Rampant deforestation in Kedah

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In May this year The Star exposed deforestation of valuable forests in the state of Kedah. Not long after consultancy group AidEnvironment released a damning report of thrashing of forest in the state. Timber from logging in the state is exported to outside Malaysia and given the ‘sustainable’ MTCC label. You can read AidEnvironment’s full report here.

Friends of the Orangutans revealed the extent of the deforestation currently taking place in Kedah in a publication by Malaysiakini and it can be read in full below. More news about the deforestation will be exposed on our website.


Rampant deforestation in Kedah needs to stop

Despite the Malaysian government’s promises to protect our forests and the environment, deforestation is occurring on a destructive scale. As you read this article, forests in the Kedah state are being devoured on a daily basis, and this needs to be stopped.

Only recently The Star exposed rampant deforestation in the Ulu Muda forest reserve. Ulu Muda is a vital water catchment area as it supplies water to over two million Malaysians. It is also teeming with wildlife. Destroying Ulu Muda will not only severely disrupt supply of water but will lead to increased illegal wildlife trade, which is taking place at a alarming rate, to say the least.

In recent years, the Kedah state government approved logging leases in the virgin forests of the Ulu Muda forest reserve and just over the past four years at least 10,000 hectares of forests have been logged in Ulu Muda. So let’s not blame on forces of nature alone when water supply in Kedah, Perlis and Penang is severely affected.

Aside from Ulu Muda the pristine Gunung Inas forest reserve is also being destroyed, including at very steep slopes. In 2012, Sirim QAS, one of two forest management auditors of the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC), stated that deforestation in Gunung Inas had stopped after clearing was exposed by The Star. However, earlier this year deforestation simply resumed, including in forests above 1,000m above sea level.

Is it not the case that our government policies prohibit clearance on steep slopes and in forests 1000 metres above sea level?

Clearing has also been spotted in the Chebar Besar forest reserve. Forests cleared here would most likely qualify as High Conservation Value (HCV) forest.

Meanwhile, the primary forests inside Pedu forest reserve have not been spared either. Hundreds of hectares were cleared in 2012 and open burning to clear land continued into 2014. Bukit Perangin forest reserve has also been affected.

Is there no end to this avaricious madness? Much of the forests cleared above are primary or High Conservation Value (HCV) forests. Villagers in the area surrounding the reserves mentioned above are at risk of facing water pollution/shortages, landslides and flooding. The government must take immediate action and stop all deforestation in Kedah.

To make matters worse, the Kedah state exceeded its Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) by 283 percent between year 2009 and 2014.

One might ask, what happens after logs have been cleared from the forest reserves? They will be marketed globally with the MTCS label, claiming the timber originates from sustainably managed forests. Malaysians know that this is a farce but even locally, voices of dissent are ignored by MTCC.


Direct link to publication can be found here.

Katarina’s new lease of life!

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Last year you helped us in our campaign for Katarina the orangutan at the horrible Kuala Lipis Zoo in the Peninsular Malaysia. She was the lone orangutan at the zoo and was kept in awful conditions. After several months of campaigning we won and Katarina was moved to Taiping Zoo.

Earlier this month [June] we visited Katarina at her new home [again] and was delighted to see her busy having fun with her new red ape friends, never still, always bugging the other orangutans to play with her!

Video of Katarina in the enclosure at this link: https://youtu.be/2MYcJFI5SBI

Thank you to all of you who participated in our campaign for Katarina. You’ve helped give an orangutan a better life!






Orangutan death exposes malpractice at Sepilok

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A letter by the director of Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia was recently published by Free Malaysia Today, regarding the impact of massive, unsustainable & unethical orangutan tourism at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC)



May 18, 2016

Experts says ‘forests’ like the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre must be off limits to the public for purposes of tourism although this is something officials refuse to address.



Photo of Yoda, the Orangutan courtesy of Friends of the Orangutans (Malaysia).
















