KINABATANGAN: The clearance of private forested land in Sukau to establish an office for the bridge contractor and store heavy machinery for the construction of the proposed bridge-road has left Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens completely distraught.
“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, 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.
He pointed out that 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.
“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, which 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. 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?” he said in a statement yesterday.
According to Goossens, 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.
“Are we ready to sacrifice 10% of Sabah’s elephant population, 30% of Sabah’s proboscis monkey population and 10% of Sabah’s orangutan population? 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?” he questioned.
“While I’m 100% for finding harmony between development and conservation, I still don’t understand the drive behind the proposed bridge/road. For the past 20 years, 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. Even with a new bridge at Sukau township, Sandakan will be twice as far to travel as to Lahad Datu. It would be wiser to upgrade existing roads than build a new one that will primarily benefit plantations. About 95% of people living in Sukau township already have direct access to the Sandakan highway without the need for a road bridge,” stressed Goossens.
“To me, Sukau bridge 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!” he added.