We Must Stop the Use of Snare Traps and the Orang Asli Can Help with That
Wildlife officials are cutting off a crude wire snare from the paw of a wild tiger caught in it. Photo Credit: WWF-Malaysia
They maim and kill and cause untold suffering. They can sever limbs and cause severe injuries. Unless freed in time from them, animals, large and small, may die of thirst, starve to death, or become prey to predators as they are pinned down and unable to escape. In other words, they are a real scourge on animals in forests.
Snare traps, that is.
Crudely made snare traps, rigged up from a loop of cord or wire attached to a tree and triggered by a slight touch, are a favored tool of poachers across Malaysia. They set and bait a bunch of them around an area, leave for a while, and return later to check what animals have been caught in them. Even if wildlife officials discover some snares before poachers can return to them, animals caught in the primitive contraptions may by then be too sickened or too badly injured to make it. If they’re lucky, they may end up with the loss of a leg or a paw but survive.
“Animals suffer horribly as snares can be left unchecked for several days on end,” said Dr Melvin Gumal, director of Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia. “Sometimes we come across animals that fight to get out of snares and there are marks ripped across the tree bark. And there are times when animals die and their carcasses are found left on the snares.”
These silent killers have come to the spotlight in Malaysia again after a male tiger was recently caught in a snare meant for a wild boar near an Orang Asli village in Tapah, in the state of Perak. The animal, which is between 14 and 17 years old, was ensnared within his roaming grounds. The good news: Perak Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) officials managed to free the tiger in time and his front paw that had been caught in the snare was not too badly injured. The bad news: Now that the tiger has come into extensive contact with people, officials will not let him return to the wild for fear that he might attack people in future. The elderly tiger has been named Yeop Tapah and will now spend his remaining years behind bars at The National Wildlife Rescue Centre.
And that’s very bad news indeed, not only for this one tiger but for Malaysia’s entire tiger population. Within just a few weeks, the loss of this latest tiger to the country’s wild has brought the total this year to six, including two adults killed by poachers and a female tiger pregnant with two cubs killed in a road accident. With only an estimated 300 tigers or so remaining in the wild, the country can ill afford to lose a single more, let alone six more, of these majestic striped predators.
To his credit, a member of the local Orang Asli community, identified as 38-year-old Waslostri Usop, who accidentally snared the tiger immediately reported it to the authorities, rather than try and sell the animal on the illegal wildlife market. Less to his credit, he was not supposed to have been using snares in the first place. The Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 prohibits the use of all snares and those found guilty of possessing or setting snares are liable to a penalty of up to RM100,000 or up to three years in prison, or both.
“We have urged the people, especially the Orang Asli, to stop laying these traps,” said Perhilitan’s director Rozidan Mohd Yassin. We definitely second that call. This latest case, however, has presented a bit of a conundrum. By reporting that he had accidentally trapped a tiger instead of a wild boar, Waslostri, a member of the community of Kampung Orang Asli Batu 10, did the right thing. Yet he also revealed that he had been using stare traps illegally, thereby exposing himself to the prospect of criminal prosecution. If the authorities go ahead and prosecute the culprit, as they said they might, the members of Waslostri’s own and other Orang Asli communities will likely be less willing to report similar cases of accidentally snared endangered animals in future.
So what to do? The key is to educate indigenous communities of the need to keep their natural environments intact with all the remaining flora and fauna in them. Whereas members of such communities might be inclined, perhaps understandably, to think that it’s within their rights to set traps and hunt just as their ancestors used to do in times past, it’s a sad fact that their forest realms, once so rich in wildlife, have over time been almost completely emptied of many species, tigers included. Comprehensive educational and community-based enforcement initiatives among indigenous people can create a whole new set of attitudes among the Orang Asli.
One such new initiative, in Sabah, envisions a system of Tagal Hutan, in which native people are encouraged and empowered to protect their forests based on an effective blend of modern and traditional forest management concepts and practices. “Tagal, which means prohibition in the Kadazan language, has existed among the native people for a very long time,” explained Jannie Lasimbang, director of the Indigenous People Network of Malaysia. “This concept of traditional system involves collective responsibilities and management of important resources such as land, river, forest, water catchment and wildlife.” She added: “The penalties to be imposed under the Tagal Hutan system should also be clear and the government can play [a] role in enforcing these penalties.”
By coming to view their natural environments as their collective property that they must protect better, indigenous communities could become not only more dedicated stewards of Malaysia’s natural habitats but their staunch guardians as well. More power to them!