KOTA KINABALU: Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew has expressed sadness and disappointment over reports that 10 elephant tusks from Sabah have been confiscated by the Indonesian Customs authorities in Nunukan, Indonesia on July 9.
She lamented that this is yet another blatant smuggling case, and means that Sabah has irreversibly lost another five male elephants to unscrupulous poachers.
“This is indeed bad news to our ongoing conservation of elephants in Sabah. While we applaud the efficiency of the Indonesian Customs officials in detecting the illegal consignment and eventually detaining the perpetrator for investigation, we hope that the perpetrator will be dealt with according to the law.
“It is also our desire to see that their Malaysian counterparts at our exit point demonstrate the same efficiency as the Indonesian officials to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such smuggling in the future,” she said in a statement yesterday.
Liew, who is also Deputy Chief Minister, expressed concern that some foreign workers in Sabah are allegedly engaged in illegal activities, which are detrimental to the state’s wildlife conservation efforts.
“In this respect, we therefore urge the employers of such workers to monitor their (workers’) activities to make sure the latter do not indulge in unlawful activities,” she said.
The minister also hoped that owners of plantations facing elephant encroachment into their areas would work closely with the Sabah Wildlife Department, not only to protect their crops but also, more importantly, to safeguard the elephants from poachers.
Meanwhile, the Sabah Wildlife Department is hoping to get more details from its Indonesian counterparts on how an estate worker managed to buy 10 elephant tusks in Lahad Datu and smuggled them out of the state.
Its director, Augustine Tuuga, said they were hoping that Indonesian investigators would share any information that could lead to tracking down the suspects selling the ivory tusks in Sabah.
“We would like to get more information (on how the suspect bought it). If the Indonesian side is willing to share more information from their investigation,” he said.
The 54-year-old Indonesian estate worker was caught by Indonesian Customs officials in Nunukan (Kalimantan) while trying to smuggle back to his hometown 10 elephant tusks to use as part of their customary dowry payments in marriages.
The Timorese suspect was arrested after Customs officials spotted the tusks during a mandatory X-ray scan at the port shortly after he arrived on a passenger ferry from Sabah’s Tawau on July 9.
The man, who claimed to be working in Lahad Datu for the past 32 years, is being detained for smuggling ivory tusk that is banned worldwide. The suspect told Indonesia officials that he paid RM9,400 for the tusks.
“The ivory was not for sale (or trafficking) but was mainly bought for dowry purposes in a marriage. It is illegal under law even if it is being used for customary purposes and not trafficking,” the officer was quoted by the Indonesian media as saying.
Tuuga said looking at the pictures of the tusks, he believed that it was not from a fresh incident of elephants killed in Sabah’s east coast.
“The tusks looked old. Most likely they were buried in the soil to prevent officers from seizing them. As a result, they turned yellow,” he said.