Losing your head again in Sarawak

Text by Wong Siew Te

The magnificent yet unfortunate Sunda clouded leopard mentioned in earlier blog was not unique. Others, many others in fact, wildlife in this part of the world also faced similar fate. Few years ago a friend of mine from Sarawak sent me similar photos- photos of a decapitated sun bear taken in Sarawak. I have seen many photos of dead animals, witnessed many dead animals with my own eyes and I personally dissected many dead animals. In theory I should be able to take it but at that time I can’t. The photos of this decapitated sun bear were so powerful that I nearly cannot take it.

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Few years ago I visited an Iban village in central Sarawak. I was lucky to be able to follow a local hunter on his hunting trip. During the few kilometers walk in the forest, the hunter showed me several dozens of snares he set to catch wildlife. Although the target animals were bearded pigs, he proudly told me that everything else that walked in the forest such as pheasants, mouse deer, pangolins, sun bears, were once common wildlife captured by the snares until recently. He emphasized “until recently” because he sensed a sharp decline of local wildlife population in the forest. For example sambar deer was almost locally extinct in the forest. Ironically, the once abundant bearded pigs also became rare now a day. Bearded pigs were by far the most important game animals that contributed the majority of their protein source. Yet, under years of over harvesting and exacerbated by unsustainable logging and habitat degradation, bearded pig populations in many areas have declined significantly. When bearded pigs became rare, the hunting pressure has shifted to other species such as sambar deer, 2 species of barking deer and mouse deer, pangolin, and others, sun bear included. We walk passed a snare where the hunter proudly pointed out that he caught a female sun bear just few days ago. He tried to kill the bear but the bear managed to escape from the snare when fighting for her own life. The female’s cub was sent to a tree by the mother (mother bears often sent their cubs to hide in tree to escape from danger) but unfortunately the cub climb a small tree where it cannot really conceal itself. The cub was shot dead by the hunter, eaten, and its little gallbladder was sent to the closest town to sell for a few hundred ringgits. I asked if he can show me the skull of the bear cub. “The dog cleaned it all up” I was told. That day we arrived at a pig wallow that seems inactive for a while. He pointed out all of the snares that he set around the wallow to catch animals that come to drink water or to wallow. I was speechless when he pointed to the 8th.        

Snare set on animal trail to catch willdife in the forest.

Snare set on animal trail to catch willdife in the forest.

It is truly sad to see this decapitated sun bear and the decapitated clouded leopard. Although both of the two mammal species are totally protected by wildlife protection law in the country, the lack of interest, capacity, and ability to enforce the wildlife laws by the government authority make these laws like never exist. Paper laws so to speak. During my visit to Sarawak I also witness an interesting scene: few billboards erected to educate the public not to kill and to eat game meat. One of them showed all the protected species in Sarawak. The other one was a warning on consuming wild meat. The wording in three languages read:

“WILD MEAT

Under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998, it is an offence to “buy or sell or offer for sale or claim ro be offering for sale, any wild mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian, or any recognizable part or derivative thereof” if that animal has been taken from the wild. This means that all sale of wild boar, deer meat, pigeons, terrapins, frogs or any other meat taken from the wild is an offence.   

The penalty to sell or offer for sale or claim to be offering for sale, any wild mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian, or any recognizable part or derivative thereof for this offence is a fine of RM5,000.

It is also an offence to buy any items, and the penalty for doing so is a fine of RM2000.

Offenders may be charged in Court”

Signboard of protected wildlife in Sarawak

Signboard of protected wildlife in Sarawak

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Obviously these billboards send a good message to educate the public not to be an offender of wildlife laws or you will be punish, may be, according to the message. However, what make this scene interesting and ironic at the same time was that they were erected in front of a row of shops and small businesses. Among these shops were two restaurants that were well known to the locals for selling wild meat. In the forest one could argue that the lack of enforcement is probably due to the lack of interest to enforce wildlife laws as well as lacking resources – human resource, to enforce the law. But in this case the police station and the forestry department office were all nearby in town, it is nothing but lack of interest to enforce the wildlife laws. Police and enforcement agencies all prefer an “easy life.” If they can work “less,” they would and love to work less!

Under this attitude, wildlife suffered. Clouded leopard, sun bear, and other wildlife suffered and being decapitated and eaten until they are locally extinct. When they are locally extinct, two phenomena may happen: the price of that particular species raise and poachers has to go further in the remote forest to hunt or other less preferred species are now becoming a target species. Across the world there were many examples showing these two situations.

In the case of decapitated sun bear and clouded leopard, obviously the authority has failed us. They were paid and hired to protect the country’s wildlife yet they failed. Mohandas Gandhi once said, “When the people lead, the leader will follow.” I think it is time for all of us to lead, to act, and to protect our wildlife. We have to realize that we all have the responsibility to ensure their survival and the power to protect them. We can report to the local authorities, conservation NGOs who act like watch dogs with teeth for the authority, or even the local press on the unlawful activities of killing and harming wildlife. We can act to support and help spread the words for organizations that aim to protect wildlife like BSBCC or other wildlife rescue centre so that they can do their work to rescue wildlife. There a lot we can do to help these animals that share the same planet Earth with us. Like I always said, do what you do best to help sun bears and other wildlife. Together we CAN, we DO, and we WILL make a difference!

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