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What hope for wildlife?
Published on: Thursday, January 21, 2016

Kota Kinabalu: Things are not looking good for Sabah's wildlife as atrocities continue to be committed wantonly and the authorities being helpless in bringing the culprits to book in several cases the last two years alone on land and at sea ranging from the poisoning of pygmy elephants in plantations to massacres of turtles, among others.Even a federal Minister was not supportive of the State's desire to ban shark finning to save its tourism industry while another Federal Minister was feted to a dinner where turtle eggs were served and for which investigations appeared to have gone cold.

The latest incidents within a week included the butchered remains of a sun bear floating in the Kinabatangan river and six Green sea turtles tied up floating in Semporna waters last Friday – and this happening after two large scale massacres of sea turtles off the east coast in 2014.

The incidents cast a dark cloud over the future of Sabah's Totally Protected Species. Especially whether State interest and capability is strong enough to vanquish a highly lucrative and motivated illegal wildlife trade.

The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) must do something to check the spate of recurring crimes, including against sea turtles, by forging an effective forward network of grassroots collaborative, said Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) economics researcher and lecturer Dr James Alin.

"Zero killing may be too much to ask but zero tolerance must be the active policy and the department must act to keep such crimes at a miniscule level," he said.

Dr Alin believed the turtles were most likely caught as bycatch in drift nets set up by traditional fishermen in sea grass-rich shallow waters. Turtles snared in such nets die from suffocation.

Knowing killing turtles is an offence, towing them away by stealth may explain why they are all strapped together, he said.

But since some of the carapaces are broken, it's possible also that someone may have beaten them to death for feasting in seaweed farms, then tied them in tow to escape punishment.

"I suggest the Department post a notice bearing toll-free number and warnings at turtle hotspots and that means each and every one of the islands in Semporna," said Dr Alin.

"Recent cases demonstrate that involvement of the public at the grass root level in protecting this Totally Protected Species is far from enough," he said.

"The honorary wardens among islands are far too few and not really empowered and risk their lives to perform their duties as commonly understood," he said. "The distance of SWD Tawau being two hours away is not helpful.

"Many people think that the only people working on the ground are WWF-Semporna, Fisheries Department since turtles are caught accidentally in fishing nets and the District Office. But the true grass root workers are the political organisations under the State Assemblymen and Members of Parliament," Dr Alin said.

"People like Community Development Officers and the rest of their political teams are all living on the islands off Semporna.

"These are the people who can actually be a great help to serve as vanguards, spread the message of protection and act as the eyes and ears of SWD and the Government.

"The YBs who like to eat turtles eggs openly are not typical while most YBs in Semporna are actually strong supporters of sea turtle protection and SWD should capitalise on this pro-conservation tendency by asking them for help," said Dr Alin, who is familiar with the field.

SWD should rally public support at large by sharing the results of their investigation on the two reported turtle killings in 2014 but of course, the department would need a Ministerial support to go ahead with it, he said.

"Enforcement agencies, SWD included, need be scrutinised under public eye lest they slack in doing their job," Dr James asserted.

Sabah's Sun Bear (or Honey Bear because of its fondness for wild honey) is a Totally Protected Species, under Schedule 1 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, because it is deemed threatened with extinction by serious habitat loss and determined hunting.

This means if any body is convicted of killing a Sun Bear, he/she goes straight to jail, maximum five years – hard and fast punishment, apparently with no option for fines.

But people keep killing the Sun Bear for the purported chemo-preventive medicinal value of ursodeoxycholic acids in its bile and delicacy of its paws, and such killings are reportedly rampant in the Kulamba Forest Reserve, as forestry reports suggest.

One reason for its ongoing slaughter is it's hard to catch the culprits.

The bear crime was captured by tourists who bought into the "Corridor of Life" only to come face to face with a corridor of death and could worsen the reputation of Kinabatangan.

What may help is a member of the 14-strong Kinabatangan Corridor of Life Tourism, as physicist and industrialist Koid Hung Kuan has said: "Anything that gets worse with years is not sustainable. Anything that gets better with years is sustainable."

Sabah's Sumatran rhino, another Totally Protected Species has already been deemed "ecologically extinct" by a WWF-India rhino expert because its number has been reduced to a mere three in captivity!

The West Malaysian Sumatran rhino went extinct on Nov. 9, 2003, when its last individual died in the Sungai Dusun captive breeding facility.

Our Sumatran rhinos are on the way out – forever, unless the purported German cutting edge invitro technology surprise the world.

Next may follow the Orangutan, the Proboscis monkey, the Clouded leopard, the Dugong, the Banteng, the False gharial (crocodile) and the Hawksbill turtle.



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