Sime Darby Foundation critical of controversial bridge in Sabah’s wildlife hub

Borneon pygmy elephants are seen drinking water from Kinabatangan river in Sabah in this file pic. ― Reuters pic
Borneon pygmy elephants are seen drinking water from Kinabatangan river in Sabah in this file pic. ― Reuters pic

KOTA KINABALU, Feb 23 ― Sime Darby Foundation, the biggest private funder for Sabah’s conservation efforts, has warned against the building of a controversial RM223 million bridge that could threaten wildlife in the area where Borneon Pygmy elephants are sighted.

Its chief executive officer, Yatela Zainal Abidin, said that the foundation has invested over RM84 million in various environmental and conservation efforts in Sabah, some of which she said could be jeopardised by the bridge approved by the federal government.

“The RM223 million bridge has been proposed to be built at the last uninhabited route for elephants there, a very grave concern considering the recent poaching of two pygmy elephants in Sabah’s protected areas earlier this year.

“It not only threatens to further fragment an area which is already suffering from consequences of rapid human activity but I am also made to understand that it contravenes state policies that stipulates a cessation in the construction of major infrastructure that could cause further fragmentation in the lower Kinabatangan,” she said.

Yatela said this in her speech during the opening of an international proboscis conservation workshop here today.

The foundation has channeled arounds two-thirds of the funds under its environmental pillar to Sabah since 2009 in various projects, more than any other state.

The bridge, under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, is expected to connect the western river bank to the Sukau village on the east and the road would connect Sukau to Litang and Tomanggong areas, in an effort to stimulate economic activities.

The project has drawn heavy criticism from non-governmental organisations and environmentalists, claiming it will interrupt the already sensitive ecology in the region and is in the middle of high elephant traffic.

It has also been argued that the road would provide convenient access and escape for poachers and spawn illegal hunting activities in the area.

State Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun, during his speech and in a press conference today, said that the state government has heard the arguments and criticism and were evaluating these.

“We have listened and heard them and we are doing our best to manage and address them within our own limitations,” he said, adding that the state government had to take into consideration the people's needs and the stakeholders.

 “There is some intense and long discussion with policy makers on it. I’m not at liberty to reveal but we have not been idle and doing nothing. Soon we’ll have indication of policy direction,” he said.

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