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Monday July 25, 2005
BY TEOH TEIK HOONG
KINABATANGAN: The 26,000ha Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah, billed as Malaysia’s “Gift to Earth”, is facing massive destruction.
In the last four years alone, 20% of the 100-million-year-old forest has been estimated to have been cleared, threatening endangered animal species like the Borneo pygmy elephants, orang utans, proboscis monkeys and hornbills.
Besides the danger of losing these animals, the ecotourism industry in the “Corridor of Life” is also bracing itself for tougher times due to the illegal encroachment into the Lower Kinabatangan, where the sanctuary is sited.
Thousands of tourists, both foreigners and locals, visit the sanctuary each year to sample its rich fauna and flora.
The sanctuary, which is said to be older than the Amazon forest in South America, was pledged as the country’s “Gift to Earth” by former Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Osu Sukam in 1999.
The only indication that the promise to protect the area would be fulfilled was the gazetting of the area as a bird sanctuary under the State Land Ordinance in 2002.
A visit by The Star to Sukau and Bilit in Lower Kinabatangan revealed illegal logging and indiscriminate land-clearing in the area, with selective illegal extraction of timber species like the Keruing and Kapur.
Tree stumps were sighted along Sungai Menanggul, a tributary of the 560km-long Kinabatangan River.
The timber from the felled trees were believed to have been sawn into planks on site and transported out by river under the guise of fallen timber.
The Star came across herds of elephants by the riverbank every day, signalling that their habitat inland was being depleted.
Tour guide Abdul Karim Abdul Hamid said he had never seen the elephants coming “into our backyards when I was a child.”
“But today, the elephants are coming into our orchards and farms, destroying everything that we own.
“We are the ones who have forced these animals out by clearing the forest they call home,” he added.
“Now, we are sitting by the river, menggigit jari (biting our fingers) waiting for the government to protect our sanctuary.”
Robert Chong, operator of the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp in Kampung Bilit, said tourists had expressed their dismay at some of the areas being cleared right up to the riverbank.
“Tourists pay a lot of money to come and see our wildlife but they end up seeing how we have allowed encroachment right to the water’s edge.
“This will kill tourism if we do not do something fast.”
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