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SOS Rhino : In the News : Wildlife in jeopardy

Wildlife in jeopardy

  The Star online

Tuesday November 15, 2005

Newspapers have recently highlighted the plight of wildlife in our country, with many reports indicating that many species have become critically endangered.  

Personally, I believe Malaysia has a good record but there is room for improvement. I believe in nipping the problem in the bud. The carnage must be stopped at the habitat of species. Unless wildlife authorities spend more time in forests, poachers will continue their illegal activities. Our Government can easily provide an additional RM1mil annually to pay for travel and allowances of wildlife rangers.  

Tricks played by illegal traders, such as switching from “allowable” to “prohibited” species at the last moments, are nothing new. But Malaysia alone cannot be blamed because the consignments are again checked at their destinations. People say the authorities are stricter in Singapore and Hong Kong and if so, the illegal species should be confiscated and returned to Malaysia as required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  

I still go camping in the forests. Last Ramadan, I visited the Jintoh area of Taman Negara with rangers doing rhino protection. 

Interestingly, a tiger came very close to our camp. There were three tiger records in other areas. On the way to Sira Jintoh, I was pleasantly surprised to see two active dancing grounds of the argus pheasant but was shocked to find a third one with feathers. The argus had been snared, roasted and eaten at the same spot. There were Thai writings on large trees. 

But nothing can be more shocking than the discovery of a rhino skeleton in Alam Muda, Pahang, in 2002, six to eight months after it was killed. Wildlife rangers have records of between five and seven animals with one young there but these rhinos have since disappeared deeper into the forests. This killing was again the work of foreign poachers who were earlier checked but inadequately acted upon.  

I visited the Sira Kuda salt lick in Temenggor last year and was shocked to find Thai poachers camping there. They were arrested by rangers and sent to prison. The number of inprisoned poachers has reached over 50 since 2002. 

Success in the forest will reduce the offences committed in villages and towns. It is in itself an awareness programme and there will be less need for anti-smuggling activities. Perak game warden Bernard Thong once took 180 cases to court in one year and reduced the number of animal dealer’s licences to four. Over the next few years the number of cases drastically declined. We cannot expect all officers to be like Bernard Thong but they should emulate him.  

I have raised over RM5mil in the 10 years and gave directly to Perhilitan and the Sabah Wildlife Department for wildlife protection. This is the best thing that we can do to protect wildlife but the authorities must be fearless. 

I was once asked by the former Science, Technology and Environment Minister, the late Datuk Amar Stephen Yong, to compound two cases. One involved four civet cats killed by poachers near Kuala Lumpur and the other, six stuffed barbets (a species of bird) in Negri Sembilan. The minister was very understanding when informed that the cases were already registered with the courts and withdrawing them would disillusion our wildlife rangers. He agreed. 

Not many people know of the difficulties and challenges in putting the tiger on the “totally protected” list. Maju Ternak was losing 150 to 200 heads of cattle a year and there were man-eaters to deal with. After years of sustained efforts, the tiger was declared a reserved animal, a status that was also given to the common macaque and monitor lizard. It was given total protection in 1976 and bounced back from about 200 tigers to a viable population. It is a good example of success achieved by an effective Perhilitan with public support.  

Kampung folks and planters have greatly benefitted from translocation of elephants. At one time, over RM250mil worth of oil palm was being destroyed by elephants made homeless by forest clearance. Personally, I am not happy with putting all our elephants in Taman Negara, Belum and Endau-Rompin. They should be managed in their former ranges as recommended by the elephant conservation plan.  

Seizures of pangolins, exotic meat and tiger skins indicate widespread poaching. Efforts to catch offenders in cities and forest fringes must be stepped up to discourage wildlife killings. There should be more court cases to serve as deterrence.  

In the old days, we stayed away from animal dealers and zoos so as not to compromise our position. It was necessary to do the work efficiently without any fear or threats from these people.  

I would like to think that the situation is still the same but there are changes which do not augur well with the work that needs to be done. 

Mohd Khan Momin Khan (Perhilitan director-general between 1971 and 1992)

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