Malaysia: The poaching dilemma

M. Hamzah Jamaludin The Star 23 Aug 11;

KUANTAN: The Orang Asli are at times forced to become poachers just to earn some extra income for their monthly expenses, without realising the real value of the protected animals.

Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Association president Majid Suhut said it was wrong to accuse the Orang Asli of aiming to make big profits from such activities.

"I do not think they know the real value of the protected animals as normally, they only receive few hundred ringgit when selling the items to a middleman," said Majid when contacted by the New Straits Times.

Majid, the Tok Batin (village head) in the Guntong Orang Asli settlement in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan, explained that no Orang Asli would take the risk to capture such animals if they were not desperate.

"In many cases that I know, they are willing to catch the animals when they need extra money to support their family," said Majid, who sometimes gathers forest produce and hunt wild animals to supplement his income as a rubber tapper.

Majid said that it was not easy to capture wild animals nowadays as many of them had moved deep into the jungles.

"You can consider yourself lucky if you stumble upon one.

"It is also very risky to hunt them, especially huge and dangerous animals like tigers and elephants."

He said the Orang Asli in his village were lucky as they could get better incomes by tapping rubber at their own plots or at the smallholdings owned by the Malays in nearby villages.

"I think we can settle this problem if the government can provide lands or suitable jobs for the Orang Asli, especially those who are still living near or inside the jungles."

The view was shared by Kampung Tenggalung Orang Asli village head Majid Jaafar, who felt that the Orang Asli were actually forced to hunt the exotic animals as they needed more money to support their families.

With an average of five to six children in each family, he said it would be difficult for the Orang Asli parents to earn sufficient income every month by selling forest produce alone.

The 59-year-old Tok Batin is known for his role in leading a group of Orang Asli who had applied for a judicial review against the state government's approval of land in Kampung Sungai Buan, Rompin, which they claimed as their ancestral land.

"There should be a special resettlement for the Orang Asli like the Felda scheme," said Majid, who has seven children and six grandchildren.

However, Orang Asli contractor Chow Gek Chow Kiat begged to differ, as she claimed there was no excuse for the Orang Asli to be involved in illegal activities including animal poaching.

"There are vast opportunities provided for them and they can succeed if they work hard like others," said Chow Gek, who won the Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Women's Institute Of Management Woman Of The Year Award in 2005.