Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Sir David Attenborough applauds decision to cancel Sukau Bridge

3 May, 2017 - 10:17 -- World Land Trust

Plans to build a highway bridge across the Kinabatangan River and Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Malaysian Borneo have been cancelled.

The announcement was made by Datuk Sam Mannan, Chief Conservator of Forests, during his speech at the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) dinner held at the Royal Society in London on April 19.

The ‘Sukau bridge’ was of urgent concern to conservationists, as bridges built previously with this design over reserves had been shown to further isolate small groups of endangered mammals (such as elephants and orang-utans) and cause considerable damage to wildlife during construction.

A letter from Sir David Attenborough

In his capacity as a Patron of World Land Trust (WLT), Sir David Attenborough wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Sabah, Datuk Seri Panglima Musa Haji Aman, asking him to reconsider the plans for the bridge.
Extracts from his letter were published in an article by the Guardian entitled ‘David Attenborough attacks plan for Borneo bridge that threatens orangutans’. When making the announcement, Datuk Sam said “That headline broke the camel’s back. It made us understand that the issue of a proposed bridge across a protected area for wildlife, is now the number one environmental concern not just in Sabah, but globally too, because of the extremely precarious situation of the rich wildlife therein.”

“The Chief Minister of Sabah has taken everyone’s views into consideration – including Sir David’s - before deciding on this very important issue, and I am pleased to say that balanced development has prevailed… We are not going ahead with the bridge.”

Response from the conservation community

This decision has been greeted with joy by the conservation community, from within Sabah and around the world. Sir David says “I am immensely pleased to hear that plans to build a bridge over the Kinabatangan River at Sukau have been cancelled.

“This region is recognized worldwide as being a vital enclave for threatened wildlife and it is indeed good news that the safe passage of Orang-utans, Pygmy elephants and other endangered wildlife will not be threatened by the bridge and all that would have come with it. The decision will not only benefit wildlife but also the local people who welcome visitors who come to see the wonderful biodiversity of their forests. I am very glad that the wildlife and the needs of the local people have been respected.”

Wildlife television presenter and WLT patron Steve Backshall’s time spent viewing wildlife from this river is what inspired him to fundraise for WLT’s Saving Kinabatangan appeal with his wife Helen Glover by competing in the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race on Easter weekend.

Steve says “I chose to fundraise for the Kinabatangan because I am convinced it is one of the single most important pieces of rainforest on earth. It's a narrow wildlife corridor, allowing dispersal of a myriad of species big and small. Fragmenting of this habitat - already beleaguered by ever encroaching plantations - would be catastrophic. The decision then to halt the Sukau bridge is a reason for great celebration, and further evidence of how much people here and in Sabah value this precious forest.”

John Burton, Founder CEO at World Land Trust, adds “World Land Trust has been funding land acquisition in this area for almost a decade with our partner organisations LEAP Spiral and Hutan, securing land which has then been protected as part of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

“The Sanctuary is critical for the region’s wildlife, which has been pushed into smaller and smaller areas of habitat, and also acts as a corridor for the Bornean Elephant and Bornean Orang-utan to move past the village of Sukau. The building of the bridge would have created a physical barrier for these and other species, and the consequences would have included increased human-elephant conflict and increased poaching . It would also have extremely negative effects on the ecotourism industry, which relies on the area’s conservation programmes, and is critical for the local economy. WLT applauds the decision makers in Sabah for choosing to cancel this project, protecting the interests of the people and wildlife who live in this beautiful area.”

More information

For more information, please contact Nina Seale at or telephone 01986 874422.


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