By Upreshpal Singh

Many tourists flock to Malaysia every year to see our majestic flora and fauna. Sadly both are rapidly disappearing as a result of continued deforestation for oil palm plantations, and the ongoing wildlife trade. Unfortunately unethical and unsustainable wildlife tourism is also currently being carried out at a number of wildlife establishments in the country.

One such centre is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) near Sandakan, Sabah. For many years SORC has been a popular tourist destination in the state, attracting thousands of visitors annually from around the world who come to view Sabah’s iconic orangutans. However, unbeknownst to these tourists, these orangutan viewing practices come at a heavy price to the orangutans themselves.

SORC is called a ‘rehabilitation centre’ for orangutans, yet orangutan experts and all reputable rehabilitation centres agree that for successful rehabilitation, these centres must be off limits to the public for several reasons, one of which is to minimise disease risk and habituation to humans. Exposing endangered orangutans to thousands of tourists greatly increases their risk of contracting diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis and vice versa. Habituated and diseased orangutans cannot ever be released into the wild. Some may argue that the small Sepilok-Kabili forest is a final release site for orangutans but at only 4,300 hectares it is actually a reserve for semi-wild orangutans. Experts however are in total agreement that tourism should not be allowed in ‘forests’ where ex-rehabilitant orangutans roam freely and live.

Visitors are informed not to touch or hold orangutans at Sepilok. But can we expect tourists who have flown in from various parts of the world to reject the opportunity of coming into contact with an orangutan? And in most cases, it’s the apes who approach visitors and the former might turn aggressive towards visitors if it is fended off. This is one of the reasons great ape rehabilitation centres must be off limits to the public.

As a direct consequence of the massive tourism at SORC, there are now many habituated orangutans who will never be viable candidates for true release completely back to the wild into Tabin Wildlife Reserve in eastern Sabah. Disturbingly, visitor reports and photos and our investigations have shown that Sepilok’s orangutans regularly get far too close to and even have direct contact with visitors at SORC. Alarmingly these habituated apes can also be seen outside the rehabilitation centre, in nearby hotels and at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). We were informed that a couple of orangutans used to smash equipment at a hotel outside SORC if they were not fed when they showed up. It all seems chaotic at SORC, doesn’t it?

It is therefore not surprising to know that in January this year, a habituated orangutan named ‘Yoda’ was tragically electrocuted to death just outside the centre whilst on his way to a hotel which he was known to visit. Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (Foto) have in the past written to the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) about the risks to habituated orangutans and visitors regarding tourism practices at Sepilok, but to no avail. All our emails to SWD to know its mitigation plans following Yoda’s death have gone unanswered.

Foto has also received disturbing reports of orangutans harassing and ‘mugging’ visitors to the SORC. We have been informed that a handful of habituated orangutans have gone missing from SORC as a result of their continued harassment of visitors. Late last year Foto asked the SWD of the whereabouts of one orangutan called ‘Toby’ who has reported as gone ‘missing’ from SORC. SWD never addressed our question. Has something terrible happened to Toby and others? We have been informed of other nightmarish stories coming out of SORC.

Ethical and sustainable orangutan tourism can be achieved and at the benefit of Sabahans and the state. Through social media and word-of-mouth tourists are becoming much more aware of the detrimental effect of tourism practices at SORC for the orangutan and will start to boycott the centre unless urgent action is taken to halt tourism there.

Upreshpal Singh is Director of Friends of the Orangutans (Malaysia).


Stop the suffering of sun bears at Miri Crocodile Farm

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Below is the statement by FOTO regarding the sorry state of wildlife in the atrocious Miri Crocodile Farm in Sarawak. FOTO has written to Sarawak wildlife authorities asking for all sun bears to be confiscated and other animals helped, urgently.


Investigators from Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (Foto) recently investigated the Miri Crocodile Farm (MCF) in Sarawak after we received numerous complaints of cruelty and exploitation of wildlife from concerned members of the public. We were shocked to find the conditions the animals are forced to live in at the farm (it’s not even a zoo).


