Sabah’s Bushmeat trade must Stop
The illegal hunting of wild animals for the bushmeat trade in Sabah continues to remain a problem. Photo Credit: Flickr
Wild animals face a variety of threats in Sabah from habitat loss to poaching. Sadly, we also need to add the thriving local bushmeat trade to that list.
Local conservationists and animal lovers have been engaged in several educational campaigns to try and wean locals off the meat of wild and endangered animals. Such initiatives have borne mixed results so far. Recently, the Danau Girang Field Centre, a collaborative research and training facility run by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Britain’s Cardiff University, posted several poignant educational videos online in which it highlights the terrible toll that the bushmeat trade takes on Sabah’s wildlife.
The Danau Girang Field Centre, which is based in Kinabatangan, hopes to screen the videos before movies and on flights to educate locals about the dangers that the bushmeat trade poses to the state’s world-renowned biodiversity. “The message we want to send is that those caught eating food like pangolin meat are liable to a RM5,000 fine,” the research center’s director Dr. Benoit Goossens explained. “Eating illegal bushmeat can turn out to be a very expensive meal.”
Sadly, not even the prospects of heavy penalties have stopped many locals and some tourists, especially from China, from dining out on the meat of endangered animals, which they consider a delicacy. That’s why the situation remains dire. “We have seen someone trying to sell a sun bear cub on Facebook. There are also those selling bushmeat on Instagram and WhatsApp,” Goossens lamented. “This is a serious situation in Malaysia and we want to do our part in addressing this problem.”
Officials of the state’s Wildlife Department have made several successful arrests of locals who continue to hunt protected animals for bushmeat, from civet cats and pangolins to barking deer and wild boar. “We are going after the suppliers of bushmeat and we think this is the best approach in dealing with this problem,” Augustine Tuuga, the department’s chief of enforcement, told The Star Online back in May.
Despite such efforts, the bushmeat trade appears to remain rampant in some of the Bornean state’s districts, like Nabawan. Members of the Sabah Wildlife Watchers, a grassroots conservationist group of local residents, say they have seen plenty of evidence for that.
During a visit to a food market in Nabawan, a representative of the group told The Daily Express, members of the group found “dreadfully to our horror [that] it was brisk business as usual at Nabawan Tamu with a multitude of many different species of wildlife being sold, including barking deer, binturongs, civet cats and even porcupines.” He added: “Our supporters who drove all the way from Kota Kinabalu managed to purchase [bushmeat] very easily from the sellers. In fact, stall owners were jostling among themselves to attract costumers.”
Such testimonies contradict Tuuga’s own assurances that the bushmeat trade has been brought under control in the district. “During the latest inspection on last Saturday’s [market] in Nabawan, we did not encounter any traders selling wildlife meat [without proper permits,” he stressed. “We have even erected a signage reminding them of the wildlife laws,” he added.
Sabah Wildlife Watchers has dismissed the director’s claims as “totally inaccurate and false.” So it does sound like Sabah’s wildlife officials and environmentalists will have to carry on battling this harmful trade until it is eradicated once and for all across the state.