Commerce or Corruption: The Economics of Mega-Dams


May 7, 2015 (Sarawak, Malaysia)

The Borneo Project has released Commerce or Corruption?, the second film in a series of short documentaries exposing the realities of proposed mega­-dam construction in Sarawak, Malaysia. The film release coincides with the 555th day of the community-led Baram Dam blockades. Mega­-hydro projects are driven by the Malaysian government through the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, or SCORE. If built, these dams will force tens of thousands of people from their land, drive untold species extinct, pollute the rivers ­­the lifelines of the jungle ­­ and produce more greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt of energy than a coal­fired power plant.

“The damage inflicted by these dams would be massive, and the benefits are still unclear. Given that there is no sound reason to build these dams, the question becomes, why are these dams being built, and why now? ” asked Jettie Word, Executive Director of The Borneo Project.

Commerce or Corruption?, exposes the government’s true motivation behind the dams: personal financial gain. Private companies involved in construction and transmission stand to make gigantic profits from building the dams. Many of these companies are controlled by relatives and friends of the governor of the state, Taib Mahmud. Taib has been in power since the 1970s. Doling out the contracts would add even more gold to the already over­flowing coffers of politicians and their well­connected family members.

These mega­-dams also assume an outrageous energy demand growth rate. Sarawak currently produces significantly more energy than it can use, and proponents have no concrete plans for how to use or sell the energy.

The ongoing Baram Dam blockades, community-led non­-violent direct actions, involve men, women and children and have prevented loggers and the dam developer, Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB), from accessing the construction area since October, 2013. The blockade is maintained by indigenous Kenyah, Kayan, and Penan people and demonstrates the tremendous local resistance to dam development and logging. Despite opposition to the dams, the government of Sarawak and SEB continue to overlook widespread grievances and push for unnecessary and harmful development. If completed, the Baram Dam will inundate 26 villages and displace between 6,000 and 20,000 people.

Broken Promises, the next film in the series, will be released in July. It will highlight the devastating impacts of forced relocation on indigenous communities. All of the films will be available on Malaysia Kini TV’s youTube channel, and on The Borneo Project website.

About The Borneo Project​– For over twenty years, the Borneo Project has worked with indigenous communities to protect their rainforests and land rights. Learn more at

Press Release Contact: Jettie Word, Executive Director The Borneo Project,

The Trophy Hunter

THE TROPHY HUNTER highlights an important issue: the illegal wildlife trade and its role in the global extinction crisis. The video’s content may be difficult for some viewers.

Read more:

GRASP Council Sets Bold Agenda to Save Great Apes

grasp_councilNovember 2012: Faced with declining wild ape populations and dwindling forests, the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) set law enforcement, habitat protection and political advocacy among its top priorities and emerged with renewed energy and urgency following the 2nd GRASP Council that was held 6-8 November at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

The GRASP Council is comprised of over 80 nations, conservation organizations, United Nations agencies, research institutions and private supporters committed to the long-term survival of great apes in Africa and Asia.

The GRASP Council adopted the GRASP Priority Plan 2013-2016, which includes addressing disease threats, conflict-sensitive conservation, and Green Economy as other areas of focus.

“Great apes face an uncertain future, and it will take the collective effort of GRASP to ensure their long-term survival,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. “These priorities get to the very heart of the issues that have pushed chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans so much closer to extinction. But GRASP’s partners are committed to halting the downward spiral and reversing the population and habitat losses.”

The GRASP Council also adopted a revised Global Strategy for the Conservation of Great Apes and their Habitat, and approved revised Rules for the Management of GRASP that will make the partnership more streamlined and effective.

“It is extremely important that we find a way to counter habitat loss, hunting and other forms of illegal killing of great apes.” said Serge Wich, chairman of the GRASP Scientific Commission. “As it is, less than half of the great apes in Africa and Asia even live in protected areas. Most survive in degraded areas or secondary forests that leave them very vulnerable. Hunting and other forms of great ape killing are also widespread and need to be addressed as well. The other main threat to great apes is disease.”


Wild ape populations have been devastated by widespread habitat loss as a result of deforestation, mining, illegal logging, human encroachment, and conversion for agricultural development. A report issued at the 2nd GRASP Council indicated that great apes lose an average of 1.2% percent of their suitable habitat each year.

Illegal trade has also severely impacted great apes, resulting in the illicit traffic of hundreds from Africa and Asia each year into the pet trade. Preliminary results from a GRASP survey of illegal trade found that 576 orphaned great apes reached a sanctuary or rehabilitation center from 2005 to 2011, a number compounded by the fact that many apes are often killed to secure a single infant.

The lack of law enforcement and judicial rigor – only a tiny percentage of those arrivals resulted in an arrest, let alone a conviction – exacerbates the problem.

“The illegal trade of great apes is not rooted in poverty, but rather in corruption and power,” said Ofir Drori, founder of the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA), who called for deterrent convictions in both range States and implicated non-range States.

grasp 2

The GRASP Council also elected a new GRASP Executive Committee, and agreed to stage council meetings on a biennial basis.

The 2nd GRASP Council featured daily plenary sessions devoted to key issues regarding great ape conservation, including “Great Apes & Illegal Trade,” “Great Apes & Green Economy,” and “Great Apes & technology.”