At MCF we found three sun bears forced to live in appalling conditions. These sun bears are visibly stressed and are suffering from zoochosis as a result of living in a concrete tomb without enrichment. No readily available, clean drinking water was seen. These are conditions which resembles a 19th-century zoo. Sun bears are a protected species in Sarawak and with many bear experts calling for urgent action to prevent their extinction in the wild. These bears and other animals at the farm urgently need help.


The management of MCF also offers farm visitors opportunities to take photos with a sun bear cub. According to a staff, this cub is taken (away from its mother) from an enclosure and returned to it at the end of the day. Although no evidence of this practice could be determined by our investigators, it seems far more likely that the bear permanently resides in a barren metal cage next to the photo session area. Needless to say even if this is true it is extremely cruel to take this cub away from its mother so farm visitors can have their photographs taken with it.

It seems obvious that it is also extremely dangerous for both the bear and the public as the cub could at anytime, without warning, maul a farm visitor with its very large claws and when this happens would this just be the fault of the irresponsible and abusive MCF management or also the failing of the wildlife authorities in Sarawak who have allowed this practise to continue for almost 20 years despite repeated complaints from the public and media? Sun bears are extremely strong animals and by no means tame.




A farm visitor with the sun bear cub



Sun bears are listed as an Appendix I animal and therefore a totally protected species as listed by CITES, while the Sarawak Wild Life Protection Ordinance, 1998 states that Appendix I animals “shall (not) be reared, kept, grown or cultivated in any commercial wild life farm”. So why has MCF gotten away with keeping and abusing the sun bears all these years?


Our investigators also saw erratic and stressed macaques kept in near barren cages, forced to sit on cold concrete day in, day out. Horses look thin and pale, reptiles such as snakes housed in tiny aquarium tanks. The list is endless and to summarise MCF is a nightmare for all wildlife. It seems the management of the farm either doesn’t know how to, or cannot be bothered to provide even basic care for its animals or are severely underfunded. Possibly all three.



Short tail macaques



Foto asks the Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Sarawak Forestry Department or some other authority for wildlife in Sarawak to urgently re-home at the very least the four sun bears and all IUCN Endangered animals at MCF. The farm also needs to urgently improve the living conditions of all other remaining animals there. In neighbouring Sabah there is now a world recognised sun bear education centre and sanctuary of international excellence; also following our public campaign against cheap and nasty tourist traps abusing sun bears for profit. The Sabah Wildlife Department earlier this year rescued the now internationally infamous Tawau Hot Springs bears and rehoused them at the sun bear sanctuary.


All animals need our care and respect and they must not be used and abused for monetary or other purposes. We call on all Malaysians to speak out and take action for the voiceless animals. Citizens of our country should also remember that wild animals belong in the wild and not in captivity for the entertainment of zoo/farm visitors.

Wildlife parts seized, owner arrested

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In late March Friends of the Orangutans and Scorpion Wildlife Trade Monitoring Group carried out an undercover investigation in an antique store near Pontianak, West Kalimantan and found its owner to be in possession of orangutan skulls, sun bear paws and hornbill beaks, among other protected wildlife species.

Following our joint investigation Scorpion worked with Indonesian wildlife officials to confiscate the wildlife parts and arrest the store owner. We were informed yesterday, 21st April by Marison Guciano, Scorpion’s senior investigator, that the shop owner has been arrested by BKSDA (Indonesian wildlife authorities) and will be brought to court!



A BKSDA official with a orangutan skull

FOTO and SAM protest against BLD Plantation

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With our ally Sabahat Alam Malaysia (SAM), FOTO organised a protest on April 12th that was held in front of KTS Trading’s office in Penang. KTS is one of the “Big Six” of Sarawak and owns shares in BLD which is responsible for the destruction of peatland in Sarawak. Both KTS and BLD are owned by the same person, Dato Henry Lau one of the richest man in the state.


Below is our press statement:

NGO Demands End to Peat Destruction by BLD Plantation

BLD Plantation Berhad, a Malaysian palm oil company operating in Sarawak owned by the KTS Group – one of the ‘Big Six’ of Sarawak’s timber corporations – has been exposed clearing peatland for oil palm planting in their concession located north of Sibu.

