Wildlife experts sound alarm on African Swine Fever

KOTA KINABALU: The African Swine Fever (ASF) has not been given due caution despite the disease decimating the domestic and wild pig populations in Asia, Europe and Africa, say wildlife experts.

Its near-100% fatality rate threatens food security, ecosystems and the lives and traditions of millions of people, said Prof Erik Meijaard, former chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Wild Pigs Specialist Group.

“ASF has devastated pig populations in Asia since 2018, but the impacts are especially significant on the island of Borneo,” he said in a statement yesterday.

He said the disease had led to the dwindling population of bearded pigs, once the most numerous large mammal species on the island.

“This decline may render the species critically endangered.”

Prof Meijaard and Prof Benoit Goossens of Cardiff University were among the co-authors of a write-up titled “Pig Virus Imperils Food Security in Borneo”, published in the “Science” journal on Jan 18.

Goossens said bearded pigs played an essential role in ecosystem maintenance and socio-cultural practices.

As a major seed predator, he said the pigs, once plentiful, played an important role in steering ecological processes in Borneo’s tropical forest.

“Local studies indicate that bearded pigs constituted up to 81% of hunted wildlife weight in some villages, while Sarawak once harvested up to a million bearded pigs each year.”

But now, he said, there is no evidence indicating that wild pig populations in Borneo or other South-East Asian islands can fully recover.

“How can the loss of such an integral species be overlooked?” said Goossens, who is also the director of research outfit Danau Girang Field Centre in Sabah.

In April last year, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said the ASF, which was first detected in Sabah in February 2021, was subsiding but the state remained in the recovery phase then.

As at Aug 31, 2022, he said 20 districts were affected by the ASF disease and all the districts remain in the recovery stage.

He said the ban on wild boar hunting will also remain until Sabah is free from ASF.

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