BATU PUTEH, Malaysia — They call it the “corridor of life.” Amid a sea of oil palm plantations, narrow strips of forests that fringe the Kinabatangan River in Malaysia teem with iconic wildlife.
Established as a wildlife reserve in the 1990s, the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary has become one of the biggest tourist draws in the state of Sabah, in part because there are few places where it’s easier to see some of Southeast Asia’s best-known wild animals. Pot-bellied proboscis monkeys and eight species of hornbills are so easy to spot that tour boats from the outfitters based around the towns of Sukau and Batu Puteh sometimes won’t even slow down for them. And chance encounters with orangutans, crocodiles (observed safely from longboats) and even Borneo’s diminutive variant of the Asian elephant certainly aren’t rare.
Still, state and local leaders see the area’s potential for tourism as largely unrealized. Like politicians in other parts of Sabah, they aim to bring in more visitors, and provide locals with better access to services and markets, by improving connections to other parts of Sabah — specifically with the Pan Borneo Highway project. It calls for crews to widen the two-lane road that crosses the Kinabatangan River on its way from Lahad Datu to Sandakan into a four-lane, divided highway. The project plans also include a four-lane bridge over the Kinabatangan River where it crosses at the town of Batu Puteh. Currently, a two-lane, steel trestle bridge spans the river, clanking and shuddering under the weight of passing traffic, especially the ubiquitous palm oil-toting tankers.
Scientists and conservation groups, however, have raised concerns about expanding the existing road, which they say could further carve up already fragmented wildlife populations. Even at two lanes, the road has proven an insurmountable impediment to elephants crossing back and forth. All of the tracking data from teams at WWF-Malaysia and the Danau Girang Field Centre just downriver show that elephants remain on one side of the road and that they won’t cross….Read more>>