Saving all the orangs


A LEADING world authority on orang-utans, Dr B Mary Galdikas, recently visited our Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and another at Matang. The inmates at Semenggoh are free to roam about in the virgin jungle, but those at Matang are restricted to cages, not the scene that foreign tourists would appreciate.

She was suitably impressed with the way by which we look after the welfare of our orang-utans. We feed them twice a day.

For those outside the centres, we have allocated a huge forest area in the Sebuyau/Simunjan complex for their sanctuary.

The present habitat had in fact been chosen by the Maias themselves, so to speak.

Read Afred Russel Wallace’s book ‘The Malay Archipelago’.

They need a territory of their own, but their claim overlaps with that of the humans who have established their native customary rights over their pemakai menoa there as well.

A lot of valuable timber has been extracted from the area and huge chunks of land have been leased to companies in the name of development.

There is already a rivalry between the orang-utans and the humans for scarce resources.

And there is a real danger of the natives there losing their rights or privileges over land to the orang-utans.

The burden of proof of the existence of such rights or privileges is on the native landowners, not the orangutans.

For instance, if the former cannot substantiate claims of existence of such rights or privileges, or they somehow or other miss the deadline of submitting claims over property rights and privileges under the provisions of Part 111 of the Wildlife Ordinance, 1998, they will be dispossessed.

In other words, if you do not stake a claim or assert your rights or privileges over your land within the specified period (60 days) after a notification has been given, those or privileges thereon shall be deemed to have been abandoned or waived.

At the end of the day, and in this sense, the Maias will be better off than you, mate. Galdakis was surprised to learn that we don’t eat the meat of the orang-utans.

In Sarawak, cases of some people killing the female orang-utans are not unknown; it’s their babies that are for sale or for pets. That’s now banned.

The famous naturalist Wallace, while in Sarawak from November 1854 to January 1856, spent three solid months in the Simunjan side of the orang-utan’s country, slaughtering at least a dozen various sizes and ages of the primates for their skins and skeletons for display in the British Museum and Derby Museum.

Saving the crocodiles

Many of our rivers, Batang Lupar and its tributaries and some rivers in the Betong Division, are infested with those reptiles; some are not man-eating, others are not so kind.

Every time some unfortunate soul is taken by a croc, the wildlife people would spring to their feet to warn the relatives and friends of the victim not to take revenge on the suspect without the permission from the authorities.

In the past they would allow the relatives to avenge the death if any one could identify the suspect before permission was given. Even then, only the guilty one was to be hunted and no other.

In 1990, a villager at Semulong above Banting was killed by a croc. Name of suspect unknown. The villagers had assembled a squad to do battle but the officials from the Forest Department restrained them and the campaign was called off.

Sometime last year, the inhabitants at Bako rose in arms against the crocs after one of the villagers became a victim. Permission to hunt the killer or suspects was given promptly.

Saving the Orangsungais too

The orang-utans and the crocodiles are safe and sound, their existence being guaranteed under the law (Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1998).

However, there is another species that needs protection too — the Homo sapiens — from the crocs. For want of a better term, I call them Orangsungais.

They live by the rivers infested by the man and woman-eating reptiles and are in fear for their lives every moment of the day.

Ask those at Langkang or Banting or those at Bako and they will tell you that the rivers serving as their highway and sources of food are no longer friendly.

Has any law been enacted specifically to protect the riparian rights of these Orangsungais from the crocs like the Aussies from the Dingos, the wild dogs?

Competing for scarce resources

In these rivers, the crocs compete with humans for shrimps. How is it fair one group is protected from the other and not vice-versa?

In the earmarked wildlife sanctuary in the Sebuyau/ Simunjan, both the orangutans and the humans there need the jungle for sources of livelihood. Against them are the private companies who go for the swamp for timber, followed by the oil palm planting.

In danger of losing their land and limbs too

Along those rivers referred to here, the people are in fear of losing their lives and limbs to the privileged crocs, and, those in the orang-utan sanctuary, of losing their land rights to the animals, sources from our jungle telegraph report.

Family planning for the crocs?

I suggest we cull those crocodiles; catch as many of the adults and sell their hides.

I’m guessing: there are too many of them around. They are thriving in Samunsam; other rivers can afford to be without them.

Give the Orangsungai the exclusive rights to shoot or alir them. Alir, the art of catching crocodiles alive, should be studied because we are losing this branch of knowledge now, which one of the famous experts Tuai Rumah Nyaleh Nandi of Temelan, Lundu, has passed on.

I’m told that a couple of expert catchers are still alive in Sanggau. The wildlife office keeps a list of local Pak Awangs. They are on call.

There is money under those skins. The meat is also saleable and edible. It is an acquired taste but full of protein, I’m informed. At King’s Centre in Kuching, their meat was cooked in the slow crock-pot for the discerning diners. No longer available, I discovered recently; in short supply, maybe.

The cocks are also protected

We have another ordinance to protect the fighting cocks. It’s the anti-cruelty to animals law, the arch enemy of the cock fighting fraternity. However, the members of the Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (SSPCA) would defend its retention with all the forces at their disposal. Cock fighting is allowed if it has something to do with the Gawai Dayak or any gawai as defined by the issuing authority. At any other time, it’s illegal.

The rationale of the legislation is to prevent cruelty to the fighting cocks as they are deemed to be animals.

Another reason for the regulation is to prevent gambling.

In this case, however, we are not being consistent. We allow the casinos and the gambling outlets to operate and make money, some of which is meant for the treasury, local or national.

If money is the bottom line, the ardent cock fighters cannot see the logic for the discrimination.

They ask, “Why can’t the government regulate cock fighting and collect funds for the local authorities?” Many district councils in Sarawak need a lot of money for their projects. And this would be a rich source of revenue for those cash starved councils.

Be prepared to face the wrath of the animal lovers. It would be fun to see the animal rights group parading with their chickens, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, and dogs of all pedigrees.

Such a procession would be noisy if the Terriers are allowed to speak their minds.

Single resolution

As several of this year’s resolutions have yet to be implemented, there will be only one for next: save all orangs — utan and sungai — from deprivation of rights to land, life and limb.