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SOS Rhino : In the News : Bloody harvest
 

Bloody harvest

  Loretta Ann Soosayraj

Monday, May 1, 2005, 12:49:40 AM
New Straits Times
www.nst.com.my

The poachers, that is. The blood is on their hands... lots of it.

LORETTA ANN SOOSAYRAJ talks to the Wildlife people who really have a tough time trying to stop the carnage in the jungle.

WILD boar, sun bear, porcupine, barking deer, serow, tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses ... a wondrous diversity of wildlife of which all Malaysians can be proud.

Certainly. Then again, the same animals, and more, also make up a poacher's shopping list, representing prized quarries that draw droves of raiders into the depths of the Malaysian rainforest.

Yes, there is a huge market, at home and abroad, for Malaysia's wildlife. Hunted for food and dubious medicinal purposes, captured and sold for the growing illegal exotic pets trade or butchered for their parts to feed the fancy of armchair hunters for souvenirs and trophies, and even as magical amulets, Malaysian wildlife is under siege.

"Poaching is a major threat to Malaysian wildlife, aside from habitat loss and fragmentation (of forest reserves)," said Misliah Bashir, the director of Law and Enforcement with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Logging activity, whether legal or illegal, is of serious concern, too. For a start, the construction of logging tracks also mean increased access for the poachers.

In addition, there are cases of loggers going into wildlife trapping, given the strong lure of big profits.

Sadly, Orang Asli and rural villagers also play a role, serving as low-cost hunters who supply wildlife to middlemen.

The villagers mainly go after deer species such as Barking deer and Sambar for their own consumption.

The Orang Asli, on the other hand, are known to target species in demand, and "commissioned", by middlemen, which means basically anything from snakes and turtles to gibbons.

And then there is the upper end of the poaching market, where rare species such as the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros and pangolins are targeted.

The international illegal wildlife trade is estimated by Interpol to be worth between US$6 and US$20 billion (RM22.8 and RM76 billion) annually. It ranks in size only after nacortics and the illegal arms trade.

"Habitat protection is our priority for in-situ conservation of threatened and endangered species," said Wildlife Department's director of Conservation of Biological Diversity, Siti Hawa Yatim.

To reduce the loss of wildlife, the Wildlife Department has stepped up anti-poaching operations, the most recent one being a snare-removal exercise in Kelantan and Terengganu.

Twenty-two rangers from the department's new Wildlife Crime Unit, and from State Rhino Protection Units and Wildlife Management Units took part.

"The presence of rangers on the ground is vital towards protecting wildlife," said Siti Hawa.

"Snares and traps are removed and destroyed but, more importantly, we believe the poachers will keep away when they realise the forests are being closely monitored by the authorities."

During the seven-day operation, the rangers came across pitfall traps, man-made salt licks (set up mainly to attract deer), abandoned campsites and markings on trees made by poachers.

They also found the dreaded and utterly inhuman wire snares.

Normally set to trap wild boar and deer, the snares are also highly harmful to larger animals, which may escape but would usually be left maimed.

Animal wounded this way can become very dangerous as well. Tigers, for instance, are occasionally found to resort to attacking livestock as they have lost their ability to hunt.

People, although rarely, have also become victims of such attacks.

Under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972, steel wire snares are banned. Anyone in possession of them are liable to a fine of up to RM5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years. If the stash comprises more than 25 snares, it is a mandatory jail sentence of up to 10 years.

Misliah said more concerted efforts would be organised for such operations throughout Peninsular Malaysia, especially across state borders, and remote interior forests which are inaccessible to regular patrolling.

And while rangers are already stationed throughout the peninsula, priority is given to the protected areas as well as known poaching "hot spots", she said. There are 40 protected areas in the peninsula.

"Controls at the border checkpoints must be stepped up, too, as many of the signs indicate the presence of poachers from neighbouring countries, although locals are heavily involved as well."

The other findings of the operation, meanwhile, affirmed the need for increased habitat protection.

Tracks of the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros were spotted, as were that of the rare serow.

Tiger and leopard pug marks were also recorded, so too tracks of tapir, sun bear, elephants and wild pigs.

The forests must be safeguarded, as this is where so many species of protected and totally protected wildlife are found.

One of the benefits of such an operation is the opportunity it presents field staff to raise issues and make recommendations to the management.

And the rangers have indeed made some recommendations, including the proposal to form an intelligence and informant network to allow swift action to be taken by the Wildlife Department. They also called for increased presence of departmental officers in the forest interiors and at border checkpoints, as well as patrols in selected village areas and routes near rivers, which are favoured by poachers.

'We are building on the capacity of our staff," said Misliah, referring to recent courses on intelligence techniques offered to rangers.

The Wildlife Department has also started stationing more officers at the borders.

Team effort needed to fight menace

THE Wildlife and National Parks Department needs all the help and co-operation of other government agencies in the perennial fight against poaching.

Poaching is a multi-faceted problem with many related issues, but one that may be solved with greater co-operation among government agencies as well as NGOs and the public.

"We must increase collaboration with related authorities and organisations such as the Departments of Forestry and Immigration because of foreigners who enter the country illegally," said Misliah Bashir, who is the director of Law and Enforcement with the department.

"The problems cannot be taken care of by just the Wildlife Department."

As Misliah says, "We are all joint guardians of our natural heritage."

"The problem is not just in the forests," says Chris R. Shepherd, the regional programme officer of Southeast Asia for Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network of the World Wild Fund.

"Much of the poaching is done to supply urban demands, both in Malaysia and abroad.

"Enforcement efforts should extend from the forests to the cities, all the way down the trade chain -- from source to consumer.

"Poaching only exists because there is a demand for wildlife. If the demand is reduced, so will the poaching."

Increased public awareness regarding conservation, and increased enforcement successes are the key, added Shepherd.

WWF-Malaysia's Tiger Conservation Programme officer Brian Lee said in order to have a long-term solution, it is important that awareness among communities at forest fringes is raised.

"We must educate them in ways they can contribute to reducing this problem.

"It is good to note that the Wildlife Department has taken strong steps in this direction."

* A former New Straits Times journalist, the writer is the assistant co-ordinator for the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers, an alliance of governmental and non-governmental organisations working for the conservation of the Malayan tiger. She can be contacted at loret22@yahoo.com



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