Malaysia: Conservation is a race against time

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 7 Jan 18;

THE threat of extinction is real for a few wildlife species in Sabah, and despite counter measures taken, challenges remain.

Poachers continue to hunt the rare animals. Their parts are illegally traded. Exotic dishes are still on menus. Their parts are still used in potions. And human-wildlife conflicts continue.

The survival of a species hinges on scientific intervention, policies, law enforcement, funds and compassion, but there are not enough of those, and time is of the essence.

The Sabah Wildlife Department revealed that the Sumatran rhino, tembadau (or banteng), Bornean pygmy elephant, clouded leopard, sun bear and pangolin are among the most threatened species.

Other vulnerable species include the orangutan, proboscis monkey, slow loris, hornbill and turtles.

Experts are racing to secure whatever hope there is left to ensure the survival of many species.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the department had embarked on a three-year advanced reproductive technology project since 2016, focusing on a few species.

A sum of RM11.9 million has been allocated by the Federal Government to train veterinarians and those involved in handling wildlife, such as rangers or caretakers in the fertilisation process, and to obtain equipment and laboratories.

“The project is not limited to Sabah. The state government will work with other facility and experts in the peninsula should we need them,” Augustine said.

He said advances in animal cell and molecular biology would prove crucial to what his team was doing now.

He said last year, the department brought 10 cases on wildlife offences to court, including charges against people caught with tortoises, sun bear parts, pangolins, turtles and turtle eggs.

Enforcement has been intensified, with more roadblocks, intelligence gathering, inter-agency cooperation as well as monitoring social media, where the department has detected the illegal sale of animal parts and promotion of exotic dishes.

Another boost to conservation efforts expected this year is the gazetting of the Wildlife Conservation Act 1997 to upgrade the status of pangolins to that of a totally protected species.

Augustine said the department would continue to engage with stakeholders, such as local communities and plantation operators near wildlife habitats.

He said there had been successes in such cooperation, particularly in containing the threat faced by animals and in translocation.

“Reducing human-wildlife conflicts can be costly.”

Translocating elephants can cost up to RM30,000 per operation.

“We also have a limited workforce. But we make do where we can and work with other agencies, such as police, Forestry Department and honorary wildlife wardens, to safeguard the animals in vast areas,” Augustine said.

Honorary wildlife wardens are members of the public, usually from the local community, who are appointed to keep watch over animals near them.

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