Tag Archives: poaching

Fallacy And Absurdity

June, 20, 2013 – 7:11 pm

Fallacy And Absurdity

With the demand of traditional medicine seekers, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild – BSBCC Wong

By Jaswinder Kler

caged20SANDAKAN: Hunted for generations in the jungles of Borneo for the bile from its gall bladder and for food, the Malayan Sun Bear continues to be a target for the ever present global demand in traditional medicine and exotic meat.

The fallacy of the benefits of bile and the idiocy of humans is threatening the world’s smallest bear which is said to have dwindled in numbers by 30 per cent in the last three decades.

Asiatic Black Bears, for example, are kept in unimaginably cruel conditions in small metal cages and their bile extracted for up to 20 years, and then killed once they are unable to produce the liquid.

While there are no bear bile farms in Malaysia, bear bile is consumed locally. Bear gall bladder, bear bile capsules and other bile products are sold illegally in traditional medicine stores.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said natives, particularly in Borneo, traditionally believe that the Sun Bear’s bile ejects itself out of the gall bladder and spreads inside a bear’s body, healing injuries in a fall.

File picture of Sun Bear bile sold at the Gaya Street market in Kota Kinabalu. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

File picture of Sun Bear bile sold at the Gaya Street market in Kota Kinabalu. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

“Sun Bears can climb high up on trees and normally climb down slowly from the tree. However when they encounter human encroachment in the forest when they are on a tree, they tend to slide down quickly or even drop themselves from the tree. They then recover quickly and go about their day.

“This has erroneously made people believe that the phenomenon is due to the power of the Sun Bear bile that spreads within the body and heals the bears, allowing them to recover instantly.

“This is why Sun Bears are traditionally hunted in the wild for their bile, apart from their meat,” Wong said.

With this demand, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild, Wong said in a statement to create awareness on the plight of Sun Bears.

While the actual number of Sun Bears in the wild is unknown, its status as a Totally Protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and its listing as “Vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List are not keeping those after its bile away from the risk of prosecution.

BSBCC founder and CEO Wong Siew Te with rescued Sun Bear, Natalie. As cubs, bears are cute but the law does not allow anyone to keep them as pets. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

BSBCC founder and CEO Wong Siew Te with rescued Sun Bear, Natalie. As cubs, bears are cute but the law does not allow anyone to keep them as pets. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

Under the Enactment, those found in possession of a Sun Bear or its product could face a fine of up to RM50,000 or a jail term of five years, or both.

Wong said Sun Bears are still hunted in Borneo for their purported medicinal properties, and cited a recent news report on bear meat and parts being sold at a market in Kapit, Sarawak.

Other threats that Sun Bears face include habitat loss and demand for the exotic pet trade.

“Sun Bear cubs are cute and there is demand for such a pet. To get a cub, the mother is killed to prevent hunters from getting harmed. Once these cubs grow, they become aggressive and it becomes dangerous to keep them as pets.

“This is when they are surrendered to the authorities. They lose survival skills when kept as pets, as this is something they learn from their mothers,” he said.

Bears surrendered to or confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department are sent to the BSBCC adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. It is currently home to 28 Sun Bears.

Awareness activities will be stepped up once the BSBCC is officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year.

The BSBCC is planning to hold a fund raiser on July 20 in Sandakan to meet the ever increasing costs of caring for Sun Bears in captivity and for awareness work.

Sun Bears are also sought after for the pet trade, but problems emerge once the bears grow older and become aggressive. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

Sun Bears are also sought after for the pet trade, but problems emerge once the bears grow older and become aggressive. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

The fundraising dinner with the theme “Big Dreams, Little Bears” will see Wong sharing with guests updates on Sun Bears, apart from an exclusive photographic art auction by Jonathan Tan and performances by Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chow, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and friends.

A free documentary screening is scheduled for July 21 at the Sabah Hotel for 500 students, teachers and representatives of local associations.

The BSBCC is a non-governmental organisation set up in 2008 through collaboration of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

Major funders for BSBCC include Yayasan Sime Darby, the federal Tourism Ministry, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, the Sabah State Government and other foreign and local organisations.

To learn more about Sun Bears, visit www.bsbcc.org.my and Facebook page www.facebook.com/ sunbear.bsbcc.

Two rare Malayan sun bears found in abandoned Cambodian garment factory

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/02/22/two-rare-malayan-sun-bears-found-in-abandoned-cambodian-garment-factory/

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 22, 2013 9:15 EST

Sun bear Dawy at Phnom Tamao Zoo south of Phnom Penh in 2008. (AFP)

 
 

Two rare Malayan sun bears have been rescued in Cambodia after being discovered in an abandoned garment factory, a zoo official said Friday.

