Monday, 2 November 2009

Muru Dam: More than 100 wildlife species at risk

Published: Monday November 2, 2009


MIRI: Some 19 species of mammals and 99 species of birds, many of them considered rare and endangered, will have their habitats destroyed because of the construction of the RM3bil Murum Hydro-Electric Dam in Belaga district in central Sarawak.

These creatures, living in the Murum, Danum and Plieran valleys, will be forced away or drowned by the inundation of 24,000ha of land and rivers under 141m of water once the dam is completed by 2013.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) carried out a ground survey at the Murum Dam site, located some 183km from Bintulu, and found that the region has a rich heritage of plant and animal life.

The university’s Centre for Technology Transfer and Consultancy deployed a team of researchers to the Murum area to study the impact that the dam will have on the ecosystem.

The team had compiled a report on its findings and forwarded it report to the state authorities and Sarawak Energy Bhd, the lead developer of the dam project.

The Star obtained a copy of the report, in which the researchers had recommended urgent measures to be taken to rescue the affected animals before the flooding of the dam reservoir begins.

(The construction of the Murum Dam has already begun in ernest, with site clearing, road clearing, hill blasting and transportation of raw materials and workers in full-swing).

“A field survey of 15 sites in the forests affected by the Murum project found 99 species of birds and at least 19 species of mammals.

“Fifteen of these bird species are classified as rare. Sixteen species of these birds are protected and six species, mainly the Hornbill and Argus Pheasant, are totally protected under the Sarawak Wildlife Protection Ordinance.

“The totally protected mammals encountered during the survey included the Western Tarsier, Borneon Gibbon and Giant Squirrel.

“The Naked Bat, Red Langur and Borneon Gibbons are threatened species. Some 39 species of these birds are endemic to Borneo and 23 of these species are already threatened,” said the report.

Among the endangered bird species found in Murum are the Lesser Fish Eagle, Indian Cuckoo, Red-Bearded Bee-eater, Great Slaty Woodpecker and Black-thigh Falcon and many species of hornbill found only in Sarawak, said the report.

The report said that these birds and mammals are a very integral part of the Murum territory.

The clearing of the access road into Murum Dam site from the Bakun Hydro-Electric Dam some 70km away has already affected many of the animals and birds along the route, said the report, pointing out that the noise pollution, clearing of the timber and the loss of the plants and insect lives had resulted in the mass migration of some of the birds already.

The Unimas team proposed that a wildlife rescue mission be carried out soon to save and relocate these animals, especially the mammals that would not be able to migrate to higher grounds once the area was flooded.

The team also noted that even before the construction of the dam started, logging and related human activities had already severely disturbed the flora and fauna in the three valleys.

Murum and Bakun are adjacent to each other. There are at least four giant timber consortiums carrying out logging operations in the Bakun and its hinterland, as well as several huge oil-palm plantations that had converted post-logged regions into massive oil-palm estates.