By James Lim
Wildlife poaching in Sabah is rampant and happening right under the Sabah Wildlife Department’s (SWD) nose. The recent open sale of bush meat in Nabawan and Keningau, is clear testament to the fact. Illegal bush meat trading is a consequence of the government’s intervention in a market with shrinking supplies but expanding demands.
The Wildlife Enactment 1998 works both ways. It offers Sporting, Commercial and Animal Kampung license permits albeit with some limitations, and in the same breath, it issues trading licenses for selling of bush meat.
I am not sure if SWD are aware that issuance of licenses is more efficient if used for monitoring of hunting activities rather than to generate revenue.
Why? Because licensing allows for rationing of wildlife or bush meat. License issuance is one way for the authorities to allocate limited resources – bush meat is a limited resource.
Offering hunting licenses with one hand and trading permits for a fee with the other hand, is quite meaningless. It does not stop or curb killing of animals whose highly priced exotic meat encourages hunting.
Will increasing the license and trading fee be a deterrent? I doubt it.
Hunting, killing is cheap
Most hunters in Sabah avoid paying for licenses as catching an exotic animal is a 50:50 probability.
As fees are required to be paid upfront, most hunters will avoid doing so. To them it is pointless paying a fee and then not snaring any valuable meat.
What is the real price and value of Sabah’s wildlife? If SWD’s ratecard is to be used as a yardstick, the wild animals – alive, dead or endangered – comes cheap.
The rate differs between sporting and commercial (trading) hunting.
The fee for sport-hunting a Sambar deer is RM100 per head and RM150 per head for commercial hunting purposes.
The fee for the Common Barking deer is RM50 (RM75 for commercial); the Greater Mouse deer is priced at RM20 per head (RM35 for commercial) and the Bearded wild boar is RM5 (RM50 for commercial).
The market price for the four species’ of meat mentioned, sold by the kilo, is based on what consumers are willing to pay.
If the license fee is not the real value of the wildlife, why are SWD still charging more for commercial hunting but less for sport hunting?
Many Sabah animals, including the deer mentioned, are gazetted in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Vulnerable list.
The real value of each wild animal species and type is determined by the numbers that still remain in the wild.
Bearded pigs are Red Listed as vulnerable by IUCN due to the rapid loss of forest habitat and high hunting pressure.
Studies show that wild boar are still in abundance especially in oil palm plantations.
IUCN list of vulnerable animals
The market price of wild boar is cheap when compared to its substitutes of feral and domestic pigs. Although the price of this meat increases during the festive season due to pork importation restrictions and not due to the dwindling numbers of the wild boar.
Most large oil palm plantation owners such Temenggong Estate in Lahad Datu, accessible from Jeroco –Litang plantations and even some smaller plantations do not value the wild boar because when there is an explosion in numbers, the wild boars become a pest.
The Sambar deer has also been Red Listed as vulnerable and close to extinction by IUCN. Studies show that these deer survive better in the Danum Valley, Tabin Wildlife Reserve and in the Deramakot Forest Reserves.
The market price of Sambar deer will continue to increase faster than the price of domesticated deer meat as more hunters enter the poaching hotspots.
Barking deer and both the Greater and Lesser Mouse deer are listed by IUCN as those of Least Concern as its population is still abundantly available in Danum Valley, Ulu Segama, Malua Biobank, Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Luasong and Karamuok.
It’s also why Barking deer and Mouse deer is the cheapest exotic food in town.
Fines not a deterrent
Reports have shown that poaching is a lucrative business even for the poor man. Most poachers caught in Sabah are poor villagers.
So what happens to offenders if they are caught? Will they be prosecuted and can they plea bargain?
Prosecuting poor people may be counterproductive when it creates fear rather than respect or trust towards SWD.
Fines are a punishment best imposed against the wealthy who are in a position to pay although it does not deter them from committing the offence again.
Rich offenders usually can get away with impunity using political connection, bribery or by simply abusing their position. In addition, convicting rich criminals is costly, they have better lawyers.
Fines are punishment for not having a license. It says nothing about how wrong it is to hunt wild life species listed in appendix II CITES such as Lutung Merah.
In which case is it really a deterrent?
James Alin is a lecturer in the School of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaysia Sabah and can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter@literati43