‘A Bridge To Extinction, A Corridor Of Death’ Laments Environmentalist

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An orang-utan in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, where the population, already highly fragmented (without a new bridge) is about 800 individuals. – Photo credit and Copyright: Rudi Delvaux/DGFC
An orang-utan in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, where the population, already highly fragmented (without a new bridge) is about 800 individuals. – Photo credit and Copyright: Rudi Delvaux/DGFC

By THE BORNEOTODAY TEAM
KINABATANGAN – Is Sabah ready to sacrifice 10 per cent of the State’s elephant population, 30 percent of the proboscis monkey population and 10 percent of the orangutan population?

Benoit Goossens
Benoit Goossens

At a time when ecotourism in Sabah is flamboyant and is becoming one of the top sources of income to the state, are we ready to blow this massive opportunity of sustainable source of income for many generations to come?

These two questions were posed by a distraught Dr Benoit Goossens, Director of Danau Girang Field Centre in a statement Monday as to what would happen if the proposed bridge-road in Sukau is allowed to proceed.

While he is also quick to admit that he is all for finding harmony between development and conservation, Goossens still cannot understand the drive behind the proposed bridge/road.

“To me, the Sukau project will become a bridge to extinction, to both wildlife (including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, etc) and people. The Kinabatangan Corridor of Life will become a corridor of death,” said Goossens, an environmental scientist.

Goossens said what he read in a local newspaper showing the clearance of some private forested land had started in Sukau, to establish an office for the bridge contractor and store heavy machinery, which would be ready for the construction of the proposed bridge-road, has left him completely distraught.

Map showing four years of location (GPS) points for Puteri, a female that was collared in November 2012. The unit recently dropped at DGFC. It clearly shows a large concentration of points in Sukau area, a hotspot for elephant movements along the Kinabatangan. If a road bridge is built there, it will create massive conflicts. – Photo credit and Copyright: DGFC
Map showing four years of location (GPS) points for Puteri, a female that was collared in November 2012. The unit recently dropped at DGFC. It clearly shows a large concentration of points in Sukau area, a hotspot for elephant movements along the Kinabatangan. If a road bridge is built there, it will create massive conflicts. – Photo credit and Copyright: DGFC

“Seventeen years ago, the Kinabatangan was called Sabah’s “Gift to the Earth” and in 2005, the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary was created to increase forest connectivity along the Kinabatangan River.

“It was also to protect several charismatic species such as the orangutan, the elephant and the proboscis monkey, some of them becoming, over the years, iconic species for attracting eco-tourists to the state,” explained Goossens.

“In the Elephant and Orangutan State Action Plans 2012-2016, which were supported by the government, it was clearly stated that any process that would further fragment the habitat of elephant and orangutan populations such as highways and bridges must be prevented. “Therefore, the proposed bridge and road in Sukau are directly conflicting with the content of those two policy documents,” added Goossens.

A group of elephants crossing a highway in Peninsular Malaysia. Similar conflicts will happen in Sukau area if a bridge/road is developed. – Photo credit and Copyright: Yeap Chin Aik/MNS
A group of elephants crossing a highway in Peninsular Malaysia. Similar conflicts will happen in Sukau area if a bridge/road is developed. – Photo credit and Copyright: Yeap Chin Aik/MNS

A concerned Sabah lover, Goossens argues, “for the past 12 months, we have clearly demonstrated with scientific facts and data that the bridge and the road would have a direct impact on wildlife populations, and especially elephants, orangutans and proboscis monkeys.

“The new public road that will subsequently follow the bridge will cut off the last remaining uninhabited route for elephants near Sukau, and this will have catastrophic consequences for both the animals and the people.

“Major conflicts will arise, deaths (elephant attacks on people, elephants shot or poisoned) will occur.

An elephant recently slaughtered for its ivory in Sabah. – Photo credit and Copyright: Sabah Wildlife Department
An elephant recently slaughtered for its ivory in Sabah. – Photo credit and Copyright: Sabah Wildlife Department

“Moreover, we will increase easy penetration of poachers into protected forests, especially of ivory traders. We just lost three bull elephants from poaching. Can we decently increase the pressure on the elephant population in Sabah?”

“The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is home to one of the largest populations of elephant and one of the largest population of proboscis monkeys, 800 orangutans are still roaming free in its forest, added Goossens.

He said that though he is 100 percent for finding harmony between development and conservation, what he still doesn’t understand is the drive behind the proposed bridge/road.

A female proboscis monkey crossing the Kinabatangan River. The population of proboscis monkeys in the Kinabatangan is estimated at about 1,500 individuals, about 30 percent of the total population in Sabah. – Photo credit and Copyright: Rudi Delvaux/DGFC
A female proboscis monkey crossing the Kinabatangan River. The population of proboscis monkeys in the Kinabatangan is estimated at about 1,500 individuals, about 30 percent of the total population in Sabah. – Photo credit and Copyright: Rudi Delvaux/DGFC

For the past 20 years, he said, residents of the villages of Lintang, Dagat, Parit, Tomanggong and Seri Ganda (all located south of the Kinabatangan) have been using the Jeroco road to go to Lahad Datu.

And even with a new bridge at Sukau township, Sandakan will be twice as far to travel as to Lahad Datu. Perhaps it would be wiser to upgrade existing roads than build a new one that will primarily benefit plantations.

About 95 per cent of people living in Sukau township already have direct access to the Sandakan highway without the need for a road bridge, stressed Goossens.