KOTA KINABALU: Three rapid response teams (RRTs) are now fully trained to further combat wildlife crime in Sabah.
Set up by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), the teams comprise 16 rangers and a commander recruited from various districts including Semporna, Ranau, Lahad Datu, Kinabatangan and Tenom.
The creation of the teams came about following an RM3.8mil allocation from Yayasan Sime Darby, with an additional RM250,000 from the Finance Ministry that was granted last year.
They are trained to respond to alerts received in real time, perform ad hoc operations and support the development of any investigations as part of conservation efforts outlined under the Sabah state action plan for Bornean banteng, Sunda clouded leopard, proboscis monkey and the Bornean elephant, among others.
DGFC director Prof Benoit Goossens said setting up the teams was also in line with other commitments put in place for the conservation of wildlife under the state action plan launched in 2019 and 2020.
“We started in 2020 with the creation of an intelligence unit and a forensic unit for the SWD, funded by the US Department of State.
“Now, the idea of the RRT is to increase the capacity and effectiveness of SWD in rapidly responding to wildlife poaching, trafficking and illegal wildlife trade in Sabah.
“The emphasis will be on tackling online-related modus operandi and in protecting key areas in Sabah such as the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
“The responses will be primarily dictated by the crime analytical products developed by SWD’s intelligence unit and by other monitoring systems,” added Prof Goossens.
SWD director Augustine Tuuga said they hired a commander and an assistant commander and held a two-day selection course in Ranau for 39 Sabahans, of which 19 were picked for intensive training at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve late last year.
The training included several modules on honorary wildlife warden, first aid and forest rescue, tree climbing, self-defence/ combative fight and counter-poaching operations.
He said 15 rangers were hired by SWD, with 12 having started to patrol in and around the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and three based in Kota Kinabalu to support the intelligence unit and respond to wildlife crime offences.
“Six of the rangers based in Tabin will be moved to the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary,” Tuuga said.
Yayasan Sime Darby chief executive officer Dr Yatela Zainal Abidin said they were working with SWD and DGFC to combat wildlife poaching and trafficking.
The formation of the RRTs would put additional boots on the ground for improved intelligence and response activities, said Yatela.
“With the imminent increase in poaching and wildlife trafficking, our most treasured yet endangered flora and fauna are threatened to the brink of extinction.
“We do not want a repeat of the tragedy that befell our Sumatran rhinoceros, which was driven to extinction due to the demand for its horn.
“Through this important government-led initiative with a renowned wildlife research and conservation centre like DGFC, we hope to finally eradicate poaching activities to ensure the survival of our national treasures in Sabah,” Yatela added.