KOTA KINABALU: Urgency over the future of the Sunda pangolin has prompted the setting up of the Sabah Pangolin Conservation Working Group, which is looking at several immediate steps including preparing a Cabinet paper to propose that the species be listed as Totally Protected under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
The nocturnal animal is currently listed in Part One of Schedule Two, which means that it can be hunted with a licence, and upgrading its status to Schedule One will accord it full protection.
Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said participants at a recent workshop to discuss the fate of pangolins had unanimously agreed that the matter has to be brought to the attention of the State Cabinet, and that the animal must be accorded full protection, given rampant poaching.
“Under its current listing, a hunting licence can be issued to hunt pangolins. Although no hunting licence has ever been issued, we are aware based on our own reports and those acquired from other parties that pangolins are poached.
“The newly formed Working Group’s suggestion to elevate the status of the pangolin to that of a Totally Protected species will hopefully deter poachers. Maybe some are unaware of legislation to protect certain species, and we hope that if this Cabinet paper goes through, poachers will stop their activities,” he said.
The Working Group was set up at the end of a day long workshop involving the relevant government agencies, NGOs, research organisations and an oil palm company. The inaugural workshop held on August 21 was jointly organised by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre, with funding from Lush Cosmetics.
Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) director Dr Benoit Goossens said other next steps include starting an awareness campaign, apart from working closely with the soon to be established Wildlife Enforcement Unit, a joint initiative between DGFC and the Department.
“The long term goal which covers a period of between two to five years would be to decrease poaching and trade of pangolins, increase ecological and population studies and to look at the possibility of setting up a sanctuary to rehabilitate pangolins.
“The workshop we organised was much needed, and we agreed that we also need to learn more about pangolins in Sabah. Based on current information, the biggest threat comes from illegal hunting for the international trade, and another would be threat from habitat loss and fragmentation – but more research and data is needed,” he said in a Press release jointly issued with the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Goossens pointed out that according to a 2010 report by wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC, some 22,200 pangolins were killed between May 2007 and January 2009 to supply one syndicate, with most coming from the districts of Keningau, Kota Belud, Kota Marudu and Ranau.
“As a biologist, I find it hard to believe so many pangolins were killed in Sabah over less than two years. Pangolins must be coming from other places, with Sabah serving as a place for the animal to transit before being further distributed,” he said.
He said several workshop participants reported that there seemed to be less pangolins in plantations nowadays compared to five years ago, based on their observation as part of their regular wildlife monitoring work.
Pangolins are found over much of mainland Southeast Asia, from southern Myanmar through central and southern Lao, much of Thailand, central and southern Vietnam, Cambodia, to Peninsular Malaysia, to Sumatra, Java and adjacent islands (Indonesia) to Borneo.
There is scant population data due to lack of studies and the elusive nature of this nocturnal animal, but there are indications that Sunda pangolin numbers may have declined by as much as 80 per cent in the last two decades.
Due to rampant poaching, the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN) had in July this year upgraded the Sunda pangolin to Critically Endangered, the worst listing on the Red List before a species is declared extinct.