Monday, March 14, 2011

Pagar Makan Padi

I have seen with my own eyes during an expedition into the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve. The army personnels shoot to kill anything with refective eyes at night. In that incident, the eyes of the poor deer was smashed. Blood ozing like hell. The custodians were supposed to keep the forest intact but theirs were that of "Pagar makan padi"....

When silence is not golden
Monday, 14 March 2011
By Azrina Abdullah, The Sun

THE end of February did not end well for Malaysia’s conservation efforts. Two non-governmental organisations filed police reports over a photo taken of four soldiers holding a majestic hornbill by the wings, with its throat slit. The picture was posted on Facebook with inappropriate captions along the lines of "sedap oooooo" (delicious oooooo). Hornbills are protected in Peninsular Malaysia under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

This news relates to a study conducted by myself and two co-authors, Or Oi Ching and Kamal Solhaimi Fadzil, and published by Universiti Malaya. The study assessed the extent of wildlife trade by orang asli living in the Belum-Temengor Complex in Perak, a gazetted protected area. Orang asli communities living within the 50km radius of the complex were interviewed in 2010 to document their traditional hunting activities and issues affecting their dependency on the surrounding forests.

The survey revealed a not so surprising dependency of orang asli on the forest as an important source of livelihood which remained high despite the degradation of surrounding forests. However, and more importantly, the problem of encroachment, particularly by armed encroachers (both local and foreign), has increased over the past decade. This has affected the livelihood and safety of orang asli communities living in the complex.

The respondents identified parties who they believe are responsible for the overexploitation of forest resources, and nearly 30% stated that outsiders (mainly Cambodians and Thais), Malays from surrounding villages and soldiers are the main perpetrators. Therefore, it is not surprising that 42% of the respondents do not report any suspicious activities to the authorities because they believe that action will not be taken particularly as the enforcement authorities themselves are believed to be involved in poaching activities.

If the recent allegations against the soldiers are confirmed, this finding is something which the government should take seriously. The Defence Ministry has so far kept silent over the police reports and this is sending the wrong message to public about the government’s commitment to conservation. A message needs to be sent that such acts are not to be tolerated. It is a more serious crime when wildlife is killed illegally by those who have responsibility for protecting them and have taken advantage of their position.

As with any other country, Malaysia has inadequate resources allocated for effective wildlife enforcement. It is not a unique problem. But if enforcement officers cannot be trusted, then I despair about the state of our environment. The wildlife in Belum-Temengor will not have much hope of survival if this situation continues. Instead, what is happening in Belum is, on one hand enforcement officers allegedly exploiting precious resources illegally and on the other (based on media reports), parties that are more interested in saving wildlife that are not indigenous to the area. Both situations do not make efforts to save the native wildlife living in the 130-million-year-old forest complex any easier. Where has all the common sense gone?

Azrina Abdullah is conducting research on the links between indigenous groups and wildlife trade. She was regional director of Traffic, an NGO which monitors the global wildlife trade.

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