KOTA KINABALU: Sabah's special wildlife enforcement team Protect remains committed to catching poachers despite huge challenges in covering Sabah’s spread out terrains.
Sabah Forestry Department's Chief Conservator of Forests Frederick Kugan said while the 200-member team has had its successes in nabbing wildlife criminals, the task was no less daunting.
"It is undeniable that our rangers have put the pressure on poachers and illegal loggers, ” Kugan said, adding that the Protect team consisted of 50 forest rangers, of which 25 members were funded by Yayasan Sime Darby under its special two-year RM4mil grant to help combat wildlife crimes in Sabah.
“The recent killing of a male elephant in Tongod shows that the task of protecting our wildlife against unscrupulous poachers is extremely challenging.
"We aim to further intensify our efforts in identified areas, working closely together with our partners. The department is fully committed to put every effort in protecting our forest resources and in tackling poaching and wildlife crimes, ” Kugan said in statement Friday (Jan 29).
The statement comes following the Jan 22 discovery of a jumbo elephant that was butchered into several pieces at the border of a plantation.
Sabah has already lost three endangered Bornean pygmy elephants to poachers since the start of the new year.
Kugan, however, said that Protect has done significantly well so far and made 68 arrests in connection with forest crimes, wildlife trafficking and poaching through some 200 enforcement operations over 12 months last year.
He said the team carried out operations at forest reserves, protected areas and public roads despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Those arrested were handed over to the police and Sabah Wildlife Department for various offences under the law.
These cases included arrest and prosecution of two suspects detained in Tawau for possession of elephant tusks in January last year as well the seizure of RM3.1mil worth of forest produce from various illegal activities, he said.
However, he said they were unable to cover the whole state and have permanent presence in every forest reserve or protected area due to limited resources.
Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens, whose organisation is a project partner with the Protect initiative, said that the challenge of fighting poaching and wildlife trade was immense and cannot be easily solved in a few months.
"It requires massive resources to enable intensive ground presence and intelligence gathering by enforcement bodies such as Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department, police and others.
“Equally important is the participation and awareness of these crimes from the public. We all understand and acknowledge the importance of wildlife for Sabah and it is through everyone’s combined effort that we can fight wildlife crimes," he said, adding that they appreciated the commitment of the Protect team.
“With full commitment and proper financial support from the state government and other agencies, I am confident that we will be able to win this fight. And we are all hopeful that when the pandemic situation improves, we will be ready to welcome tourists again to appreciate what Sabah has to offer, ” Goossens added.