Red alert for Sabah's pygmy elephant forest!

A baby elephant standing over the body of its dead mother, touching her head with its trunk A poisoned pygmy elephant mother and her calf (© Sabah Wildlife Department, Borneo)

Around 350 pygmy elephants live along the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Borneo. Two years ago, a wave of international protest led a project to build a bridge and roads deep into their habitat to be called off – but now the undead project is back under a new state government. Tell Sabah to scrap it once and for all!

Call to action

To: Prime Minister Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad, Chief Minister Shafie bin Haji Apdal

Sabah’s pygmy elephants will be in grave danger if a bridge is built near the city of Sukau. The project must stopped to ensure the animals’ safety.

Read letter

Sabah’s pygmy elephants are rare and beautiful creatures, which makes the sight of poached animals all the more painful. In one case, criminals hacked off half the elephant’s head to get the tusks. In December 2016, rangers discovered the tusk-less bones of Sabre, an elephant bull so named for his distinctive swept-back tusks.

Elephant poaching used to be virtually unknown in the lush rainforests of Sabah, home to hornbills, sun bears and orangutans. In recent years, however, criminals appear to have discovered the potential of the Malaysian state. And they are not just after ivory: elephant skin, nails and other body parts are in great demand on the Chinese market.

Between 2010 and autumn 2019 alone, the Sabah wildlife authorities registered 145 pygmy elephants that had been poisoned, shot or trapped in snares. The species could soon be extinct if this continues.

The gory trade of the poachers could soon be made much easier by a planned bridge over the Kinabatangan river. What’s worse, a road is slated to be built through the previously inaccessible forest of Tabin Wildlife Reserve – a convenient gateway for poachers, illegal settlers, timber thieves and the expanding palm oil industry. The road would disrupt the migration paths of more than 350 elephants and crowd the herds into ever smaller fragments of their original habitat. This could force the elephants to invade villages and plantations, with potentially fatal consequences.

The construction project is intended to boost the local economy – and likely benefit local politicians personally – but it could cripple the region’s growing ecotourism industry.

We need to act now!

Please sign our petition and help us protect Sabah’s elephants.

Back­ground

Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the north of the island of Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Its 26,000 hectares of forest are home to eleven primate species, including orangutans and proboscis monkeys, and rare pygmy elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis). The 120,000-hectare Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which is one of the last major lowland rainforests on Borneo and which has had a good protection status to date, would also be impacted by the roads.

Of the remaining 2,000 pygmy elephants on Borneo, around 350 live in the Kinabatangan region and more than 400 in Tabin.

Fragmented protected areas

Sabah’s protected areas are highly fragmented. A number of sections of Kinabatangan River are completely unprotected, and palm oil plantations have eaten their way through the forest as far as the river banks.

The planned new road would connect the towns of Sukau and Tambisan on the east coast of Sabah. The road would cut through both Kinibatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and Tabin Wildlife Reserve, leaving both of the protected areas vulnerable to poachers, illegal settlers, timber thieves and the palm oil industry. The road would affect the habitat of roughly half of the remaining population of Borneo pygmy elephants, and collisions with motor vehicles would become a further threat to the survival of the species. 

Plan for bridge revived

The plan to build a new bridge in Sukau – thus creating the basis for a new road network in eastern Sabah state – was dropped in 2017 in the wake of protests by numerous NGOs, including Rainforest Rescue, and scientists from all over the world. Renowned British naturalist Sir David Attenborough sent an open letter to the Chief Minister of Sabah at the time calling on him to cancel the bridge project and protect "one of the most unique and biodiverse places on this planet".

Following the elections in May 2018, the constellation of power in Sabah changed: the local politician behind the bridge and road construction changed parties and is now once again working to realize the project.

The new government is planning further infrastructure projects that would also threaten the pygmy elephant and numerous other endangered species – despite full awareness of the impact of such measure in government circles: "If this carries on, we might be looking at another extinction of a large mammal in Sabah. We must not let this happen. I will not let this happen," said Sabah deputy chief minister Datuk Christina Liew.

Local NGOs and scientists have pointed out the potentially catastrophic consequences of the planned projects in no uncertain terms. Their voices alone may not be enough, yet the government is concerned about its international reputation and the image of the palm oil industry, which is increasingly being associated with the killing of elephants.

Letter

To: Prime Minister Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad, Chief Minister Shafie bin Haji Apdal

Dear Prime Minister Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad,
Dear Chief Minister Shafie bin Haji Apdal,

The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is home to endangered orangutans, proboscis monkeys and numerous other primates. Hundreds of pygmy elephants are native to the region. The Kinabatangan River region is world-renowned for its biodiversity.

Your plans to build a bridge over the Kinabatangan at Sukau and pave the track on the other side would aggravate the situation for animals that are already suffering from the increasing fragmentation of their habitat. Biologists fear that the project may even lead to the disappearance of the elephant population in the medium term.

The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary offers tremendous potential for ecotourism as a sustainable source of income for generations to come. Many of the region’s residents already rely on international tourism for their livelihoods. This unique treasure could be ruined by the road and bridge construction.

We urge you to cancel the bridge project, as its economic benefits are doubtful and it would impact the habitat of numerous endangered species.

Sincerely,

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