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Wildlife avoid even first bridge
Published on: Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Kota Kinabalu: Lessons from the First Kinabatangan Bridge and viaducts in West Malaysia are clear to the State Government that it should seriously reconsider building the 350m (1,148ft) Second Kinabatangan Bridge and highway at Sukau, says 'Sustainable Place' Research Fellow from Cardiff University and Director of Danau Girang Filed Centre, Dr Benoit Goossens (pic).Elephant migration inland grounded to a stop ever since the First Kinabatangan Bridge and highway was built at Batu Puteh by an Indian consortium in the early 1990s.

He said studies have also found 10 viaducts along the Kuala Berang Highway in West Malaysia ineffective so far to induce free crossings of large mammals such as elephants, tigers, tapir, clouded leopards.

" Our research over the years have made us realise there is no wildlife going below the First Kinabatangan Bridge at Batu Putih – nothing, no wildlife, not even crocodiles which is interesting because all our data show that," Goossens told Datuk Pang Nyuk Ming, Assistant Culture, Tourism and Environment Minister during a courtesy call.

Since the Batu Puteh bridge and road dissect the 26,102ha Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary between Lot 7 and Lot 8, the east-west movement of elephants stops dead at Lot 7, unable to cross over to Lots 8, 9 and Lot 10 at Lokan in interior Sabah, Goossens pointed out.

If a second Kinabatangan bridge at Sukau is built followed by an aggressive road and then an ambitious viaduct (elevated bridge over the ground) at the uninhibited forests in Lot 3 in Sukau area, it risks erecting another permanent dead stop to free movement to Lot 2 and Lot 1 near Abai and trap the 200-250 herd to a much reduced living space within Lots 4, 5, 6 and 7, Goossens told Pang his concern.

Since a large expanse of forested habitats or contiguous green corridor is crucial to the permanent viability of the pygmy elephants, this second round of large linear infrastructure development coupled with heavy traffic that follows will doom the herd, Dr Goossens warned.

JKR engineers and even some environmentalists had championed eco-viaducts to endorse the Sukau bridge but an online Star report says little studies had been done on the Kuala Berang Highway eco-viaducts to confirm or verify there work in the tropical Malaysian context and for sure the EIA report on the Sukau project will never be able to prove it works.

"Nothing is conclusive about the effectiveness of viaducts for elephants while Sukau is a very special case with the high number of elephants and the area being the only one the elephants can use now," Goossens stressed.

"Kinabatangan will be a mess, it has been shown that viaducts do not work well for elephants. Moreover, just imagine the time it will take to build such a viaduct which will disrupt such a critical route for the elephants.

"We can anticipate massive conflicts between elephants and workers," Goossens argued.

"So the issue we face now is the elephants, just to take one species because they are big and they will create a big impact. It's going to be very similar for the proboscis monkey and orang utan just like onto the first bridge at Batu Puteh because with access to a bigger town for these villagers to go to Sukau, it will build up and also people will start building their own houses, having their shops around and that would mean the end of connectivity in the near future," Dr Goossens told Pang.

"Honestly speaking, if the reason they want to build the bridge and highway is connectivity, over 95 per cent of the Sukau people are already well connected to Sandakan or even Lahad Datu so for them I don't really understand the idea of the bridge because nobody lives there (big plantations southern banks beyond Lot 3)," Goossens briefed Pang.

As such, he suggested the resources for the proposed Sukau bridge and highway be used to improve roads and other infrastructures for needy villages cited by Datuk Saiddi Abdul Rahman, the Assemblyman for Sukau.

Up until the late 80s, transport across the Kinabatangan at Kg Batu Puteh depended on a ferry.

This means Federal plans to construct both the 1st and 2nd Kinabatangan bridges must have been hatched in the early 1980s or even the 70s when developing Sukau as a world renowned wildlife ecotourism destination had not even been conceived.

This is one compelling reason why the State Government should review and change an outdated plan in view of all the current facts and help Saiddi divert the same resources to alternative options.

But it was Deputy Chief Minister cum Infrastructure Development Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan who sparked a sky high proponent enthusiasm when he announced in late November last year that construction of Jalan Moresem to Jalan Sukau and the second Kinabatangan Bridge, as part of a package of four to five other major projects.

Given the latest scientific facts and data that the bridge and an aggressive highway will ram through an area of the largest concentration of elephant movement in Lower Kinabatangan and likely to doom them in the years to come, people will blame Pairin if he doesn't help secure a serious rethink of the project and opt for other alternatives. - Kan Yaw Chong



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