With natural resources—terrestrial or coastal—fastly diminishing, governments are now resorting to biodiversity conservation, fast-tracking the introduction of new legislations, as well as the amendment of existing ones, and laying out programs that interpret existing practices and research agendas. This paper examines how biodiversity conservation—in addition to eco-tourism—has become an important symbol of the modernizing state of Sabah, Malaysia. It further examines the effects of biodiversity conservation on state and community management of natural resources, with particular reference to the management of natural resources by the indigenous peoples of Sabah. Citing case studies and focusing on a forest community at Kiau Nuluh, in the district of Kota Belud, Sabah, this paper evaluates strategies used by indigenous groups to maintain access and control over the management of natural resources—and by implication to livelihoods—via ecotourism, making creative alliances with non-government organisations as well as forging cooperation with government agencies which act as custodians of these resources. For a majority of indigenous groups however, the practice of biodiversity conservation has meant reduced and controlled access to natural resources, considering the fundamental issue of the lack of security of tenure to the land claimed under customary rights. New initiatives at recognizing Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) by international conservation groups provide a means for tenure recognition, for a price, of course.
The recognition of ICCAs also faces obstacles arising from developmentalist ideology which upholds that forests are valuable only when converted to other land use, and not left to stand for their intrinsic value.