The male and female bears were rescued by officials from the Phnom Tamao Zoo and the Wildlife Alliance, who found them in the factory in southern Kandal province last week, according to zoo director Nhek Rattanak Pich.

“The bears were left with no food and no one to care for them after the factory owner fled the country,” the Wildlife Alliance said on its website.

The group said local authorities had called them after the bears were found in purpose-built cages at the factory, which closed without notice in December.

The bears are now being cared for at the zoo, its director said, adding that he did not know why they had been kept at the factory.

The Malayan sun bear is found primarily in Southeast Asia and is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Bears are among many species that have been decimated by wildlife trafficking in Asia, which is fuelled in large part by China’s massive appetite for exotic meats and animal parts for traditional medicine.

 
 
 
 

They keep coming!

Text and photos by Siew Te Wong

On the night of Feb 20th, BSBCC received another new rescued sun bear from the Sabah Wildlife Department Wildlife Rescue Unit. This female sun bear yearling (1-2 year old bear), that we named “Koko” is the latest rescued sun bear by Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC.

Koko appeared to be healthy and in good body condition. She was calmed on the night she arrived at the centre. We place her at a temporary cage for the time being until her new den is ready in few days. The next day after recovering from the stress associated from the transportation, Koko seems to be a bit feisty when I approached her. However, she got a good appetite and took all the food we gave her.

I called the Koko’s owner Robert from Telipok this morning to understand more about the story behind Koko. Apparently Koko was captured by a hunter (poacher) originally from Keningau on a hunting (poaching) trip early last year. Koko’s mother probably being killed by the poacher and Koko was kept as pet at the same time looking for a potential buyer. This is a typical story of almost all rescued sun bear in BSBCC. Robert heard from his friend about a sun bear cub for sale. He paid RM350 for Koko and realized that she is no longer a small, cute cub. He later seeks advice from his friend who works with the Sabah Wildlife Department. The wildlife department staff convinced him to surrender Koko to the Sabah Wildlife Department. They sent Koko to SWD’s Lok Kawi Zoo last weekend and the zoo sent her to us on Monday night.

With 25 rescued sun bears under the care of BSBCC, the urgency of building another new bear house is escalating. At the moment our capacity is only for 20 sun bears. This is the 2nd sun bear cubs we received in approximately one month time and we do not know how many sun bear will be rescued and be sent to BSBCC in the near future. We can only be glad that we are here to help these animals and never happy to see they end up at BSBCC. We have to stop all illegal activities such as poaching, killing, eating, and keeping sun bears. Please help BSBCC to achieve these goals.

Read more on how you can help us and the sun bears:

 http://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/how-can-you-help-sun-bears/

Koko in her transportation cage. After a 7 hour trip from Lok Kawi Zoo, she finally arrived at BSBCC at 8:30 pm on Monday night.

Koko in her transportation cage. After a 7 hour trip from Lok Kawi Zoo, she finally arrived at BSBCC at 8:30 pm on Monday night.

We placed her at a temporary cage for few more days as we prepare for her new home. She needs to be quarantined for 30 days before she can have any contact with other bears in the centre.

We placed her at a temporary cage for few more days as we prepare for her new home. She needs to be quarantined for 30 days before she can have any contact with other bears in the centre.

 Wa i Pak gave her some electrolyte drinks to boost her water loss during the journey.

Wa i Pak gave her some electrolyte drinks to boost her water loss during the journey.

I thought she was a small cub but she is already a yearling, maybe weigh 20 kg, in good condition.

I thought she was a small cub but she is already a yearling, maybe weigh 20 kg, in good condition.

She is surprising tame and calmed for the stressful event. I was stressed out when was informed we have another bear coming our way because we are full! We need a second bear house urgently.

She is surprising tame and calmed for the stressful event. I was stressed out when was informed we have another bear coming our way because we are full! We need a second bear house urgently.

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Farmer mistakes kin for sun bear and shoots him

Original posted at http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/2/18/nation/10759114&sec=nation

A FARMER mistook his cousin for a bear and shot and killed him in Sabah, Harian Metro reported.

The 42-year-old farmer said he went on a hunting trip with Nuis Upil, 36, and two other friends at about 2pm in Ulu Sungai Mususur, Tambunan, on Wednesday.

