By Ruben Sario
KOTA KINABALU: Stern action is needed to curb the rampant poaching in Sabah’s nature reserves, declared the Sabah Forestry Department.
Its director Datuk Sam Mannan said his department hoped to tighten access into forest reserves by March to prevent the entry of poachers.
“By then, we hope the relevant provisions in the state Forestry Enactment are gazetted,” he said, adding that anyone wishing to enter any forest reserve would be required to obtain a permit from the District Forest Officer (DFO).
“At the moment, Sabah is the only state where anyone can enter a forest reserve at will. It’s a free-for-all.”
This had resulted in widespread poaching at key conservation areas such as the Ulu Segama-Malua Forest Reserves, the Danum Valley and the buffer zones surrounding the Maliau Basin.
“Poaching is now not for self-consumption, but to feed the lucrative illicit trade in animals, including export,” said Mannan, adding that deer, wild buffalo and the Bornean rhinoceros were some of the popular targets.
“Poachers have been hunting our rhinos for the past 50 years to the point of near extinction,” he said, adding that the poachers, typically-armed, would also threaten guards at the various checkpoints.
According to Mannan, in a recent incident, someone fired at a checkpoint with a shotgun, while in 2009, a DFO was injured by suspected poachers at the Ulu Segama-Malua Forestry Base Camp.
“Although our personnel are given licensed firearms for self-protection, they are reluctant to use them against poachers,” said Mannan.
He added that his personnel would refrain from getting in a firefight so as to not escalate the situation.
Sometimes, the department was able to nab poachers with police assistance, though Mannan said it was unreasonable to expect the police to provide assistance at all hours and places.
He said poachers considered forest reserves their personal fiefdom, and some had even gone to the extent of donning military fatigues to intimidate forestry personnel.
“They are harming the good name of our security forces, and evidence has been handed over to the authorities,” he added.