Wildlife unit put on 24-hour standby

Burning jungle: A fire raging at the Trus Madi Forest Reserve in Keningau.

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Rescue unit has been put on a 24-hour notice for emergency cases as fires, caused by the heatwave, continue to consume huge swaths of forest reserves.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said his officers had yet to receive distress calls to rescue wildlife trapped or displaced by the fires.

“However, we are in constant contact with the Forestry Department whose rangers and firemen continue to battle fires spanning some 2,000ha at the Trus Madi forest reserve, situated between Tambunan and Keningau.

“Some pockets of fire are occurring in Binsuluk forest reserve, about 100km away, with very low wildlife population,” he said.

Dr Nathan said based on the unit’s observation, wildlife had a good chance to escape due to the vast area as the Trus Madi forest reserve covers more than 180,000ha.

He said they had taken proactive measures to prevent more forest fires, including suspending all hunting activities and freezing the issuance of licences.

“This is to prevent hunters from going into forested areas and inadvertently starting a fire,” he said, adding that all department officers were directed to be more vigilant and monitor any calls or information of displaced wildlife.

Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said they had deployed some 200 rangers and officers to battle fires in Trus Madi forest reserve.

He said their efforts were hampered by the hilly terrain and that fires were starting from one spot to another due to the extreme heat caused by El Nino.

Mannan said the use of aerial water bombing to douse the fires appeared to have minimal impact.

“We hope the Fire and Rescue Department will bring the Bombardier aircraft as it has a larger capacity to carry water,” he said.

Fires at the Binsuluk forest reserve in the west coast was under control for now, he added.

Pockets of fires due to open burning in Bongawan and Beaufort over the past three days have killed more than 20 tortoises and affected the eco-system there.

A spokesman from the Fire and Rescue Department said an operation had been launched to rescue the reptiles trapped in the rivers and swamps.

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