Sabah and Sarawak are taking Steps to better Protect their Wildlife
A wildlife ranger on patrol. Photo Credit: World Wide Fund for Nature
When it comes to protecting Malaysia’s world-famous wildlife, it often feels like the proverbial “one step forward, two steps back.” Officials in Sabah, for instance, report making progress in their ongoing clampdown on the sale of so-called bushmeat in Sabah. One step forward. But then comes news that there has arisen a thriving black market in exotic dishes in Sabah catering to foreign tourists. Two steps back.
Now officials are taking large steps forward again both in Sabah and Sarawak, two of the most biodiverse states in Malaysia. In Sabah, Masidi Manjun, minister of Environment and Tourism, has proposed amending the state’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 so as to ratchet up penalties meted out to people convicted of poaching and wildlife trafficking. In addition to increasing penalties, the new amendment would place the burden of proof on people accused of poaching.
That is to say, instead of officials having to prove the accused had been engaged in poaching, the accused would be presumed guilty and they would need to prove their innocence in court. “With the amendment, it means the accused will have to prove he didn’t kill it [the endangered wildlife animal] because at this point of time, the prosecutors have to come up with evidence to prove a person is guilty and this is not easy,” Masidi said, according to media reports.
Such a move would be necessary because poaching has reached “pandemic proportions” and poachers are acting with more and more brazen impunity against officials, the state’s Forestry Department says on its website. Armed and dangerous, poachers often refuse to comply with orders at checkpoints and act threateningly towards officials there.
“Although Forestry Department staff are armed, this is purely for self-protection and they are reluctant to use their licensed firearms against the poachers,” the department explains. “Besides that, it is to avoid a firefight with the poachers which may result in an ugly scene.” Hence the need for increased penalties and a different course of legal action against suspects.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Sarawak, officials are working on setting up a new National Parks and Wildlife Department, whose primary mission will be to better manage the state’s wildlife resources. “The new department will result in a more coordinated and focused manpower to meet the challenges of managing our protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries and natural resources more effectively and efficiently,” Deputy Chief Minister Awang Tengah Ali Hasan reportedly said.
The new department will also be tasked with promoting the state’s 37 national parks, 14 nature reserves and five wildlife sanctuaries as ecotourism draws. “About 4.6 million tourist arrivals were recorded for Sarawak last year. Out of this, 12.4% visited national parks and nature reserves, generating direct revenue of about RM5.7 million,” he was quoted as saying. “A rebranding and better promotion of Sarawak’s national parks, strategic marketing and opening of new parks is needed to draw in more visitors which will consequently improve revenue for these protected areas.”
These are welcome steps forward. We’ll also have to ensure not to let poachers and traffickers drag us backwards again.