Thursday, September 19

Kinabatangan elephants threatened by bridge and road development


KINABATANGAN: A female Bornean elephant was fitted with a satellite collar on August 3 near Danau Girang Field Centre, in Lot 6 of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS) as part of a collaborative project between the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

Elephant Family, Houston Zoo and Columbus Zoo have supported collaring operations in the Kinabatangan for eight years.

Malaysian PhD student Nurzhafarina Othman (registered at Cardiff University and attached to DGFC) and Malaysian wildlife veterinarian Dr Pakee Nagalingam from the Wildlife Rescue Unit led the collaring operation.

Danau Girang Field Centre director and project leader Dr Benoit Goossens disclosed that DGFC and SWD have collared 14 elephants in the Kinabatangan since 2008, providing crucial information on the movements of the large resident herd: along the river, into the different forest fragments, into oil palm plantations, and in the vicinity of human settlements such as Sukau, Bilit, Abai and Batu Putih villages.

He said the data accumulated over the years from those 14 elephants clearly showed that Sukau is a hotspot for elephant movements and major conflicts in the area could be anticipated if the construction of a road bridge bisecting the wildlife sanctuary goes ahead,.

“The road bridge will undermine efforts from several organisations, not excluding the government of Sabah itself, to maintain natural habitat connectivity and healthy wildlife populations – especially those of large and endangered mammals such as elephants, orangutans, sun bears, proboscis monkeys and clouded leopards,” he said.

Goossens added the State Government declared the Lower Kinabatangan as Sabah’s “Gift to the Earth” in 1999, then gazetted it as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 2005, in order to restore natural habitat along the longest river of the state, reduce illegal wildlife hunting, encroachment, and to keep wild animals safe and accessible to a large tourism industry.

He claimed that several millions of ringgit have been invested to rehabilitate, reconnect and restore the forest fragments along the river, and the Kinabatangan has attracted hundred of thousands of tourists and generated millions of ringgit for the government.

“It seems unwise to destroy years of hard work to make this place a real corridor of life, by building a bridge and sealing a road that will split the sanctuary in three (as it is already split in two by the Batu Putih bridge)!”

“Looking at eight years of data collected from 14 elephants along the Kinabatangan, I can already predict massive conflicts in Sukau area, elephants will be killed, people will be killed, and the government will lose millions of ringgit mitigating those conflicts. Let’s look at alternatives that will really benefit the local people such as building small and well-equipped hospitals and bringing competent doctors and nurses in those villages (Kg Litang, Kg Dagat, Kg Parit Tomanggong and Kg Seriganda) east of the Kinabatangan, by bringing health to the people rather than people having to travel long hours to hospitals in Lahad Datu, Sandakan or Kota Kinabatangan, if this is the real reason behind the bridge project,” he said in a statement yesterday.