By James Alin
The year 2013 will go down in history as an annus horribilis. The gruesome death of 14 Borneo pygmy elephants (near Gunung Lara Forest Reserves) will not be easily forgotten nor can the killers be forgiven.
It was a horrible year; bush meat was sold in broad daylight while poachers were flouting the laws.
Bush meat markets
During an operation on December 11, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), arrested three sellers and confiscated 145kg of sambar deer meat and 15kg of barking deer meat which were being sold at a "tamu" without valid permits.
Trade of wildlife meat occurred in Nabawan as well as in Keningau where the SWD office is located and it has been going on for quite sometime.
The credit for the tip-off should go to the bloggers (http://tengoktvonline.blogspot.com/2013/12/keunikan-pasar-tamu-di-sabah.html) who uploaded the pictures.
Wildlife meat trading in Nabawan is just the tip of the iceberg. What were SWD enforcement officers doing all this while?
Why was the arrest of small-time offenders given so much media publicity?
It appears that our politicians, bureaucrats and Danum Girang Field Centre were competing for public attention.
Sabah's Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun was talking tough when he warned: “The war on illegal wildlife trade and poaching has just begun, so hunters and poachers in Sabah be warned that there will be no compromise as we will be prosecuting and we will charge them to the highest extent of the law. Be ready to go to jail”.
The bureaucrats were talking big too. SWD director Laurentius Ambu said: “SWD will be increasing regular surveillance on all districts in Sabah for illegal poaching and trading by beefing up its wildlife enforcement capabilities and efficiency by setting up a separate unit."
On December 20, nine days after the Nabawan raid, yet another case of poaching was exposed.
Senior Programme Manager for WWF and three SWD honorary wardens were patrolling near Benta Wawasan Tawau (palm oil plantation wholly owned by Innoprise Corporation, Yayasan Sabah) when they stopped a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a cooler box containing two Palanok (greater mouse deer) carcasses and one Lutung merah (maroon or red leaf monkey/langur) carcass and six Bekakuk (homemade guns).
The patrol team was told by two men wearing military fatigues that they went hunting to get some meat (pusas) for Christmas and that they were waiting for three other people who were still in the jungle.
The hunters spoke Murut among themselves; they bragged to the patrol team that they went hunting with “permission” from a high-ranking law enforcer in Sandakan.
Even after being threatened, the WWF senior manager and wardens insisted that the carcasses should be surrendered to SWD in Tawau.
The patrol team lodged a police report but no action was taken against the armed hunters.
Poaching is rampant
Poaching is still rampant, right under the SWD's nose. Illegal bush meat trading is the unintended consequences of government intervention in a market with shrinking supply but expanding demand.
The Wildlife Enactment 1998 is a primary example where the coercive power of the law has reduced the supply for bush meat.
It works both ways, the permissions for sporting, commercial and animal kampung licences are granted with temporal and spatial limitations. Another is the trading licence for selling bush meat.
Not sure if SWD is aware of the fact that licensing is more efficient if it is used for monitoring hunting activities rather than to generate revenue.
This is because what licensing actually does is, it rations wildlife or bush meat, it is a means to an end, one of the ways used by the authorities to allocate limited resources.
In this case, licensing on hunting and trading of wild animal meat is like throwing sand in the wheels. The end market result of substantial reduction in supply is the vicious cycle of ever increasing price of exotic meat that encourages more hunting.
Licensing will never generate substantial revenue, mainly because hunters can and will evade it. Furthermore, the fees have always been less than the real value of the wildlife.
What then is a real price and value of wildlife died – or alive, endangered or otherwise?
The licensing fee for sport hunting a sambar deer is RM100 per head (RM150 for commercial); common barking deer is RM50 (RM75 for commercial); greater mouse deer is RM20 per head (RM35 for commercial) and bearded wild boar RM5 (RM50 for commercial).
The market price for these four species is the price per kg a consumer is willing to pay at the illegal market place.
The fees, however, must be paid before going on a hunt, if the chance of catching an animal is less than 50-50, then it is only rational for hunters to evade getting a licence and having to pay the fees.
Again, if the fee for licences is not the real value of wildlife, why is SWD still charging more for a commercial hunting licence but less for sport and animal kampung?
The real value of these species is determined by the remaining wild population. Bearded pigs are red listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to the rapid loss of its forest habitat and high hunting pressure.
Studies by Bennett L.Elizabeth et al (2000) and A.A.Tuen et al (2002) in the Crocker Range Park and Sunda Bearded Pig Specialist Group shows that wild boars are still in abundance, especially in oil palm plantations and areas with Muslim population.
The market prices of wild boars are not that high as compared with its close substitutes – the feral and domesticated pigs.
The higher price during festive seasons is due to the restriction on pork importation rather than dwindling population.
Most oil palm plantation owners, whether big or small, do not value the wild boar; when there is a population explosion, wild boars become a pest.
Sambar deer is also red listed as vulnerable to extinction by IUCN, studies shows some population survived in Danum Valley (Heydon, 1994), in Tabin Wildlife Reserve (Matsubayashi and Sukor, 2005) and in Deramakot Forest Reserves (Matsubayashi et al, 2007).
The market price of sambar deer will continue to increase faster than the price of meat from domesticated deer as more hunters enter poaching hotspots.
The barking deer and both the greater and lesser mousedeer are listed by IUCN as least concern; they are still in superabundance in Danum Valley, Ulu Segama, Malua Biobank, Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Luasong and Karamuok.
That is why the barking deer and mousedeer are the cheapest exotic food in town. More....