KOTA KINABALU: With the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF), training in biosafety could not have come at a more opportune time for local enforcement personnel, said Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) enforcement chief Mohd Soffian Abu Bakar.
The training, which was attended by personnel from various agencies, was conducted by SWD, Wildlife Forensics Network TRACE and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).
"It's very good timing in view of the continuing cases of illegal wildlife trade and trafficking along with the ASF outbreak.
"It is important for our frontline officers to know how to protect themselves and the rest of the community from infectious pathogens, ” Mohd Soffian said on Thursday (March 11).
The biosafety guideline training focused on 25 members of the Wildlife Crimes Inter-agency Working Group, comprising personnel from state departments, law enforcement agencies and NGOs.
The training included identification of biohazard risks and mitigation measures, such as the proper use of personal protective equipment and decontamination procedures.
It also included wildlife DNA forensics procedures and discussions on current needs in Sabah.
The three-day training, which concluded earlier this week, was the fourth in a series of programmes funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).
As part of the same INL programme, TRACE - along with wildlife trade specialist NGO TRAFFIC and DGFC - has been working towards setting up a Forensic Unit within the SWD’s Wildlife Health, Genetic and Forensic Laboratory.
TRACE director Dr Ross McEwing said it was important for the newly-formed forensic unit and the enforcement agencies to understand each other’s needs and capacities.
"TRACE has been working in Malaysia, and other parts of Asia and Africa, to develop skills and infrastructure required to meet enforcement needs.
"This forum will be the basis to develop targeted training programmes for Sabah’s situation in wildlife DNA forensics, and potentially in other methods of wildlife forensics, ” he added.
Poaching, hunting, illegal killing and illegal trade are significant threats to the many endangered species in Sabah.
The state government has put in place 10-year action plans for the conservation of endangered Bornean banteng, Sunda clouded leopard and the proboscis monkey.
The plans specifically address the need to increase the capacities of wildlife law enforcement, government agencies and key partners in conservation with specific training for enforcement officers, crime analysts, investigators and intelligence gatherers, and a certified forensic technician at the laboratory.
INL project coordinator Dr Milena Salgado Lynn, who is DGFC's scientific adviser, said they been working closely with SWD and the state Forestry Department to implement the action plans.
Other agencies involved in the multidisciplinary teams working towards conservation and wildlife protection include the police, Customs Department, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Sabah Fisheries Department, Sarawak Forestry Corporation and WWF.
“We hope that at the end of the project period, 25 officers from Sabah, Sarawak, and Peninsular Malaysia will have gained additional, relevant and updated knowledge on crime analyses, crime scene investigation, and wildlife forensics to continue their efforts against wildlife trafficking and illegal trade”, she added.
The INL has provided almost RM4mil in funding towards the enforcement and forensic programme, which has been running since October 2019.
TAGS: conservation, Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre, TRACE, biosafety, enforcement, wildlife DNA forensics