Saving threatened habitats worldwide

David Attenborough speaks out against bridge through Borneo project

15 March, 2017 - 10:47 -- World Land Trust
Fragmentation along the bank of the Kinabatangan River

In a letter to the Chief Minister of Sabah,  Datuk Seri Panglima Musa Haji Aman, WLT Patron Sir David Attenborough has warned against the repercussions for Bornean wildlife should plans for a bridge across the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (the ‘Sukau Bridge’) go ahead.

The letter was quoted in an article published by the Guardian, which quotes David Attenborough saying “I have had many encounters with the magnificent and unique species with which your state is blessed. If this construction is allowed to go ahead, I am left in no doubt that the bridge will have significant negative effects on the region’s wildlife, the Kinabatangan’s thriving tourism industry and on the image of Sabah as a whole.”

The Sukau Bridge

The Sukau bridge project is a highway bridge proposed to go across the Kinabatangan River from Sukau and through Lot 3 of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary on the other side.

The bridge, and the associated new road, has been promoted by the elected representative for the area (Datuk Saddi Abdul Rahman), who has secured RM232million of funding for the development.

Saddi has described Sukau as a ‘dead-end village’ and argues that a connection to a bigger town like Lahad Datu is the key to stimulating its development and enabling faster access to the closest hospital. The plans are widely supported by a portion of the Sukau community who feel that they do not benefit from ecotourism and believe the development will bring much needed improvements to their livelihoods.

The plan for the road would be to allow villagers from the South side of the Kinabatangan River to cross (without needing a boat) to access the Sukau clinic, Kota Kinabatangan Hospital and district administrative offices. The road itself would allow vehicle access between Sukau and Lahad Datu for industries (such as palm oil refineries) and tourists. 

Problems for wildlife

The Sukau area is a hotspot for conflict between people and Bornean Elephants. The only protected forest corridor for elephants to pass through the Sukau area (without passing through human developments) is Lot 3 of the LKWS, although some elephants still prefer using the other side of the river, through the village itself and nearby plantations, resulting in daily conflicts.

“ If this construction is allowed to go ahead, I am left in no doubt that the bridge will have significant negative effects on the region’s wildlife, the Kinabatangan’s thriving tourism industry and on the image of Sabah as a whole.”
Sir David Attenborough

Mary McEvoy, Project Manager at WLT, said “The bridge, if built, would create a physical barrier to Bornean Elephants moving through their range past the village of Sukau. This will certainly lead to an increase in human-elephant conflict as elephants, which often travel in large groups in Kinabatangan, will be forced to find an alternative route through the town itself. The dire risks to people and property would be very real if such a barrier is built.”

Mary adds “There are also more subtle but no less serious consequences to consider as, historically, the opening of forests via road construction leads to an increase in illegal activities within protected reserves. This could prove catastrophic for species such as the Orang-utan, which has a slow reproduction rate, and other vulnerable species such as Malaysian Sun Bear, Helmeted Hornbill and Sunda Pangolin, which are prized by poachers.”

WLT Patrons speak against the bridge

WLT Patron Steve Backshall, who is currently fundraising with WLT to protect land in the Kinabatangan, was also quoted in the Guardian article saying “My concerns about the bridge in the Kinabatangan are that it would provide easier access into forests that will then be more accessible for logging, poaching, slash-and-burn agriculture and palm oil plantations. These fragile forests are on a knife-edge – any tiny negative influence could have brutal effects.”

The conclusion of David Attenborough’s letter reads “I strongly believe that Borneo is one of the most unique and biodiverse places on this planet, and that the world’s remaining wild spaces provide more than ecological services and opportunities for economic development; they also provide deep spiritual nourishment for ourselves and future generations of Sabahans and visitors alike.”

Saving Kinabatangan logo

More information

With the help of Steve Backshall and Helen Glover, WLT is currently raising funds to purchase important pieces of land along the bank of the Kinabatangan River to prevent further fragmentation of the Bornean Rainforest habitat.