The farmer aimed his bakakuk (home-made gun) at a rambutan tree and fired, causing Nuis to fall from the tree that he had been climbing.

The hunting party then started searching for the “animal” and was shocked to see Nuis lying in a pool of blood.

Keningau OCPD Deputy Supt Zahari Mohamed confirmed that the farmer and his friends were in custody to assist in investigations.

> The daily also reported that exotic animal parts are a big hit, especially among senior citizens wanting to boost their sexual energy.

Otters and crocodiles are among the most sought after, it said.

It is illegal to trade animal organs and sellers can be charged under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. However, this had not stopped traders from selling their products in villages as well as public places.

According to an Indonesian trader, his products were very popular among male senior citizens.

“Money is not an issue for my customers because most of them are desperate to improve their sexual performance, especially men who have younger wives,” he said.

Kelantan Perhilitan director Rahmat Topani said those who continued to sell animal parts of protected species would have to face the consequences.

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Wong’s notes:

This sad accident indicated a few things:

1) Conservation education is HIGHLY needed to educate local communities about the protection status of many wildlife. Most local folks and communities do not aware of the legal status of a bear. Sun bears are totally protected species. No one is allow to kill, harass, keep, eat, or harm sun bear by any mean.

2) Sun bear still highly sought by the poachers. Their hunting/poaching pressures are still high despite national laws and state law prohibit anyone to do so.

3) Conservation and protection of sun bears need every one to take part – local communities, general public, stakeholders, land owners, biologists, government officials, law enforcements.

My condolence to the victim family.

Felda settlets find dead sun bear

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Sun bear cub rescued from pet owner

Is a female sun bear cub! After 7 hours on the road from Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, Kota Kinabalu, the Sabah Wildlife Department's Wildlife Rescue Unit finally arrived BSBCC with this rescued sun bear cub.

Is a female sun bear cub! After 7 hours on the road from Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, Kota Kinabalu, the Sabah Wildlife Department's Wildlife Rescue Unit finally arrived BSBCC with this rescued sun bear cub.

While the holiday mood for the New Year remaining strong, Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit already underway their new rescue mission of a sun bear cub on Jan 6th. The sun bear cub was sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre the following day after a preliminary health check at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near the state capital Kota Kinabalu. What would be a better way to the start the new year than rescuing a poor sun bear cub from imprisonment in a small metal cage?

Wildlife Rescue Unit carried Debbie in her transpotation cage to the bear house.

Wildlife Rescue Unit carried Debbie in her transpotation cage to the bear house.

We have not yet fully understood the story of this latest new female sun bear cub. We name her Debbie. Debbie is about 6-8 months old base on her size. From her documentation that we received from Sabah Wildlife Department, she was purchased by a Chinese guy from Tuaran and was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. We need to do find out the whole story of Debbie soon.

We name this new arrival sun bear cub Debbie. She explored her new home at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre after being released from the transportation cage.

We name this new arrival sun bear cub Debbie. She explored her new home at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre after being released from the transportation cage.

After a long 7 hours on the road from Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit finally arrived at BSBCC with Debbie at 6:30 pm. Unlike other sun bear cub we rescued in the past, Debbie was an aggressive sun bear cub. She was barking at everyone when we tried to carry her in the transportation cage to her new home. This aggressiveness can only mean two things: she was wild caught and being in captivity for relatively short period, and the new environment and new people she encountered was very stressful on her. Debbie was one of very few sun bear cub that I did not dare to let her suckle my finger (as finger sucking calm down a stressful sun bear cub).     

Debbie has a very special chest patch. Take a look. How do you describe the pattern?

Debbie has a very special chest patch. Take a look. How do you describe the pattern?

Nonetheless she immediately explored her new den with many climbing structures right after she was released from her transportation cage into her den. Her movement was agile and energetic. This was a good sign for healthy and strong. She had a very special chest marking. A friend in facebook said at the first glance it looked like a “Y.” Second it looked like a rooster standing and finally it looked like smoke coming out of a potion bottle! We gave her some electrolyte water to overcome her dehydration during the journey and she drunk it all in one go. She did not eat the food that we gave her probably due to the stressful journey and new environment.

We estimated her age between 6-8 months. She already has a relatively long claws, which give hint to her age. We need to check her teeth to verify her age.

We estimated her age between 6-8 months. She already has a relatively long claws, which give hint to her age. We need to check her teeth to verify her age.

