Malaysia: Keep wildlife in the wild

T.N. Alagesh New Straits Times 21 Nov 11;

The Orang Asli prefer to keep protected species at home and Perhilitan has to convince them to surrender the animals

One wanted to raise a tiger cub, saying that it would fetch a lucrative price when sold later, while another demanded cash to return a baby tapir (Malayan Tapir).

Such situations were encountered by Pahang National Parks and Wildlife Department (Perhilitan) personnel when they responded to tip-offs and arrived at the doorsteps of the house owners, especially at the Orang Asli settlements in Pahang.

Its director, Khairiah Mohd Shariff, said it was not easy to convince the people to surrender the protected species, mostly involving animals barely a few months old.

She said when caught "red- handed" for keeping the animals, some owners would give lame excuses while others admitted that the animals under their care were meant for the cooking pot.

"Some claimed they found the animal injured in the jungle and brought it home to nurse it back to health.

"They later formed a close bond with the animal and decided to keep it.

"When our officers told an owner that it was an offence to keep the tiger cub, he replied that it was meant to be sold at a good price," she told the New Straits Times.

In a separate incident, Khairiah said an Orang Asli had refused to hand over a young female tapir in his possession and coldly said the animal would be served as an exotic dish.

"Even after realising that he could be in trouble for keeping the protected animal, he still refused to surrender it and demanded that we pay him for the animal.

"After agreeing to the amount, he surrendered the animal to us, but it took some time for our officers to coax him to part with the animal."

To help tackle such problems, Khairiah said they had appointed 10 Orang Asli to serve the department at several districts in Pahang.

"Apart from carrying out their routine jobs with the department, they will also play the role of ambassadors.

"The Orang Asli folk will also feel more comfortable contacting them to provide information about poaching activities in their area.

"In fact, we have seen results when some of the Orang Asli villagers acted as eyes and ears for the department about the wild animals reared in their neighbourhood."

Khairiah said investigations also revealed that some villagers had opted to keep and bottle-feed the young animals.

However, she said they had to learn that the animals belong in the wild and had their own moods, which could sometimes turn fatal.

"These young animals are like babies and love the attention they get from people. Trouble starts when the animals grow and become uncontrollable.

"People should not keep the young protected animals that they rescue from the jungle. Instead, they should always surrender the animals to Perhilitan and we will send it to zoos."

Khairiah said many people were still unaware of the amendments to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, which provided for stiffer penalties for offenders, since many had been found to be keeping protected animals, including civet cats and squirrels.

There are 2,120 protected endangered species and sub-species under the new law with several non-endangered animals, such as wild boars and monkeys. These animals are also protected to preserve the natural habitat.