Since BLD obtained the license to exploit the area in 2000 they have cleared over 12,000 hectares (ha) of peatland out of the 20,400 ha concession, according to findings of Malaysian NGO Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO). Peatland is a fragile and unique ecosystem, and development on peat causes severe environmental impacts.

2001 to dec 2015

Deforestation (red areas) and forest degradation (orange) from 2001 to 2015 in BLD concession in the North of Sibu.

We have been on the ground in BLD’s Igan concession and despite being exposed months ago the company continues to destroy carbon rich peatland, creating drainage canals and roads for further oil palm plantings,” said Upreshpal Singh, FOTO’s Director.


BLD continues to create drainage canals to stabilize the substrate for near-future oil palm planting.

Planting oil palms on peatland requires creation of drainage canals to stabilize substrate, which in combination with above ground vegetation removal patently have significant environmental impacts by releasing massive amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and by increasing both the frequency and intensity of flooding events. Other consequences of planting oil palms on peatland are the loss of biodiversity, the increased susceptibility to fires and the erosion of soil.

We contacted BLD several times since last year to ask the company to stop the destruction. We even offered them our assistance for implementing a ‘No Deforestation, No peat and No Exploitation’ policy as the company appears to not have one. They chose to ignore us” said Upreshpal.

In 2015 Bunge Limited, an American based agribusiness giant suspended trading with Kirana Palm Oil Refinery Sdn. Bhd., a subsidiary of BLD, for not complying with the former’s sustainability policies.

Aside from the environmental impacts of BLD’s operations a local Iban community in Igan claims that the palm oil company had encroached their NCR lands. For this reason villagers from the villagers are dragging BLD to court. According to FOTO it is not the first lawsuit BLD is facing for allegations of NCR land encroachment by local communities.

We received reports that a good number of residents from several villages in the Igan area have had to look for jobs in Sibu city and elsewhere as after BLD had converted forests into oil palm plantations, what was previously available in the forests, now has to be bought” said Upreshpal. Other communities have also informed FOTO that their livelihood have severely been affected since BLD started their operations on the communities’ ancestral lands.


Villagers from kampung Tutus in front of a drainage canal built by BLD in the South-East of the concession in preparation for more palm oil planting.

In March Wan Abdillah Hamid, BLD’s Executive Director, published an article in the Borneo Post questioning the veracity of claims by FOTO and other organizations of BLD’s environmentally destructive practices in its concession. Wan Abdillah claimed the relationship of BLD with the local communities have been “cordial” and “productive“.

According to Wan Abdillah BLD has helped build houses, a school and even provided electricity for villages. However, this claim has been questioned by FOTO, “One village in Igan, when informed of this claim, scoffed the company” added Upreshpal, “our investigation in other villages in the concession barely showed any sign of development“.

Since last year, FOTO, together with an alliance of local and international NGO have been taking action in order to stop BLD’s operations in this concession. In October 2015, representatives of this alliance officially met the Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem in Kuching, presenting evidence of BLD’s clearing on peat. Tan Sri Adenan Satem assured them of his desire to protect Sarawak’s natural resources. However, as of now, the Sarawak government still has not taken any action to stop BLD.

Our repeated emails to the chief minister’s office have not been replied. Chief Minister Adenan declared there would be no more deforestation for palm oil in Sarawak but carbon rich peat forests and local communities continue to suffer at the hands of BLD” concluded Upreshpal.

The NGO concluded by claiming that BLD’s continued destruction of Sarawak’s peatland has gotten global attention and brings much embarrassment to Sarawak and Malaysia, especially when much of Sarawak’s forests have been decimated and countless indigenous locals have been affected by the destruction.



Please find here SAM’s press statement


Sarawak urged to protect its peatland (New Straits Times)


Victory for the orangutans in Sabah’s Shangri-La Hotel!

