservation of 950 acres of community forest watershed for 15 years

Community benefit: Trails, shelters, and suspension bridge for ecotourism; documentation of traditional knowledge

Date Approved: 06.2020


This project supports a local conservation-based tourism initiative.


This project protects forest, preventing the release of greenhouse gases and reducing erosion that damages coastal and ocean ecosystems.

This project will save a large tract of almost untouched rainforest in northern Borneo. Beautiful streams and waterfalls flow through it. In the mangaris trees—the tallest trees in the forest—giant honeybees build huge combs prized by local people.

The indigenous people here have managed the forest communally for as long as anyone can remember. But a growing population and economic pressures make the future uncertain.

The village of Rungus Nahaba came up with a plan to protect the forest, keep the indigenous community in control, and generate sustainable income. Most residents grow pineapples or tap rubber, and incomes are low. But the community is rich in traditional knowledge about the forest, and it has a strong collective mindset. These strengths underlie this project, which will:

Protect the forest. A written agreement to preserve the forest will formalize the understanding among community members. It will also make it easier to stop outsiders who apply to the government for what are essentially land grabs. Villagers hope to inspire neighboring communities to protect their forests, too.

Develop ecotourism. The village is in a good spot for tourism, about 56 miles from the coastal city of Kota Kinabalu. The drive up to the village offers a perfect view of Borneo’s highest peak, 13,435-foot Mount Kinabalu. Last year, young villagers began improving hiking trails. With a Seacology grant, they will continue to map the area and clarify the boundaries of the protected area. They will also do some 3D mapping, which will help people visualize the protected watershed. To enhance visitors’ experience, they plan to add two shelters, water filters, and interpretive materials to the trails. Residents will earn income as guides and porters, and by selling pineapples and other food.

Document oral knowledge. Our nonprofit partner, the Research Institute for Culture and Environment, will also record elders’ oral knowledge for future generations. This will record, for example, rules for using the forest and valuable knowledge of medicinal and edible plants.

Project Updates

February 2024

Community members, working together and carrying materials by backpack into the forest, have finished building trails, nature centers, and suspension bridges and continue to welcome trekking groups almost every weekend.

Relying on the older members of the community and longstanding oral traditions, they have documented village folktales connected to the conservation area. Once the council of elders has checked the newly written collection for accuracy, the community will decide what to do with the stories.

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June 2023

The community is again welcoming tourists almost every weekend. After finishing all the planned infrastructure, they decided to add another bridge, a task made difficult by this year’s heavy rains. They expect it to be done in a few months.

The community is working on documenting 63 folktales connected to the conservation area. They hope to publish a book of folktales and sell it to visitors later this year.

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February 2023

Community members finished building the new ecotourism trails (including two bridges) and shelters in 2022, and lots of weekend trekking groups began coming. There was real pride within the community about the conservation area. Unfortunately, in November, a woman who was trekking with a group collapsed. A guide performed CPR, and paramedics were called in, but sadly she did not survive. The village has temporarily stopped hosting hikers and was planning a traditional cleansing ceremony in late December 2022.

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June 2022

An innovative bridge builder designed two modular bridges that are now being built. This requires on-site welding, which should be finished in June. The village hosted several small tour groups in the first quarter of 2022, as domestic movement restrictions were eased. Throughout the restrictions, the hope of future tourism strengthened resolve in maintaining the conservation area.

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February 2022

Some cases of Covid-19 in the village, as well as travel restrictions, severely limited meetings and communal work, but community members began building the new ecotourism trails and shelters in November 2021. Work is now about 75 percent done.

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June 2021

Despite an unusually intense rainy season, community members have gotten some work done on building the new ecotourism trails and shelters. Another COVID-19 lockdown across Sabah state imposed in early May, however, has slowed down their work.

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February 2021

After thoughtful discussions, the Rungus Nahaba community came up with a project timeline and signed a conservation agreement. The community has conducted site surveys, identifying a number of endangered or endemic species in the protected area, including pitcher plants and orchids protected by Malaysian law. They have also seen Borneo pangolins, barking deer, mouse deer, Malayan civets, and Bornean slow lorises.

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