The continuous emergence of wildlife news in the media warrants serious attention from the government and the relevant authorities. Malaysian wildlife faces a desperate fight for survival into the future and without urgent intervention, many of our country’s endangered species will soon be wiped out.
They are being driven to extinction by many factors including habitat loss, hunting and poaching, population expansion, expansion of oil palm plantations, logging and opening up of forested areas for agricultural produce, dams and highways and above all, the flourishing illegal wildlife trade.
Conservation NGOs have repeatedly warned that all these destructive activities have taken a serious toll on our wildlife yet little has been done in addressing the critical situation.
Elephants are seriously endangered because of endless human encroachment into their habitats. Once rampages occur in a village they are characterised as rogue elephants for intrusion into human space, when rightfully, the land was originally theirs. Others on the list are Sumatran serows, Sumatran rhinos, tigers, tapirs, and many others numbering only in the hundreds.
In the case of villagers, farms and plantations closing in on wild habitats, wildlife is always the losers. This brings to mind the 10 pygmy elephants found dead in Tawau in January 2013. Signs showed that they were poisoned but the mystery remains until today despite Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) writing for answers.
Oil palm plantations are a major threat to the orang utans’ survival in Sabah as they eat into the primate’s habitats leaving small patches of forests. Orang utans are often killed, the latest incident taking place in July this year - 2015.
Consumption of exotic meats are still common with varieties of bush meat ranging from wild boars to sambar deer and barking deer are widely sold in farmers markets in Nabawan, in the interior of Sabah despite the state’s all out war against illegal trade and wildlife poaching.
Recently attention was focused on a minister for eating turtle eggs, claiming ignorance for failure of the law. In peninsular Malaysia, tigers, pangolins, turtles, tortoises, sun bears, rhinos, deer, and even serows, are hunted for their meat and body parts and sold in restaurants away from public knowledge.
Rapid development enveloping the whole country is forcing wild animals out of their natural habitat, with many wandering into housing estates or villages, town centre and business premises. They are either considered as nuisance or pests. In the case of endangered species they will be relocated. If they are not protected they will either be killed or culled, or caught and eaten. The long tailed macaques are victims of urbanisation, so are the leopard cats, tigers and many others.
Roads and highways cutting through forests has resulted in many wildlife species ending up as victims of motorised vehicles. Tapirs and other smaller wildlife species are common roadkill casualties.
The escalation in loss of natural wildlife habitats threatens the very existence of our many endangered wildlife species. Affected too will be the animals’ food sources, their dietary requirements as in the case of salt licks, the carrying capacity of a species and pocketed forests leading to survival crisis.
The problem is not only confined to Malaysia alone but is happening throughout Asean member countries. The key priority to be addressed is whether there is some form of policy with a clear description of what actions will be taken and by whom, as well as firm commitments to ensure it can be implemented effectively.
SAM has repeatedly emphasised the need for wildlife conservation to be included in all development plans but that does not seem to be the case. The biggest challenge is to ensure development does not jeopardise the efforts in wildlife conservation. In which case we need to know whether there are clear policies, wise planning and scientific advice from experts to ensure human and wildlife can co-exist and live conflict free.
It is about time the Natural Resource and Environment Ministry take a real hard look at the wildlife situation in our country and come out with outlines, methods and principles to achieve its directive of maintaining the sustainability of the remaining forests and its wildlife.
SM MOHAMED IDRIS is president, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).