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Game Over! FOTO Malaysia received confirmation both remaining orangutans at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort in Sabah have been sent back to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, thus ending the 20 year exploitation of Sabah’s orphan orangutans at the luxury hotel. We were also informed “we [the resort] will never have anymore orangutans here“. But our group will keep a close eye on the resort always.

Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia would like to convey our huge thanks to all supporters who have made this victory possible. Without your concern and support the exploitation would still be happening.

This victory for Malaysian orangutans over a huge corporate entity proves people power can prevail.


Our Shangri-La campaign officials ends today. THANK YOU, and remember:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead

FOTO’s reply to BLD on peatland destruction

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On March 6th the Borneo Post published a scathing article written by Haji Wan Abdillah Hamid, the Executive Director of BLD Plantation Bhd. (BLD), a palm oil company which has been exposed clearing peatland for oil palm plantations near Sibu, Sarawak. Borneo Post published a second article on March 23rd. In both publications Mr. Abdillah questioned the veracity of expose by Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) and other organizations including Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) and Sarawak Report of BLD’s environmentally destructive practices in its concession in the Igan area.

Since BLD obtained the license to plant oil palms in the aforementioned area in 2000, they had cleared over 12,000 ha out of the 20,400 ha concession, at the very least. In the initial publication Mr. Abdillah claims “there were little or no timber trees left standing and could not be classified or maintained as a forest by any definition”. According to the villagers in Kampung Tutus, one of the villages in Igan which have been affected by the company, even after year 2000 the area surrounding their village (also part of their NCR land) was still forested and they had used it as a mean of subsistence before BLD cleared and replaced it with oil palm plantations. As a result, Kg. Tutus villagers are dragging BLD (and another palm oil company) to court to win their NCR lands back. Alarmingly, we have been informed by a villager of intimidation by the company related to BLD’s legal embroilment.


BLD continues to clear peatland and create drainage canals in their concession

BLD claims its relationship with local communities is productive, amicable and cordial. Based on investigation by FOTO and our partners these claims appear to be quite contrary. The company claims it has helped build houses, a school and even provided electricity for villages in its concession. One village, when informed of this claim, scoffed the company. Investigation in other villages in the concession barely showed any sign of development. Thus, we urge BLD to make public its claims of development.

Mr. Abdillah mentioned the creation of jobs for locals by BLD. How many of its employees are Sarawakians? We have been informed by several villages a good number of its residents have sought jobs in Sibu city and elsewhere as after BLD had converted forests into oil palm plantations what was previously available in the forests (e.g fruits,vegetables, meat) now had to be bought. But why have those villagers forced to look for employment work elsewhere and not for BLD? Could it be because the company employs foreigners mostly? Some local employees interviewed claimed the company paid them poorly. Some locals might have benefited financially from BLD, but how many have, compared to those villages who have suffered losses?

Foreign workers inside the concession, when interviewed, informed their passports are withheld by the management. Will BLD explain? Isn’t it illegal to keep hold of its employees’ passports?


A shack found within the concession in which several workers along with their wives and children live

On the environmental side of things Mr. Abdillah accused FOTO of “slanderous allegations” and questioned the veracity of our and other organizations’ reports after we exposed BLD of clearing carbon rich peatland to establish oil palm plantations. All reports are verified by satellite images, photographs and interviews of villagers in and outside BLD’s Igan concession before they are made public.

Photographs have proven the company’s continued construction of canals to drain very deep peat in preparation for even more oil palm plantations. It is therefore ironic that the writer claims to be concerned about climate change and “exercising good environmental practices” while BLD continues to do great harm to the environment. FOTO strongly encourages BLD to make the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of its Igan concession public.

BLD’s Executive Director stated that “KTS and/or BLD are willing to participate and engage with anyone having genuine intention and professionalism in exercising good environmental practices“. However, our emails to BLD have never been replied to and the management refused to address our concerns through phone calls. In fact, in one of our emails we offered the company assistance in drafting a ‘No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation’ policy as it appears the company does not have any sustainability policy. Could it be because the company would be forced to stop destroying forests including on peatland if they did?

