Malaysia: Sabah scraps controversial plan for Kinbatangan bridge

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 21 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A controversial plan to build a 350-metre bridge spanning Kinabatangan in Sukau has been scrapped by the state government.

The landmark decision was announced by the Sabah Forestry Department's Chief Conservator of Forests, Datuk Sam Mannan, when speaking at the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) dinner in London, yesterday.

The project stoked controversy when environmentalists, including famed English naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, raised concerns over the environmental impact such a bridge would have on wildlife there.

Attenborough said it would threaten one of the last sanctuaries of the Bornean pygmy elephant.

"In making this decision, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman has taken into consideration all the concerns and opinions expressed related to the bridge, including those from Sime Darby, Nestle, scientists and non-governmental groups, and also the opinion of someone who knows the territory better than anyone else – Sir Attenborough," Sam said.

He added that Attenborough's comments “broke the camel's back” and made the Sabah government understand that the issue does not just concern Sabah, but the world.


Sabah scraps Sukau bridge project
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 20 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has scrapped a controversial plan to build a second bridge across the Kinabatangan River.

The Sabah government's decision to scrap the RM223mil Sukau bridge project was announced in London by Sabah Forest Department chief conservator Datuk Sam Mannan.

Mannan said this during his speech at the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) dinner Thursday held at the Royal Society in London.

"In making this decision, Chief Minister of Sabah Datuk Seri Musa Aman has taken into consideration all the concerns and opinions expressed related to the bridge, including those from Yayasan Sime Darby, Nestle, scientists and NGO groups and also the opinion of someone who knows the territory better than anybody else – Sir David Attenborough," Mannan said.

In March, the Guardian newspaper published an article highlighting Sir David Attenborough's concerns over the proposed bridge that would span 350m across the Kinabatangan River, threatening one of the last sanctuaries of the rare Bornean pygmy elephant.

"If I may say so, that headline broke the camel's back," Mannan said.

"It made us understand that the issue of a proposed bridge across a protected area for wildlife is now the number one environmental concern not just in Sabah, but globally too, because of the extremely precarious situation of the rich wildlife therein."

"The Chief Minister of Sabah has taken everyone's views into consideration – including Sir Attenborough - before deciding on this very important issue, and I am pleased to say that balanced development has prevailed," Mannan said, adding that Musa had permitted him to disclose the decision at the gathering.

"We are not going ahead with the bridge," he said.

The proposed Sukau bridge project received strong objections from local and international conservationists who said it would disrupt the migratory route of wildlife and negate wildlife conservation.

The Kinabatangan Conservation Area is described as "Sabah's Gift to the Earth" and has been dubbed the "Corridor of Life".


Groups: Scrapping bridge project will boost wildlife conservation
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 21 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Conservation groups are hailing the Sabah government’s decision to scrap the controversial Sukau Bridge project as a “win-win” for both man and nature.

Save Kinabatangan, a coalition of civil societies against the RM223mil project, said that while it was a difficult decision for the Chief Minister, it would go a long way towards conserving the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We wish to wholeheartedly support the people of Sukau and the other Kinabatangan communities in working towards a regional vision.

“This way, the wildlife and people, and the oil palm and tourism sectors, can come together to build a mutually beneficial future,” it said in a statement after the announcement in London by Sabah Forest chief conservator Datuk Sam Mannan.

Environmentalists had strongly objected to the project, arguing that it would disrupt the migratory route of wildlife and negate conservation efforts.

Mannan disclosed the state government’s decision to scrap the second bridge over Sungai Kinabatangan during his speech at the South-East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) dinner on Wednesday at the Royal Society.

The Chief Minister, he said, had taken into consideration all views over the bridge, including from Yayasan Sime Darby, Nestle, scientists and NGOs, and particularly, those of British naturalist Sir David Atten­bo­rough.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper had published an article headlining Attenborough’s concerns over the bridge that would span 350m across the river, threatening one of the last sanctuaries of the rare Bornean pygmy elephant.

“If I may say so, that headline broke the camel’s back. It made us understand that the issue is now the number one environmental concern – not just in Sabah but globally, too, because of the extremely precarious situation of the rich wildlife,” Mannan told the audience.


David Attenborough’s ‘Guardian headline’ halts Borneo bridge
Conservationist denounced Sukau project as a threat to pygmy elephants and orangutans
Jeremy Hance The Guardian 21 Apr 17;

Officials in Borneo have cancelled plans to build a bridge across the Kinabatangan river, after warnings from Sir David Attenborough and other conservationists that it would gravely endanger pygmy elephants, orangutans and many other jungle species. The news comes just weeks after the Guardian revealed Attenborough’s opposition to the project.

Attenborough originally sent a private letter to the chief minister of the state of Sabah, Musa Aman, in September 2016. Last month, with signs pointing to the bridge still going ahead, the Guardian published excerpts from the letter. The authorities in Borneo have described Attenborough’s now-public opposition as the final blow to the project.

“I am immensely pleased to hear that plans to build a bridge at Sukau have been cancelled,” said Attenborough, who is a patron of the World Land Trust, which has saved forest in the Kinabatangan area. “This region is recognised worldwide as being a vital enclave for threatened wildlife, and it is indeed good news that the safe passage of orangutans, pygmy elephants and other endangered wildlife will not be threatened by the bridge and all that would have come with it. The decision will [also benefit] the local people who welcome visitors who come to see the wonderful biodiversity of their forests.”

Datuk Sam Mannan, Sabah Forestry Department’s chief conservator, announced the state government’s decision on 19 April at a dinner in London held by the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership. “That headline broke the camel’s back,” Mannan said of the Guardian’s coverage. “It made us understand that the issue of a proposed bridge across a protected area for wildlife is now the number one environmental concern not just in Sabah, but globally too.”

The bridge would have spanned 350m, linking the village of Sukau with Litang and Tommanggong. While many locals supported it as a means to improve travel in the region, conservationists feared it would further imperil wildlife. Sukau is adjacent to the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a popular eco-tourism site. Attenborough himself has visited the region several times.

Over the years the sanctuary has been hemmed in by spreading palm oil plantations, which have fragmented forests and blocked migratory routes for wildlife. Bornean elephants – the world’s smallest – are considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with a global population of only around 1,500. Bornean orangutans are listed as critically endangered. As they have lost their habitat, both species have seen increased run-ins with humans, including poachings and poisonings.

The conservationist and wildlife presenter Steve Backshall, who also attacked the bridge plans, described the Kinabatangan forest as “one of the single most important pieces of rainforest on Earth”.

Last weekend, Backshall and his wife, Olympic champion rower Helen Glover, kayaked 125 miles along the Thames to raise funds for the World Land Trust’s work in the area.

“It’s a narrow wildlife corridor, allowing dispersal of a myriad of species big and small,” Blackshall said. “Fragmenting of this habitat – already beleaguered by ever-encroaching plantations – would be catastrophic. The decision to halt the Sukau bridge is a reason for great celebration.”

Experts have said there are alternatives to the bridge, including building further downstream or improving existing infrastructure.

“The chief minister of Sabah has taken everyone’s views into consideration – including Sir David’s – before deciding on this very important issue, and I am pleased to say that balanced development has prevailed,” Mannan said.

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