KINABATANGAN: Malaysian non-governmental organisation (NGO), Friends of the Orangutan (Foto), has raised concern over the environmental impact of Sabah’s development at the North-East of Sabah, the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS), and has urged the government to reconsider the move.
In a statement, Foto Director, Upreshpal Singh said, “The Kinabatangan region is already very fragmented and protected species such as the Bornean orangutan and pygmy elephant populations are decreasing; their survival in the area will only be a bigger challenge if such a project was approved.”
He cited the government’s development plans including the construction of roads and a bridge to connect Sukau to Litang and Tomanggong, over 40 km away, and highlighted that environmental experts have warned that a potential “loss of wild ambience at Sukau” may result in a tourist backlash.
Foto said, “Tourism in the Kinabatangan region and especially from Sukau and surrounding villages contribute to a massive amount of income to the state of Sabah. International tourism might sharply decline as a result of the loss of wild ambience at Sukau generated by the works and the infrastructure.
LKWS’ conservation is already under siege from palm oil agriculture and illegal logging.
The major infrastructure project forms part of the Sabah Economic Corridor, launched in January 2008 under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, to stimulate economic activity and sustainably manage state resources.
However, according to the NGO, the development will negatively impact at least 800 orangutans and 300 elephants in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplains, which are already at risk of extinction.
Foto also said the road construction contradicted the state’s Elephant & Orangutan Action Plans under the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment in 2011, which states that it will “prevent any process that would further fragment the habitat of the elephant [and orangutan] population (highways, major bridges).” An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study was required for any project of this scale.
Upreshpal concluded, “We urge the Sabah government to cancel this project as it will cause dramatic environmental, social and economic consequences. Orangutans are endangered, they don’t need their habitat to be even more fragmented.”