The Butchery of Sea Turtles triggers Calls for more Severe Punishments
Poachers must be made to pay for their crimes. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
First came the crime: the remains of as many as 100 sea turtles were discovered on Bum-Bum Island off Semporna in Sabah. The carcasses of the protected reptiles had been stripped off their shells. The culprits could have been stateless seafaring nomads who live off the coast of Borneo and are known as the Bajau Laut or else local fisherman, one of whom was soon arrested. The extent of the wildlife crime has shocked officials and animal lovers alike.
Now comes the blowback: Masidi Manjun, Sabah’s minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, says he wants to see the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 amended so as to make it easier to convict people who kill endangered species.
If passed, the amendment would make it harder for defendants to avoid punishment by placing the onus on them to prove they did not commit the wildlife crimes of which they stand accused. This would assist prosecutors in achieving a higher rate of convictions, which might then serve as a deterrent to other poachers.
“We are looking into the possibility to amend the law and we will consult with our legal officers and the Attorney-General if it’s possible,” the minister was quoted as saying. “With the amendment, it means the accused will have to prove he didn’t kill [an endangered wild animal] because at this point in time the prosecutors have to come up with evidence to prove a person is guilty and this is not easy.”
He elucidated: “There are cases within plantation areas where no single person is willing to become a witness despite the police going there (to look for witnesses). Therefore, we are proposing to make such offence a strict liability to make it easier for the prosecutors to prove their case.”
Masidi is right. Something has to be done to protect the state’s beleaguered animals from any further harm at the hands of poachers, who clearly remain relentless and undeterred by the prospect of being caught. Despite concerted efforts by conservationists and wildlife officials, poachers continue to take a heavy toll on Sabah’s wildlife, thereby endangering the state’s world-renowned biodiversity.
Yet no official policy, including harsher punishments, will be truly effective without increased cooperation from local people. Laws are just words on paper and unless they are enforced and supported by members of local communities even harsher penalties will have little bite. Commendably, the minister recognizes this. Masidi has called on local people to become the ears and eyes of wildlife officials by reporting wildlife crimes.
“The responsibility to protect wildlife does not rest with the relevant agencies alone,” Masidi stressed. “The cooperation of the local people, to report any incident, is crucial in ensuring that evidence is not lost,” he explained. “The problem is, people are more inclined to post an incident on social media rather than report it to the authorities for prompt action to be taken.”
If you see something, say something.