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‘Green Fingers’ to keep K’batangan from mega threat
Published on: Sunday, October 11, 2020
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Incredible herd of elephants by the river banks in Sukau. Kinabatangan is usually the climax to ecotourists who spend the first day at Sepilok. One night in Selingan and then two to three nights here where the elephants are star attraction. Readers can see a bridge and highway across Sukau will greatly disturb the movement of these elephants (Pic: Cede Prudente)
IT MAY be a gazetted wildlife sanctuary but destination Lower Kinabatangan is still not threat-free.   

A bigger vision and strategy tactics for Sandakan are needed to secure the future of this world-renowned wildlife treasure trove.

The vision and plan would be based on the Green Fingers concept which recognises that far flung wildlife forms the heart of Sandakan’s future. 

Green fingers is a strategy that connects urban green space near the city centre to its remote periphery wilderness thereby linking the urban to the rural landscape in a continuous fashion to get a “Think Big Think Treasure Trove” mode to prevent the loss of this fantastic natural gold mine to either private developers or an over-zealous established power.    

Reason behind this story 

The idea is newly-inspired. I’ll say why. 

After a personal field witness to a rousing success story on Orangutan connectivity restoration struck collectively between Sawit Kinabalu and Pongo Alliance in Sungei Pin, Kinabatangan, and running a four-part Special Report series documenting every detail of this science-driven gem of a conservation hit, lo and behold, Alex Yee, Executive Director of Walai Penyu Conservation Park called me from Pulau Libaran:

“Hi Kan, for the first time in nine years, we have a record of continuous turtle landings for four consecutive nights Oct 4, 5, 6 and 7 – beating the previous best three!”

“At least this gladdens my heart when everything else is working against Sabah,” Yee consoled.

When the chips are down 

True, ordinary Sabahans need a lot of good news now to relieve their mental and psychological stress. 

One of these is a guarantee that when the chips are down, they can still fall back to Mother Nature, to this incredible arsenal of collective treasure trove, a mega goose that lays the golden egg for comfort, for sustenance, excitement when the power of death from pestilence strike them down with utter fear and consternation, loss of jobs, livelihood and even lives, like what the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” depict.    

Never before have we seen a killer disease that destroys normal livelihood and economics so much with such comprehensive shut downs and lockdowns, plus traumatic political upheavals that haunt the daylight out of everybody.

Sabahans need to be assured that while pestilence and politics go on the rampage, they still have control and say over that robust reserve of natural wealth to regain their strength and sanity.    

Bright notes amidst gloom and doom  

The principal point I am saying here is in the midst of gloom and doom, I saw bright notes from the wilderness. 

That is everywhere I looked in Sandakan over the last few weeks, in came exciting good stories about the Orangutan, sea turtles, turtle islands, pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, crocodiles, hornbills, storm storks, clouded leopards etc shooting in all directions.

Sandakan is full of life, and is decidedly different.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Sandakan is a top dog wildlife treasure trove over and above anywhere else in Sabah, Malaysia and maybe the world, packed with a huge cargo of charismatic mega wildlife. 

Let that point sink in and be repeated so that nobody is allowed to go and destroy it.    

A clear case to invest on keeping world reputation  

So there is a clear case to mount a reputational investment not necessarily with big money but can be as cheap as don’t touch what already has a world reputation for being wild, productive and improving, enriching, uplifting, beautiful natural gift.

What already has a good repute everywhere, let nothing diminish it.  

The strategic concept for Sandakan is this: Optimise its green space geometry which enlarges the distance, shape and size. 

The idea is to think landscape, seascapes as one particularly to think big and great about divisional landscape which harbours and nourishes such an unbelievably rich cargo of wildlife and treat its destiny with the highest regard and care.

So, it’s time to recognise green spaces out in the peripheries as an essential part of the urban centre.  

Green Fingers connects Sepilok and Kinabatangan as one 

We shall see this is the case for Sandakan. For a long time, Sandakan touted as a premier wildlife destination.

But where is that really treasured and high quality wildlife found?

Yes, the 4.500-hectare or 43sq km Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve 25km from city centre is an eye opener – a classic green space preserved and conserved as a counterpart to a jammed and crammed urban city centre development. 

Generally Sepilok is treated as an appetiser by orangutan buffs for a short visit but the cap to the feathers is to see it in the wild. That means a trip to Kinabatangan.   

