Malaysia: Why sun bears are still under threat

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 17 Oct 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sun bears are counting on stronger laws and greater awareness among the public to survive in the wild in Sabah.

A recent recovery of sun bear parts from poachers indicated a demand in the black market and lack of awareness among those who consume it.

Illegal hunting activities had put pressure on the survival of sun bears, and their low density population in the wild is a cause for concern.

On Aug 8, the Sabah Wildlife Department arrested two brothers and recovered mutilated parts that were likely from two adult sun bears.

Less than two weeks later, on Aug 20, two more men were nabbed and parts likely from one sun bear were found in their possession.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the four arrests and seizures had kept the department vigilant for poachers and illegal traders.

“In one of the cases, the parts were ‘advertised’ on social media and we were fortunate to seize them,” he said.

But Augustine knew the fight was far from over because of the demand for the parts and people’s cravings for exotic dishes.

But he believed a recent amendment to the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 would make would-be offenders think twice.

With the amendment, those found guilty of possessing a fully protected wildlife species, like sun bears, or its parts would face a mandatory one-year minimum jail-term and could be fined up to RM250,000.

It was passed unanimously by the Sabah Legislative Assembly in the last sitting in August.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre founder Wong Siew Te said the arrests and recovery could be viewed positively or negatively.

“The good thing is that the authorities are working hard on the ground to catch offenders, but at the same time, the arrests also indicate a problem on illegal hunting.

“The government has introduced stronger penalties over the years, but habitat destruction is also a big concern,” he said.

Wong agreed, however, on the need to push for more awareness to make people realise that there were no medicinal benefits from consuming bear parts, as well as stronger enforcement.

“In ancient times, bear paws were served to the Chinese emperor and they became a delicacy for the rich because of its purported medicinal benefits. All that is not true.

“It is the same with the bear’s gall bladder, which was seen as a traditional medicine to cure illnesses like internal injuries and rheumatism.”

All these fuelled the illegal activities, from hunting to trading, putting more pressure on the species, whose population Wong estimated was about 13,000 in Malaysia.

He revealed he had found parts sold illegally in a medicine shop in Sandakan, the same district where he founded the conservation centre for the species in the Sepilok area.

He said the bears’ gall bladders were sold at about RM550 per serving, while bear paws could fetch up to RM2,000.

“The reproduction level of a sun bear is very slow. A female having three or four cubs is considered very productive.

“So, we need to take all these into account when thinking of their future.”

Wong said there was a need to include the wildlife, particularly sun bears, conservation issue in the school curriculum and have it covered more on television, newspapers and radio.

Sun bears are the smallest among the bear species and are strong tree climbers. They are also known as honey bears (beruang madu).

There are two subspecies of sun bear in Malaysia; the Malayan sun bear found in the Asian mainland and Sumatra, and the Bornean sun bear found only in Borneo.

No comments:

Post a Comment