Forest crime alert in Sabah after surge in demand for wild plants
Published on: Sunday, January 24, 2021
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A villager ‘harvesting’ wild plants from his farm along Sabah’s Crocker Range. (Photo: Via FMT)
Kota Kinabalu: Authorities are keeping a close eye on Sabah’s protected areas including the sprawling Kinabalu Park and forest reserves amid a surge in demand for wild plants among gardening enthusiasts.

Officials of Sabah Parks and the state forestry department said their enforcement teams have been placed on a heightened state of alert against intruders into these protected areas who intend to poach prized plants such as Caladium and Alocasia.

While these plants are not protected species, officials warn that any intrusion into the forest reserves is an offence and so is the stealing of any plants there.

Forestry Department director Frederick Kugan told FMT that enforcement teams were on the lookout for intruders into the various forest reserves in the state.

Maipol Spait of Sabah Parks said: “We are aware of the brisk sales of these types of plants and we are closely monitoring the situation. However, we have not detected any intrusions into the Kinabalu Park area so far.”

A large amount of wild plants are on sale at weekly markets in Sabah and has caused concern.

He said Sabah Parks staff at the Serinsim and Sayap stations in the northern reaches of the Kinabalu Park have been on alert.

The park covers an area of 745 sq km, more than twice the area of Penang island. Parts of the Kinabalu Park share common borders with village farmlands, where intruders could easily enter into the protected areas.

Maipol said the villagers who assisted enforcement personnel in their lookout for intruders were appointed as Sabah Parks honorary rangers.

Amid the first movement control order imposed last March due to the Covid 19 pandemic, many had turned to gardening and this had fuelled demand for wild plants.

As the restrictions eased and inter-district travel was allowed late last year, gardening enthusiasts headed to remote districts such as Kota Marudu in the north in search of such plants.

Villagers then began “harvesting” prized plants which they then sold at the tamu or traditional farmers’ markets.

However, some tamu visitors had wondered whether the wild plants sold at these markets could have been sourced from protected areas due to the large amount available.

A report in the Philippines media had stated that prized wild plants such as Monstera were being “poached” from park areas and sold for exorbitant prices in the nation’s capital of Manila.

Describing plant theft as deforestation on a small scale, environmental groups had warned that demand for these plants could drive them to their extinction.


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