WHAT a busy few months it has been for Malaysia as it has yet again been pushed into the international wildlife spotlight. Aside from 1,764 elephant tusks seized by customs since July in Johor, Penang and Selangor (bad), there was also the rescue of animals this month from deplorable conditions in two Johor zoos after years of pressure from NGOs (good).
In addition, there was a troubling find of 12 snares in August near the East-West Highway, and other evidence to suggest that the Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve is increasingly becoming a poacher’s haven, including those from Thailand and Cambodia (bad).
Much has been said about the lack of enforcement where wildlife is concerned because it is not a priority and in most cases, budget is sorely lacking to ensure enforcement officers have adequate resources to do their job well.
And after each criticism, the agencies always respond to say they have beefed up border controls and increased patrols across the peninsula. Then I read the response of Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) state director for Perak on the comment by two NGOs that her enforcement personnel had slackened in their patrols of the Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve.
She stated that this comment was not true because her officers patrol the East-West Highway points from 8am to 5pm every day. Yes, you read that right – 8am to 5pm. Is there something wrong with this statement? Does the director think poachers only hunt during office hours? If I was a poacher, this is a too good to be true statement – enter the forest after 5pm because no officers will catch me.
I am praying that this is a misquote by the reporter as it sends a despairing message to those working to save the Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve that Perhilitan is not serious about protecting our precious wildlife.
It does make you wonder how this matches with the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry’s statements over the years that it has “increased patrols, beefed up security and enforcement staff”. If 8am-5pm patrols are what the ministry meant by “increased patrols”, it is no surprise that poaching in Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve is worsening.
The director also defended her department by saying the forest reserve is under the jurisdiction of the state, and not the department. Therefore, there are restrictions to what her officers can do. More excuses.
Perhilitan has mentioned repeatedly that the public plays an important role in providing enforcement agencies information on illegal wildlife activities.
What good would it do if we keep providing information but no action is taken because state and federal agencies cannot work together?
Granted that there are matters which the state and federal agencies cannot see eye-to-eye but will the issue of jurisdiction be the end of the Belum-Temengor Forest and its inhabitants as armed foreign poachers continue to pillage our biodiversity?
Their intrusion also poses a threat to our national security?
Azrina Abdullah is conducting research on the links between indigenous groups and the wildlife trade. Comments: email@example.com