Saturday, July 20

Silver lining in cloud of Faridah’s death


THE death of Faridah, the hornbill, in Miri last week exposed the worst and the best of Sarawakians.

The despicable attempt by three young men to capture the matriarch among the flock of hornbills at Piasau Garden which resulted in her death, showed the sad callousness of some among us towards the conservation of wildlife in the state.

Faridah was the darling of birdwatchers and nature lovers in Miri. She and her mate had produced more than 50 fledglings although only four of her offspring are regularly seen in the garden.

Like Faridah, her family had become so familiar with regular visitors to the area the latter also gave each one of them a name.

However, there is a silver lining in the dark cloud that hung over Miri following Faridah’s tragic end.

The revulsion and anger that followed not only in Miri but also throughout the state showed that many Sarawakians care about the conservation of wildlife and Nature.

In fact, Faridah, in her death, did more to raise the awareness of Nature conservation than the many campaigns that were launched and petered out in the past.

Sarawak Forest Corporation (SFC), Malaysian Nature Society and other relevant bodies should build on this outpouring of grief and angst among the people to organise campaigns and awareness programmes on conserving our wildlife and Nature.

There is certainly a need to promote Nature conservation in the state as the three men who killed Faridah sadly typify the ‘ugly’ Sarawakian attitude towards protecting wildlife.

It is naïve to believe that they or those who hunt protected animals and sell their meat or eggs, are not aware of the laws against such a practice or of the need to save our rare wildlife from extinction.

They, like thieves and robbers, know full well what they did is against the law. They are also fully aware of consequences of their actions.

There are still restaurants, especially those located out of town, selling meat and eggs of protected species.

About a year ago, I came across a coffeeshop in Selangau, offering bear, flying fox, porcupine and snake meats to customers. The operators, were, of course, not so foolish as to display those dishes in the menu.

They would discreetly ask if you wanted to try some exotic meats and would usually be visibly disappointed if you declined and opted for chicken.

These dishes usually cost a bomb and the restaurant made more money from them.

They say it takes two to tango but in the trade of protected species cuisine, it takes three.

First, there is the hunter who kills the animals, then there is the restaurant owner who buys the meats and the unholy triangle is completed by the customer who orders the dishes.

All three are fully aware they are breaking the law but have no qualms about their actions.

Their disregard for the law stems from knowing that the chances of them getting caught and charged in court are minimal.

Although I feel the Forestry Department enforcement should do a better job in enforcing the law, I also accept that theirs is an extremely difficult task.

It is next to impossible to stop hunters going into the jungle or check their kill when they come out.

However, they could improve their surveillance on the selling outlets and carry out more raids on these places.

I find it inconceivable that while so many people know where to find flying fox, pangolin or snake meats, the enforcement unit of the Forest Department do not.

I remember there used to be a small restaurant along the old Kuching-Serian Road near the former Dragon Secondary School which specialised in cooking game meat.

It operated for years until it closed down – perhaps due to difficulty in getting supply.

It is such a situation which encouraged and emboldened people to flout the law prohibiting the hunting of protected species.

I believe the three men who captured Faridah must have thought they could get away with their dastardly act.

They certainly did not expect the kind of outpouring of public outrage that spurred  the Forestry Department and police to take swift action.

But the death of Faridah is an exceptional case – it was an iconic bird at a public park.

Sadly, there are pangolins, other hornbills, wild boars and protected species being killed in our jungles without anyone raising a fuss.

Let us hope Faridah’s death will raise the awareness of this depletion of our wildlife.

As we strive towards a first world economy, we must also strive to attain a first world attitude towards Nature.

A first world economy does not jive with a third world mentality.