So, for Orangutan buffs Sepilok is actually part of the same finger connected to and extended to a much larger 26,000ha Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary – a true rural green space wildlife habitat both of which however are dedicated to serve the same supreme purpose – securing a permanent future of the rich cargo of wildlife with the Red ape as the prime species. 

Strategic understanding to keep rich cargo of wildlife  

The Green Fingers Strategy is easy to understand and convincing. 

The palm represents the city center of Sandakan.

The five green fingers represent the raft of green spaces like Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, its Borneo Sunbear Park.

Stretching outwards beyond are all the top dog wildlife hot spots.

1. The Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary.

2. The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

3. The famed Sabah Turtle Island Park comprising Selingan, Gulisaan, Bakkkungan Kecil, to which we must now add the unofficial Libaran island because of Alex Yee’s joint venture with SWD in running the hatchery which had releases more than 31,000 bay turtles to sea since 2011.      


Green Fingers – conceptually sound and practically real  

As a concept, nobody can miss the fact that the palm (city centre) and the fingers (green space) are one and intimately connected.     

In practice, this is actually what happens daily for Sandakan’s famous ecotourism industry.    

According to Yee – KiTA President, Johnny Lim – Deputy President and Amy Chin – KiTA Treasurer, ecotourists from far-flung Europe always buy Sepilok, turtle islands and Kinabatangan as one single package. 

Typically, it’s one-day, one-night for Orangutan Rehab Centre, one-day, one-night to Selingan to see the turtles at night (or beaches). But the climax of it all – spend two to three nights in Lower Kinabatangan to enjoy the river, the wild orangutans, proboscis monkey, Hornbills, storm stork, crocodile, clouded leopard and an ultimate star – the pygmy elephant in all their authentic wild glory. 

So, the Green Fingers Strategy clearly establishes the truth that the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is the top dog finger of the hand – the thumb, the rest being index, middle, ring, pinky fingers because nearly always, they spend more time and money there.

What if a key finger is chopped? 

But what if somebody comes along and say they want to chop the thumb in half and eventually infections later cause an amputation altogether?

Expect strong and vocal opposition from the tourism industry, guides, die hard ecotourists led by people like naturalist supremo Sir David Attenborough, eco resort owners and staff in their hundreds and even some 2000 if we include hotel employees down town.

These objections are nothing new because it’s in their heart, it’s the bread and butter for the industry as a whole and it’s is based on bedrock conviction on the transcendental value of life on earth which once lost cannot never be redeemed, no matter what nice sounding arguments are for a bridge.          

Pre-election marks for a Sukau bridge?

Their fear is the resurrection of a super hardware like a Sukau Bridge and super highways that connect it in and out will doom the wildness experience of Lower Kinabatangan for good. 

In the hey days of the BN Government, this was almost built but in an eleventh hour decision, the State BN government under then Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman decided to cancel it, presumably for the overall strategic reasons cited aforesaid.

But in a visit to Sukau in early August, even the swimming pool of one of the eco lodges in Sukau had been crossed red, allegedly earmarked for eventual demolition under the previous government. 

What that meant is not for us to speculate.

Now that there is a new government, we also don’t know what their position is. 

When the rich cargo of wildlife slowly vanish 

But the opinion of a lot of people is – if the Sukau bridge is built, it will be like chopping off the key and most important “thumb finger” of Sandakan Division’s tourism future – the wildness experience will be gone, its incredible treasure trove of wildlife will slowly disappear under the weight of population explosion over time, spread of menacing infrastructure and traffic, rising human densification.    

These adverse impacts won’t happen tomorrow but they will prove decimating a couple or more decades later. 

By that time, nobody will be accountable.   

The cost will fall on future generations of Sabah and the world who adore Kinabatangan – the only remaining forested flood plain in Asia.


Awesome flanged male Orangutan eating fig in Lower Kinabatangan. 


Rhinoceros hornbill flying over an oxbow lake in Kinabatangan. 




Clouded leopard seen at Nature Lodge, Sukau; a massive crocodile and the Storm stork. 


Turtle trails all over a magnetic beach in Pulau Selingan.


Turtle connection in Libaran.


Heart-winning misty morning in Sukau, Lower Kinabatangan. 


Orangutan entertaining visitors (above) at Sepilok Rehabilitation centre.



‘R5’ (circled) marking at a resort building done in early 2019 for demolition to build Sukau bridge? 




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December 20, 2014