Conservationists push for full protection of pangolins after record eight-tonne seizure
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KOTA KINABALU, Aug 12 — The shocking seizure of eight tonnes — that’s 8,000kg — of pangolin scales in Sabah meant for the Chinese market has proven the need to expedite the upgrading of the pangolin’s protected status in Sabah.
Conservationists who were shocked and dismayed by the latest haul said that the rising number of wildlife trafficking and poaching involving Sabah is putting its declining population at a higher risk.
They said its status must be upgraded from Schedule 2 to Schedule 1 where it will be fully protected under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
Danau Girang Field Centre director Benoit Goossens said the haul was a tragedy for the species, and that it will go extinct within five years at the same rate unless serious action is taken to deter poachers and smugglers.
“It is a real shame that the Sunda pangolin has not been upgraded to Totally Protected Species in Sabah yet. We need to make it clear to the traders that Sabah is serious in fighting against smuggling wildlife parts and that they can be put to jail for such offenses,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Sabah pangolin expert Elisa Panjang said that it was now more urgent than ever to protect the pangolins in Sabah.
“We have provided and presented concrete evidence in support of the move and our minister has been highly supportive,” she said.
Under Schedule 2, any hunting or possession of a protected species without a licence is punishable by a fine up to RM50,000 or jail for five years or both. Under Schedule 1, the same offence carries a minimum six 6 month to a maximum five year jail term.
“The mandatory jail term makes a difference to persecution. Pangolin offenders in Sabah are fined not jailed. And because there is no minimum fine in Schedule 2, the offender can be fine just RM1.
“It is a psychological warning to poachers not to hunt pangolin and telling the world especially tourists that our pangolins are fully protected,” she said when contacted by Malay Mail Online.
Panjang added that it will also be a good deterrent for Sabah’s indigenous community who possess hunting privileges under native customary law sometimes misuse the licence to hunt for subsistence for profit.
“It used to be that pangolin meat was consumed by native families, 30 to 50 years ago, but over the years the need had reduced but high demand and profit in the international black market has caused them to sell the pangolins,” said Panjang who has done surveys on the local ecology and community.
“I’m happy to see offenders jailed for six months rather than just fined RM 25,000 or whatever,” she said.
The move to upgrade the pangolin’s status has been in the offing for a few years with State Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun in support of it.
Under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, Sabah’s Sunda pangolins are on the critically endangered list. Pangolins are also the world’s most trafficked mammal, having millions decimated in the last decade.
There is a movement to push for the upgrade with an online petition on change.org started by “Friends of Borneo” with some 2,000 signatures.
Sabah Wildlife Director Augustine Tuuga, when contacted said that the move was in progress, and they were currently amending the draft to be submitted to the state Cabinet.
“We will upgrade soon. Hopefully before the end of the year,” he said.
There has been a spate of seizures of pangolins in Malaysia in the last few months between 300 to 700kg of pangolin scales believed to be from Africa meant for Asian markets where they are particularly in demand in China and Vietnam. Pangolin’s meat is a prized delicacy and their scales are touted to have medicinal properties.
The latest haul in Sabah on July 29 was from two containers destined for China, filled with 226 sacks of pangolin scales, weighing a total of 8,000kg. The authorities the scales were harvested from some 16,000 pangolins. Authorities also arrested a 43-year-old local man to assist in investigations.
Friends of Sea Turtles Education and Research group Alexander Yee said that the survival of the species was at stake and urged the public to be the eyes and ears of the authorities in order to stop the trade of the mammals.
“We need a more comprehensive action plan which can prevent the crime from happening to begin with. While it’s good to catch the culprit now, the pangolins are dead. Public need to work together to be the authorities ears and eyes. Perhaps we should set up hotlines and give monetary rewards,” he said.