Dear little Debbie, we are glad that Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit managed to rescued you and sent you to BSBCC to take care of you. However, we certainly understand that you have been through a tragic early start and all the bad things that human did to you and your mother. Here in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, our mission is to conserve sun bear through improving animal welfare, raising conservation awareness with education, conducting research, and rehabilitating the sun bear cubs like you who have the chance to return your life in the forest! Little Debbie, we will do our very best to take good care of you!

Debbie is unlike other sun bear cub we rescued. She is aggressive and barked at use when we get close to her. She found a spot on a new home and settled down.

Debbie is unlike other sun bear cub we rescued. She is aggressive and barked at use when we get close to her. She found a spot on a new home and settled down.


Her first intakes of electrolyte drink in her new home to overcome some dehydration during the journey.

Her first intakes of electrolyte drink in her new home to overcome some dehydration during the journey.

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!

Rare cub rescued from soldier

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2011100752008/National-news/rare-cub-rescued-from-soldier.html

Friday, 07 October 2011 12:03
Vincent MacIsaac

After a “tense” meeting with a military commander on Wednesday, an endangered sun bear cub was rescued from a military base in Preah Vihear province before it could be sold for an estimated US$1,000.

The 10-kilogram cub was found at a base near Preah Vihear temple in Choam Khsan district, in the possession of a soldier who was trying to sell it, likely to a bear farm in Vietnam.

A sun bear cub rescued from a military base in Preah Vihear province on Wednesday was likely destined for a bear farm in Vietnam, according to Wildlife Alliance

A sun bear cub rescued from a military base in Preah Vihear province on Wednesday was likely destined for a bear farm in Vietnam, according to Wildlife Alliance

Wildlife Alliance worked with Forestry Administration officials to gain access to the military base after receiving information that a captive bear cub was for sale.

Forestry officials and members of the team “first went to speak to the regional military commander, who then aided the team in raising awareness about the law [among soldiers”, said program manager at Wildlife Alliance Lesley Perlman yesterday.

Wildlife Alliance described the meeting with the unnamed military commander as “tense”, but said that following the meeting the commander helped raise awareness of laws governing endangered species among solidiers.

“As the soldier voluntarily handed over the bear, no charges were filed,” Perlman said.

The bear is being transferred to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre and Perlman said greater effort was needed in Cambodia and regionally to protect endangered species.

“In Cambodia, stronger law enforcement is needed to combat the illegal trade in wildlife on the ground,” she said. Regionally, “both demand and supply side efforts are needed”, she said.

Sun bears are sold as pets or used in Chinese traditional medicine, which highly values their paws and gall bladder bile.

A rapid response team working in Cambodia confiscates about 10 live Malayan sun and Asiatic Black bears a year, Perlman said

Sun bear is not a pet (in Chinese)

Original posted at http://sandakantours.blogspot.com/2011/09/blog-post_21.html

Text by Jasmine Tan

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Owls poached for exotic meat market

http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2011/9/13/lifefocus/9328322&sec=lifefocus

Tuesday September 13, 2011

By NATALIE HENG
[email protected]

A black hole of information surrounds the illegal trade in owls.

ARE our owls being poached for the dinner table? It would appear so, judging from huge seizures of dead birds in recent years by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).

In November 2008, a raid in Muar, Johor, unveiled a mountain of 917 plucked owls, along with a stash of pythons, mouse deer, pangolins and various other protected species.

Two months later, in January 2009, 319 more owl carcasses were uncovered alongside 2,330 live clouded monitor lizards and a chopped up Malayan sun bear in a car repair shop in Kuantan, Pahang.

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Main course: A collared scops owl. — Pic by Puan Chong Leong

The show wasn’t over. There were two more seizures in Johor that year: one yielded 37 owls in Yong Peng in July and another yielded 246 owls in Endau, in September.

Altogether, the period of 2008 to 2009 saw the biggest seizure of owls ever recorded in the country, a total of 1,519 carcasses. The seizures caught wildlife officials by surprise. There have been no indicators of local demand for owl consumption, and until those reports surfaced, large-scale trading of owls in Malaysia had completely escaped the radar.

“Local restaurants have been known to offer bear, fruit bats, deer, monitor lizards, turtles … it’s a long list, but we haven’t seen owls on offer,” says Traffic South-East Asia deputy regional director Chris Shepherd.

“We weren’t even looking at owls. We really hadn’t heard of people harvesting owl at all in Malaysia, and suddenly there was almost a thousand of them seized (in the Muar case).”

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Magnificent: A brown wood owl. In Malaysia, owls are poorly studied and it is feared that they are being hunted for the exotic meat trade. — Pic by Chris Shepherd

Shepherd brings up the question of whether trade could have previously gone undetected.

