THE recent rescue of a pangolin (anteater) and a Borneon Gibbon by Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) through the help of public is a healthy sign of the growing willingness of the man in the street to do his bit in protecting endangered wildlife in the state.
While this is a heartening development of the public’s awareness of wildlife conservation, the level of enforcement by the SFC is still very poor.
The case of the pangolin is an example of the lax enforcement of the wildlife conservation unit of the corporation.
Although it is not fair to blame SFC personnel for not being aware of the particular case of the anteater being sold openly in the market, the fact that endangered animals are being sold in markets reflects a sense of impunity of the seller in breaking the law.
This is because the Swift Wildlife Action Team (SWAT) of SFC seemed to only spring into action when they received tip off from the public.
SFC should send its SWAT team to check markets regularly especially in smaller towns in the rural area to deter the sale of protected wildlife there instead of relying too much on public feedback.
Even in the middle of Kuching this law is flouted daily by those who trapped fresh water turtles or terrapins and sell them openly by the roadside.
A few years ago SFC did come down hard on those selling live turtles which are protected species in the city following complaints from the public.
However, these sellers are back in business again hanging the turtles in nets by roadside to attract sellers. It is difficult to understand why SFC or any other enforcement agencies are not aware of this illegal trade in the middle of the state capital.
Do the enforcement agencies have to be alerted by the public to spring into action?
Food shops in rural areas like Selangau often have exotic game meat in their menu which the operators discreetly offer to customers.
Obviously they would not offer them to forestry officers but why has there not been any SWAT team going under cover to nab those who sell game meat in the shops or markets.
Perhaps it is not part of their job specification or there is no will on the part of the corporation to go that extra mile. However, the key to stamping out hunting and selling of endangered species does not lie on enforcement alone but more importantly on education and awareness of the public.
To be fair to SFC or other relevant agencies catching those selling rare animals or birds is a very difficult task as they somehow would get wind of the presence of the officers and made good their escape.
Inculcating awareness on the need to conserve our disappearing wildlife is also an arduous task but something that must be kept up.
SFC should initiate awareness campaigns in schools to educate the young generation on wildlife conservation.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel in arousing a sense of responsibility among the public to play their part in protecting our wildlife as shown by the case of the rescued pangolin and gibbon.
However, the SFC rightly discouraged well meaning individuals from buying the animals to save them as this would only encourage those involved in this illegal trade.
They should immediately inform SFC if possible but unfortunately not many people know where and who to contact to alert the corporation.
SFC should display its telephone number at markets and public areas for the public to inform its officers when they witness any sale of protected animals.
More people would come forward to inform SFC or other relevant agencies if they know how.