THE case of the missing teeth of the whale shark skeleton on display at Sarawak Museum may raise a few chuckles, but it is no laughing matter.
The theft is not some tomfoolery of bored vandals out to create mischief – more likely it was the work of souvenir hunters or thieves masquerading as visitors.
Whatever the reasons behind this dastardly act, the shark’s missing teeth should ring alarm bells that all is not well in the museum. Some time ago, there was a report of a brass cannon stolen from the museum which, until now, has yet to be recovered.
If thieves could walk into the museum and extract the teeth of the whale sharks, one would wonder how many other exhibits have been stolen.
Museums have always been a target of thieves as they offer rich pickings of antiques and artefacts, many of which are invaluable.
Security has always been strict at museums, but it seems the one in Sarawak Museum is inadequate.
The fact that a Sarawak Museum official has admitted that the museum is in the process of installing more closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and increasing security personnel shows that there is a need to improve the surveillance of the building.
It is understandable that in the past, such needs might not be as urgent as there were hardly any cases of exhibits being stolen.
However, society is changing and now conceivable public items of any value like copper wires and manhole covers are fair game for thieves. Antiques and artefacts on public display fetch far better prices and it comes as no surprise that thieves are now turning their attention to Sarawak Museum.
Assistant Minister of Culture and Heritage Liwan Lagang was outraged by the thefts and threatened strict action against anyone caught stealing from the museum. While we share his anger, we also feel the impotence of his warning of meting out severe punishments to those caught stealing in the museum.
Thieves are never deterred by warnings and threats of punishment as they are already aware of the consequence of their crimes and are prepared to take the risk. There is no time to point fingers at anyone or issue warnings – something has to be done, and done quickly to address this growing problem.
The disclosure by the museum official that the management is in the process of increasing security personnel and installing more CCTVs in the buildings is reassuring; but how long will it take to implement this exercise?
Hopefully the process of recruiting more security personnel and installing CCTVs in the museum could be fast-tracked and not be bogged down by red tape.
A worrying question is how many exhibits in the museum have been stolen?
The Sarawak Museum was once acknowledged as the best in the region; but one wonders if it has been able to maintain that status over the years. An audit should be done on the artefacts on display now to ascertain the damage wreaked by thieves.
We must not mark preserving our heritage through museums down on the priority list, as a society which loses its history is destined to lose its direction going forward. As the old maxim goes: “If you do not know where you come from, you will not know where you are going.”