June 17, 2010

Sand Dredging A Threat To Borneo’s Wildlife

Malaysian activists said Tuesday that sand dredging in a Borneo wildlife sanctuary is threatening the habitats of endangered pygmy elephants and a rare species of monkey.

They said sand-laden barges were once again moving up and down rivers in the Kinabatangan wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah state on Borneo island.

Harjinder Kler from the Hutan environmental group said the erosion caused by the dredging would affect about 200 pygmy elephants and a few hundred proboscis monkeys living in that sanctuary.

"It will cause more and more of their habitat to be eroded and polluted as a result of the siltation from the dredging," Kler told AFP.

She said that as the Kinabatangan river spills into the Sulu Sea, the silt from the dredging would also pollute the Coral Triangle.  The Coral Triangle is a global center of marine biodiversity spanning Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Most sand dredging was halted after the creation of the Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary in 2005.  The sanctuary lies in the north of the state and is 64,000 acres.

Sabah state tourism, culture and environment minister Masidi Manjun said he was surprised that new permits were issued to sand dredging companies and promised a full probe.
Last week, he urged the oil palm industry to donate land along the Kinabatangan riverbank for conservation. 

"I am very disappointed that such a thing has happened as we have been talking about creating a corridor of life for the wildlife on both sides of the river and this dredging will destroy all our hard work," he added.

Pygmy elephants on Borneo form a sub-species of the Asian elephant.  The creatures have a rounded appearance and are smaller than their mainland cousins.

Accordign to authorities, there are only about 1,500 to 2,000 remaining on Borneo island.

The Proboscis monkey lives in the island's mangrove forests, swamps and jungles.  However, it has seen habitat loss and poaching, which has brought its population down to about 1,000.