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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : Neighbours poach on Malaysia's reserves

Neighbours poach on Malaysia's reserves


by Selvi Gopal
The Independent Internet Edition
July 4, 2002

The southern Malaysian state of Johor is a shopping haven for one of the country's closest neighbours, Singapore. Singaporeans drive up the causeway that links both the countries every weekend to shop for everything from diapers to petrol.

With the Malaysian Ringgit valued at almost half of the Singaporean dollar, Johor is a shopper's paradise for the residents of the tiny island nation.

Up north, the situation is slightly different. Here, people from Thailand cross the border into Malaysia. While most of them do so legally, there are others who sneak into the country illegally to shop for something different-wildlife.

For years, the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks has been aware of the illegal manner in which the Thais come to poach on local wildlife. The situation has become worse over the years and recently, the Wildlife Department raised the alarm saying that the Thai poachers were posing a danger not only to animals but also to wildlife rangers.

At the same time, the Chief Minister of Terengaanu, one of Malaysia's northern border states, has suggested that the army be called in to deal with Thai poachers as they are now using automatic assault weapons to both discourage local rangers and cull their prey.

The Wildlife Department also believes that Thai poachers are working for foreign syndicates who are willing to pay dollars for ivory from elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns and also for parts of Malayan tigers, sun bears, leopards, snakes and other animals.

Most of the endangered animals culled in Malaysia often end up in shops in Thailand and other neighbouring countries as traditional medicines or exotic meats. Wildlife rangers believe that Thai hunters sneak into the country through the adjoining forests in the north of peninsular Malaysia, and move all the way down south to Johor to pick the prey of choice.

Thai poachers cross the border fully equipped for spending weeks in the forest trailing their prey. They set up camps and carve messages on trees to inform others in their group who may be following other trails, of their sightings. It is these markings which have led rangers to believe that poaching by Thai hunters is on the increase.

However, local forest rangers are ill-equipped to deal with the situation as they carry firearms only occasionally. The Malaysian Wildlife Department is also short staffed and has no sophisticated equipment nor weapons to deal with poachers, who seem to have the upper hand.

The recent demand by the Terengaanu state government to call in the army is only the most recent in a series of such demands made over the years. However, no action has ever been taken on these demands.

Friends of the Environment (SAM), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), believes that the way to curb poaching by foreigners is not by using the armed forces but by giving priority to the needs of the Department of Wildlife in the country.

It believes that the enforcement division of the Department has to be strengthened with adequate manpower and high tech equipment. Malaysia's oldest environmental group, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), adds that besides beefing up enforcement, the government also has to seriously consider researching and monitoring of local flora and fauna.

According to Stella Melkion, a science officer with MNS, the government's environmental agencies are unable to provide a clear picture of how many of the country's endangered species have been lost to poachers. This is because they do not know how many of these animals were in the wild in the first place. "We know that Thai poachers are posing the biggest threat to our endangered wildlife but what we cannot say is how many animal species have been lost over the years and how many still exist in the wild," says Melkion. "The authorities don't have any statistics so we don't know if the situation is under control or how many animals are on the brink of extinction," she adds.

Making the situation even more difficult is the fact that it is not easy to conduct effective research about the wildlife population as the local rainforest-the oldest in the world-is often dense and unbearably humid. General estimates put the number of wildlife animals at 500 Malayan tigers, 150 Sumatran rhinoceros and about 3,500 Asian elephants.

Malaysia is blessed with a rich bio-diversity, but it needs to get serious to protect its flora and fauna-still an unknown treasure so far. -NewsNetwork/WFS



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