In 2015 Bunge Limited, an American based agribusiness giant suspended trading with Kirana Palm Oil Refinery Sdn. Bhd., a subsidiary of BLD. Why would they do so if BLD didn’t do anything wrong?

Sarawak chief minister Adenan Satem has previously announced “we (state of Sarawak) are not going to open up any more plantations” and “We should not reduce forests and other natural resources to make money and put our future at risk”. So why are BLD allowed to continue destroy peatland in Sarawak at the expense of the environment? Is it business as usual for the ‘Big Six’ of Sarawak?

BLD’s continued destruction of Sarawak’s peatland has gotten global attention and brings much embarrassment to Sarawak and Malaysia, especially when much of Sarawak’s forests have been decimated and countless indigenous locals have been affected by the destruction.

FOTO demands BLD stops further clearing of peatland in the aforementioned concession with immediate effect.

Shangri-La orangutan exploitation: to end on March 31st!

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Update about our campaign to stop Shangri-La from exploiting orangutans in their luxurious resort in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah:

FOTO was informed earlier this week and is please to announce that the two remaining orangutans at the luxury resort will be sent back to the Sepilok rehabilitation centre on Thursday 31st of March, officially ending the Shangri-La Group’s 20 years exploitation of Sabah’s orphan orangutans!

This so called “orangutan rehabilitation” programme was initiated in 1996 with the approval of the Sabah Wildlife Department. FOTO has been campaigning since last year and despite numerous attempts to contact Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria’s management we never received reply from them.


Thank you to all our supporters!


If you wish to check out for more information please read our post here.

We will bring more updates as we get them.

State project threatens Kinabatangan’s endangered wildlife

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A state project consisting in building a paved road and a bridge in the Kinabatangan region in accordance with the Sabah Development Corridor’s plan (SDC) launched in January 2008, one of the economic corridors initiated under the 9th Malaysia Plan – and approved under the 11th Malaysia Plan – has been a center of a lot of attention and concerns by local organizations and researchers since January this year.

At the moment, the project comprises a 240 m long bridge expected to connect the western river bank to the Sukau village on the East and a road which would connect Sukau to Litang and Tomanggong, over 40 km away to the South-East. A 1000 m long viaduct would be included to the project across elephant habitat. The SDC plan states this project is to stimulate local economic activities and ensure the sustainable management of the state’s resources.

Any of the different options proposed for the project at the moment will worsen the forest fragmentation, which is already bad in the area. A lot of forests have been converted to oil palm plantations or other form of development since the last decade.

Researchers raised their concerns on the impacts the project would generate on the elephant populations and the threat to their survival. He said that the elephants wouldn’t go under the bridge because of the vibrations and noise which would result in splitting elephant herds in Sukau with those in Lokan and Tangkulap.

Orangutans are also found in the Lower Kinabatangan region at a quite high density. There would be 700 to 825 orangutans in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain. As for the pygmy elephants, the project would go against the Lower Kinabatangan’s forests site-based priority action from the State’s Orangutan Action Plan which stipulates that efforts should be focused on preventing “any process that would further fragment the orangutan habitat (highways, bridges etc)”.

On the other hand several local communities in Sukau and surrounding villages are pushing for the project. They say they need it to facilitate the access to Sandakan or Lahad Datu for public healthcare services in a more secure and fastest way than presently. Broadly this bridge and the connected road would meet the villagers’ needs for development and improve their general living conditions.

It wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to block the people from improving their livelihood especially when it comes to healthcare. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of wildlife survival and remaining forests.

The issue is very sensitive as a protest was organized by some villagers from Sukau an around on March 6th in kampung Sukau, to push the project to start and to show their objections to the NGOs for going against the project, thus causing the needed development to be postponed.

We hope and will push for an alternative solution to be discussed, a solution that minimizes the impacts on wildlife and forests and still allows the people to conveniently have access to healthcare and to meet their needs as much as possible.
Foto will post updates as soon as we hear any on our Facebook page and website.