The project was announced Thursday by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah-based research and conservation institution, Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), in Kinabatangan.
Sabah Wildlife Department Director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said recent news reports from the region have shown a stark increase in poaching, with bush meat often offered for sale in rural markets.
"Eleven endangered animals, including the Bornean elephant and orang-utan, proboscis monkey, Bornean banteng, sun bear, dugong, gharial, Sunda clouded leopard, green turtle and hawksbill turtle are totally protected under state laws, meaning that no hunting or possession of these animals or their body parts are allowed.
"In this new project we have chosen to use the lesser known but charismatic Sunda pangolin as an icon in the campaign to raise awareness about endangered animals in Sabah," he said in a statement.
Laurentius said poaching of pangolins in Sabah made headlines in 2010 when seized documents revealed that some 22,000 pangolins were traded within a short period of 14 months. He added that there was a need to connect with local communities to get them to stop poaching endangered wild animals and in the case of pangolins, there is also a need to inform consumer countries like China that they must do their part to protect this species.
"If we can stop the demand in China for pangolin scales and meat, it will do much to stop the local poachers from hunting down these animals," said Laurentius.
DGFC Director Dr Benoit Goossens said the focus of the new project would be to raise awareness among Sabahans, of the importance of protecting the rich natural heritage, in Sabah.
He said through a two-pronged campaign, the project would reach out to rural communities to engage their participation in conservation by reporting wildlife crime when they see it and to increase awareness among rural communities of which animals are protected by law.
"Our second target group for awareness will be tourists from China and Hong Kong who visit Sabah every year.
"It is hoped that they would understand the need for conservation as they have chosen to spend their tourist dollars in a region that is renowned for its nature and lush rainforests," added Goossens.
He said next month, DGFC would be organising a one-day workshop on pangolin conservation and awareness, and bring together relevant practitioners in research, enforcement and environmental education to share current or planned activities on pangolins, identify gaps in resources, knowledge and funding, and explore opportunities for mutual support.
"Our first objective will be to prepare a cabinet paper for upgrading the Sunda pangolin to Schedule 1 of Totally Protected Species of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment," Goossens said.