Located in Ulu Kinabatangan, right in the heart of Sabah, the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area has been carved out by Sungai Imbak over thousands of years.

Nestled between the Danum Valley and the Maliau Basin, the 30,000ha virgin forest is believed to be over 100 million years old.

Last month, the Imbak Canyon Studies Centre (ICSC) in Tongod was officially opened, marking a significant milestone in the Yayasan Sabah Group-Petronas Imbak Canyon Conservation Partnership.

Set up to promote activities geared towards conserving the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area as well as empowering the surrounding communities, the ICSC will act as a centre of learning for the indigenous community in biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

The 27ha facility, which sits within the 27,599ha core zone of the conservation area, will also function as a centre for gene bank conservation and the exploration of the pharmaceutical and biotechnological potential of flora.

The centre was launched by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, who also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Yayasan Sabah and Petronas.

Also present during the ceremony were Yayasan Sabah director Datuk Jamalul Kiram Mohd Zakaria, Petronas and Yayasan Petronas chairman Datuk Ahmad Nizam Salleh and Petronas group president and chief executive officer Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin.

With over 600 plant species recorded to date, 82 species of mammals, 242 species of birds and 22 species of freshwater fish, the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area is rich in biodiversity.

Among its wildlife are several threatened species such as the clouded leopard, the marbled cat, the proboscis monkey, the Bornean gibbon, the banteng, the sun bear, the Borneo pygmy elephant and Borneo’s icon itself, the critically endangered orang utan.

The bird species found in the area include all the eight species of hornbill in Borneo.

Besides playing an important role as a wildlife corridor between Danum Valley and Maliau Basin conservation areas, Imbak Canyon also serves as a water catchment area for Sungai Kinabatangan, Sabah’s longest river at 560km.

Imbak Canyon Conservation Area research station set up

The iconic 39-metre wide Imbak Waterfall can be found in the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area in Sabah.

In his speech at the event, Ahmad Nizam said the ICSC is central to conservation work in Imbak.

“To spur research activities here, Petronas, through Yayasan Petronas, plans to introduce an environment research grant to encourage research related to biodiversity and carbon sinks, as well as in new energy.

“We are confident that the partnership with Yayasan Sabah Group will enable us to protect the intellectual property rights and commercial patents that may arise from the research conducted in Imbak Canyon.

“We want to continue the work in conservation in a sustainable and scalable way, where there can be shared success,” he said.

Jamalul Kiram said the construction of the centre would expand the close collaboration between Yayasan Sabah Group and Yayasan Petronas on the conservation and development of the Tongod community, in particular, as well as Sabah as a whole.

“It will create more jobs for the communities living nearby in the Imbak area, especially young people, in hospitality and tourism-related activities.

“By this, we hope they can improve their livelihood in a sustainable way,” he said.

Yayasan Sabah Group is hoping the centre will become a hub for research and studies on the environment and biodiversity in the area, with plans to set up six research stations and a hydrology and climate station staffed by experienced and qualified research assistants.

It is looking to explore pharmaceutical and biotechnological potential at the centre with research into the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of medicinal plants found in the area by researchers from Monash University Malaysia.

It is also commited to developing the centre as an ecotourism attraction in Tongod, with accomodation, jungle and nature trails, a nature gallery and an environmental education trail.

Yayasan Sabah’s conservation efforts currently comprise five main conservation areas: Danum Valley, Maliau Basin, Imbak Canyon, Silam Coast and Taliwas River. Together, these five areas, measuring over 142,000ha, are twice the size of Singapore.