Donate to protect rainforest in Kinabatangan »

Read the full article published by the Guardian here »


Submitted by Ann on

History shows that everywhere we interact with nature we are destroying it! Some places are meant to be wild.

Submitted by John on

But you cannot blame the people there for wanting roads (for hospital access and economic opportunities etc.). We in Europe have got rich by exploiting the world's resources, we can hardly ask others to stay poor, or become dependent on our tourist dollars, just so we can feel good about ourselves. The real problem is with us, not them. If we wanted to we could give up our supermarkets, schools, electric grids and hospitals and live in small, unconnected villages dotted about a huge temperate forest (like the one that blanketed Britain a few thousand years ago). We might say to these Indonesians "oh, you'll regret it when the forest is all gone" but our forest is all gone and do we regret it? We certainly don't act like it. We act like we quite enjoy our modern luxuries (including palm oil products) and show no signs of wanting to give up our cities and roads to live in the forest once again.


Without the viaducts, wildlife will not be able to move between both forests. The viaducts also prevent animals from venturing into roads where they risk being run over by vehicles,” says Yusoff Shariff, director of Terengganu Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).
This is what the Sukau Bridge will be. Same design & technology. A safe passage for the animals. So why the environmentalist not only in Sukau but foreign still opposed the motion? Simple answer is GREEDY. Sukau is their gold mine. They get rich by collecting fund from the multiple sources. Villager get nothing.
#NajibRazak #MusaAman
Support!! #SukauBridge #PekanSukau

Learn more at:

WLT, my previous comment on your site (here) have been deleted. What kind of people are you? You have been too ridiculous, unfair and uncivilized! You must be part of the western conspirator to foil the Sukau Bridge and to benefit the multiple source of funds. You have no sense of humanity!!

See more at:

Submitted by John Burton on

Dear Suhana

We are checking some of the facts you quote. You make a number of unsubstantiated allegations, and before allowing these to appear we need to check them. If you wish to rewrite your comments, and give substantiation and sources for all your claims, we will, of course, be happy to publish. However, our website is not intended to be a platform for politically motivated denigration. It would also be important to clarify your motivation for writing, your position in civil society etc.

Yours sincerely,

John A Burton

Submitted by Ben Hammond on

The State Government of Sabah did not take the decision to scrap the controversial Sukau bridge at the spur of the moment. The State Cabinet & in particular the Right Honourable Chief Minister have painstakingly taken & considered the views of all stakeholders including the proponents of the bridge project. 

Every credible NGO & other organisations who are familiar with the issue are unanimous in their conclusion, the bridge should not be built. This includes government-linked Sime Darby Foundation which has been pouring millions in the conservation of flora and fauna in Sabah, mostly in the Kinabatangan area. The Foundation has in fact given notice to the State Government that it would have to review its funding in Sabah if the construction of the bridge proceeds. The Forestry Department of Sabah has similarly expressed their concern on the negative impacts of the bridge on the totally protected forests in that area. 

The State Government has also consulted the Federal Government on the issue by virtue of the fact that the fund for the proposed bridge comes from the Federal Government. The Federal Government fully supports the decision of the State to scrap the bridge project. 

The State Government has made the decision to scrap the Sukau bridge as part of its continuous effort to be in the forefront of conservation in this part of the world. Everyone should respect the decision. Conservation has paid immense dividends to Sabah especially in the tourism industry and forests conservation. We accept the fact that they may be citizens who would be adversely affected by the non-construction of the bridge. The State Government of Sabah will endeavour to assist them and would continue to take care of their welfare. 

The State Government has made a very difficult decision. Nevertheless, we truly believe it is the right decision. 


Masidi Manjun 

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment (Sabah) 


Add new comment

Bookmark and Share

Read about us

  • News Online
  • RSS
  • eBulletin
  • Green Diary
  • Printed Newsletter

Contact Us

Tel: +44 (0)1986 874422

Follow us

Follow on Facebook  Follow on Twitter  Follow on Linkedin  Follow on GooglePlus  Follow on YouTube