Monday, 11 January 2016

Letter to the Editor: Highway Construction Will Hasten Wildlife Extinction


Malaysian social media was set abuzz in the past few days over photographs of a displaced Sumatran serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) in a residential neighbourhood in Ukay Perdana, not far from Taman Rimba Ampang which has recently been closed to the public to facilitate the construction of the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE).

Although the sighting of the rare mammal constituted proof of the existence of serows in the forests of Selangor, concerned citizens, environmental activists and wildlife experts expressed their fear that this incident is only the beginning in the irreversible process of destruction of wildlife habitats and the continued displacement, endangerment and local extinction of wildlife once construction of the EKVE begins in earnest. The Sumatran serow is already described in the IUCN Red List as being vulnerable, endangered and in significant decline due to overhunting and habitat loss.

Wildlife sighting in urban areas is not cute. It is a sign that habitats are destroyed and fragmented, and wildlife are unable to find food and water, establish territory or reproduce. Wild animals wandering into urban areas are at risk of being poached, poisoned, harassed by people or domestic animals and injured and killed by motor vehicles.

Environmental organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Forest Stewardship Council and Global Forest Watch have long reported that road and highway construction play a large role in causing habitat and biodiversity loss and species extinction. In their 2002 paper “What Drives Tropical Deforestation?”, scientists Helmut Geist and Eric Lambin reported that overland transport infrastructure, that is, road and highway construction, accounted for 72% of tropical deforestation. Highway and road construction create opportunities for unscrupulous loggers, poachers, developers, vandals, and profiteers to enter into, plunder and destroy previously inaccessible forested areas. Road construction also kills animals and plants directly, and breaks up habitats into fragments too small to sustain wildlife populations.

Although the Selangor State Government claims that there is a list of conditions drawn up by the Drainage and Irrigation Department, Public Works Department, and MPAJ’s Planning Department as guidelines in the construction and management of the said expressway, none of these mitigation measures have been made available for public viewing and feedback, and the bewildered and displaced serow is a strong indication that the existing mitigation measures, if any, are insufficient to protect wildlife populations.

The extinction of endangered species such as the Sumatran serow is just one of the probable adverse environmental impacts of proceeding with the construction of the EKVE. The construction of the EKVE, which will cut through the Selangor State Park and other forest reserves, will compromise air quality, water resources and other ecosystem services.

The Selangor State Government needs to honour its initial promise during the last General Elections to halt or terminate all proposed highway projects. No mitigation measure, wildlife corridor or wildlife barrier can sufficiently protect human and environmental health or wildlife populations in an environmentally-sensitive area such as the Selangor State Park and Ampang and Ulu Gombak forest reserves. The EKVE project needs to be scrapped with immediate effect before further devastation occurs. Despite popular belief, tropical rainforests are not a renewable resource. Old-growth, biologically diverse rainforests cannot just be replanted or replaced. Once logged, it takes decades and centuries for forests to return to their previous status as carbon sinks and water catchment areas. The State Government and MB must cease paying lip service to the ideas of environmental sustainability and social justice, and start taking actions consistent with their claims and election manifesto.