Both Traffic and Perhilitan suspect the owls, along with the other wildlife confiscated, were due for export, probably to China which, despite local and international laws, has a thriving trade in endangered wildlife.

Malaysia is both an attractive supply and transit country, and many of the species found including pangolins and bear parts for example, are popular in the meat and traditional medicine markets of China, especially in Guangzhou.

There, an increasingly affluent population is fuelling demand for endangered wildlife traditionally regarded as culinary delicacies.

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An immature barred eagle owl. — Pic by Puan Chong Leong

There are news reports of owls being among the many wildlife items served in restaurants in Guangzhou.

“It really does warrant further investigation,” says Shepherd, adding that funding limits what conservationists can do, and therefore, hardly any work has been conducted to investigate the extent of owl consumption in China’s meat markets.

Many unknowns

After the flurry of seizures however, it seems the trail has run cold. A black hole of information surrounds the issue of poaching of wild owls.

Some of the culprits in the illegal trade have been penalised, however.

In the Muar case, one man was fined RM21,000 under four charges for cruelty to wildlife and illegal possession of 10 species, some protected, some totally protected and one immature protected animal.

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Wildlife ecologist Puan Chong Leong will embark on a study on owl ecology. In front of him is a stuffed specimen of a collared scops owl from 1979, part of the Museum of Zoology’s collection at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Similar charges were laid upon one man in the Yong Peng case, who was fined RM6,000, another in the Endau case, who was fined RM5,000, and yet another in the Kuantan case, who was fined RM3,000 for each charge, plus a one-month jail sentence to run concurrently.

Pahang Perhilitan director Khairiah Shariff was surprised with the first seizure as no one had heard of owl poaching before. Until now, she still has no idea where the birds came from and whether the trade has been going on, undetected.

The man arrested in Kuantan was 33, a sub-contractor and possibly a bystander. Like all the other men arrested, he would not reveal who “owned” the animals. The man arrested in the Muar case revealed that he had been collecting wildlife from locals and orang asli in Segamat and the Pahang border for the past five or six years prior to his arrest.

Barn owls formed the bulk of the seizures, making up 796 of the 917 birds confiscated in Muar. The species is commonly distributed throughout plantations across the peninsula. Other species seized included 95 spotted wood owls, 14 buffy fish owls, eight barred eagle owls, and four brown wood owls.

Could these have been taken from any of the millions of hectares of oil palm estate throughout Malaysia where, thanks to the building of nest boxes by planters to encourage the birds to breed and act as biological pest control agents, barn owls have grown in numbers?

One article published earlier this year in The Planter, a publication by the Incorporated Society of Planters, raised the possibility that barn owls might be taken directly from nest boxes or caught in nets set up across forest clearings.

However, officials at two big oil palm plantation companies, Kulim (Malaysia) Berhad and Sime Darby Plantation, say no anomalies in the number of barn owls present on their estates have been reported.

“It’s hard to say who are catching the owls,” says Shepherd. “It could be people who are working in the plantations themselves, or people employed by wildlife dealers to go after the birds. If you ask that about pangolins, or freshwater turtles or cobra, then yes they are.”

Shepherd explains how wildlife plunder generally happens all over the region: “In a rural area, there will be agents there willing to buy wild animals from you. But is this the situation with owls? We don’t know.”

It is difficult to say whether people should be worried about Malaysia’s owls, seeing little is known of them. However, Shepherd thinks if the trade is like what was seen in 2008 and 2009, and continues undetected, it can have a serious impact on wild owl populations.

“Owls are top predators, so they play a really important role. Generally they require a large territory and the habitat requirements for some species are a lot more specialised than others. And as for any species that occurs in low densities, wiping them out is much easier than those which occur in higher densities.”

Resources to investigate the trade in wild meat is now channelled to higher priority species, such as tigers and bears. So the trade in owls remain ignored.

“Very few people know about Malaysia’s owls and because of that, even fewer would care, and that should change. A lot of countries have an owl trust, or research and monitoring groups, but we don’t have that. Although there’s a growing interest in bird watching and bird conservation, it hasn’t gotten to the point where it is of benefit to the owls yet.”

Over two years have passed since the 2008 and 2009 seizures, and questions still remain. Is it still happening? Exactly how big is the industry, and was that just the tip of an iceberg? Unfortunately, it looks like we are unlikely to be receiving answers any time soon.

Related Story:
Scoping the owl