GRASP was established in 2001 to respond to the conservation crisis facing great apes and lift the threat of imminent extinction by focusing on international policy, funding, research, and media. For information on GRASP, please visit

Read More:

Bangladesh bats harbouring possible Ebola variant

Washington, Jan 17 – New York Daily News reports fruit bats in Bangladesh are harbouring a new version of Ebola virus, which causes severe hemorrhagic fever, a fatal condition afflicting humans and primates, says a new finding.

Bangladesh bat release. ©

Bangladesh bat release. ©

The study by EcoHealth Alliance, a non profit organisation that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, extends the range of this lethal disease further than previously suspected to now include mainland Asia. The virus was first detected in Congo.

“Research on filoviruses in Asia is a new frontier of critical importance to human health, and this study has been vital to better understand the wildlife reservoirs and potential transmission of Ebola virus in Bangladesh and the region,” said Kevin Olival, senior research scientist at EcoHealth Alliance, who led the study, the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported.

Ebola virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae.

Filoviruses are zoonotic pathogens (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) that cause lethal hemorrhagic symptoms among humans and non-human primates with fatality rates up to 80 percent, according to a EcoHealth statement.

Natural reservoirs of filoviruses have remained elusive for decades but current literature suggests that bats may be the primary natural hosts of the Ebola virus.

“Bats tend to have a bad reputation and that’s unfortunate since they provide services that are vital for maintaining healthy eco-systems,” said Jonathan Epstein, study co-author and associate vice president at EcoHealth Alliance.

“The next step is to determine whether this Ebola virus is actually causing disease in people, and if so, work to develop strategies that reduce contact with bats to protect human health, without harming bats,” added Epstein.

Read more:

For more information about bat conservation and health:

The Last Elephants In Thailand

At the turn of the 20th Century, there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Today there are less than 4,000. Where are they going? Who is working to save them and what can you do to help? This film visits the world’s first elephant hospital and meets leading experts to discover why the country’s most revered species is fast disappearing.

Producers: Dr. Donald Tayloe & Michele Mizner
40 minutes
* New York City Premiere at The Third Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
** Award Winner for Best Human & Nature Category

Heart of Borneo

The tropical rainforests of Borneo are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth.

By creating a network of protected areas and leveraging the support of businesses, WWF’s aim is that the island’s natural treasures are sustainably used, well into the future.

Learn more:

Ebola virus found in Kalimantan’s orangutan (The Jakarta Post)

Ebola virus found in Kalimantan’s orangutan

Indra Harsaputra, The Jakarta Post, Surabaya | National | Fri, November 02 2012, 4:14 PM

Researchers from Airlangga University’s Avian Influenza-zoonosis Research Center in Surabaya, East Java, report that they have detected evidence of Ebola virus in several orangutans in Kalimantan.

Researcher Chairil Anwar Nidom told The Jakarta Post on Friday that 65 serum samples collected from 353 healthy orangutans between December 2005 and December 2006 tested positive for Ebola virus.

“The result should be an early warning for us,” he said.

“In 2006, we collected the samples and froze them because we didn’t have an appropriate laboratory to examine them. We examined them last year,” he added.

Chairil also said that six of 353 samples tested positive for Marburg virus, the similar virus to Ebola that causes Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever.

Further examination, Chairil said, showed that 60 of 65 Ebola-tested samples were similar to the virus found in Africa. “There were only five samples that had the similarity with Ebola virus found in Asia. The other 60 were similar to the Ebola virus found in Zaire, Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Bundibugyo district in Uganda,” he said.

According to Chairil, Ebola virus might still live in some of orangutans’ bodies.

“All I can say is that Ebola could be a threat to humans living in Indonesia,” he said.

The orangutan is only found in Kalimantan and Sumatra. The other great apes: gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo live in Africa.

Chairil and his team said they would continue the research. “We are currently collecting samples from wild boars, which we suspect transmit the virus to orangutans,” he said.

Ebola virus was first detected in Congo in 1976. Sixteen people were killed in the last Ebola outbreak in Uganda this year.

Fighting for primate forests in the Bay Area

I attended a meeting tonight hosted by Bay Area Tropical Forest Network and Rainforest Action Network.  Leila Salazar-Lopez of Amazon Watch gave a talk about Belo Monte, a dam that will block the Xingu River in Brazil and threatens to displace thousands of residents including indigenous communities.  It will also cause irreparable damage to the Amazon’s fauna and flora inhabitants, its rich and complex ecosystem, and will massively impact global climate change.

Xingu River

A boy plays with a capybara on the banks of the Xingu River near Altamira, Brazil near where the controversal hydroelectric Belo Monte dam, will be built. Photograph: Andre Penner/AP

The Borneo Project, students from Stanford University and many others attended.  There was plenty to talk about not only within Brazil but other regions like Peru and Indonesia where the MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University including Neotropical Primate ConservationLittle Fireface ProjectSelamatkan Yaki and International Animal Rescue (just to name a few) is dominating right now.


It is great to be getting more involved in conservation here in the San Francisco Bay Area!  I would like to recognize my countless colleagues fighting hard on the ground. Keep up the great work! I look forward to facilitating partnerships.

Please take a look at these videos about Belo Monte, a significant dam project that is in dire need of attention at this crucial time.

We have a winner for the newspaper article on environmental issues in Indonesia!

This is a post from my wonderful and brilliant friend Harry Hilser’s blog (  My fellow MSc in Primate Conservation alumnus is working to protect wildlife, specifically the Sulawesi crested black macaque and forest habitat in Indonesia.  I felt this was a particularly inspiring entry. Keep up the incredible work Harry! I am very proud of you.

We have a winner for the newspaper article on environmental issues in Indonesia!!!.