Hunting of wildlife for their meat is still a common occurrence in Sarawak. (**Warning: Graphic Pictures**).
Sometime in December 2011, a friend of mine photographed a gruesome scene in the town of Kapit in Sarawak. The picture was of a dead clouded leopard, its head severed from the body.
There were other killed animals nearby too, wild boars and deer.
Sad to say, this scene plays out daily in towns in Sarawak.
When this picture arrived in my inbox, I lost my head. I felt a deep welling of anger rise within my body. It made my head swell, and tears came. Yes, I cried. For the unnecessary loss. The flesh of the leopard has been eaten, and provided (hopefully) a nice meal for someone. It has passed like so many others before it, and so many others yet to die in our forests.
Hunting is the bane of the state. It is a curse we have struck upon ourselves. The hunter thinks himself some kind of hero, some kind of brave macho type who can take a gun, go into the forest and shoot a wild animal. He thinks it’s cool.
But it is not. Human beings have progressed. Today’s big-game hunters are those who bring those inspiring, vivid, jaw-dropping images we watch with awe on television. These days, we can watch them in high definition: wild animals in all their glory, titans of the oceans brought right in front of our eyes like never before. These hunters use cameras of every form, harnessing every bit of technology and skill to stalk these wild animals, and capture them for us to see. These are the hunters we respect. They do not kill.
Let us explore some of the myths about hunting in Sarawak:
> Hunting is in our culture. It is our way, our Sarawakian way.
Rubbish! For 10,000 years, the natives of Sarawak lived in the rainforest. They were adept hunters, able to live off the forest. They had skills that allowed them to do this, and this is their tradition. This is their pride and glory. They hunted to live. And they had rules. They had adat. There was always this underlying rule of law between the forest and the people. Hunting today respects none of these adat. Hunting today is solely for sport and profit. It is no longer culture by any definition.
> There are plenty of animals in our forests; hunting a few has little effect.
Wrong. Our forests are shrinking faster than you can read this. And the wildlife that used to be there has all but gone. All our big game have been hunted out. Yes, we used to have rhinoceros and wild cattle. Even our hornbills have lived out their long years and are dying out, and no young hornbills are being added. We are indeed the former land of the hornbill. The rusa (or payau) is the largest mammal still living in Sarawak. Ask any tour operator, and they will tell you: “If you want to see wildlife, go to Sabah. Sarawak’s forests are empty.”
> Our National Parks are protecting our wildlife, so we are okay.
Wrong again. Today, if you are a hunter of any repute, chances are you will be hunting inside Sarawak’s national parks. Why? Because there is nothing to shoot outside these last refuges. Sneaking in is simple, because boundaries are vast, and patrols are non-existent. Samunsam Wildlife Sanctuary, west of Sematan, was set up to protect wildlife strictly – no tourism, no visitors of any sort, only for wildlife. Today, illegal loggers are having their way throughout the sanctuary, logging every single part of it. Hunters have free range within the sanctuary, shooting bears, leopards and proboscis monkeys to extinction. And that is a wildlife sanctuary in Sarawak.
> Indigenous people depend on wildlife for food.
Depends. You first need to define where an indigenous person lives, and what he does for a living. Sarawak’s indigenous people are mostly part of the economy these days. Only a small minority depend on the forest for their protein. These people rightly co-exist with the forest, and hunt for a living. However, how many of the hunters in Sarawak fit this bill?
> Eating wildlife is something special, it is good for us.
Rubbish again. Contrary to the boastful claims of those who regularly consume wild animals, wild meat does not taste as good as the beef, chicken, duck or lamb we buy from the markets. Neither does wild meat have any special medicinal properties. It is all in the mind. People like to eat something special, something different. In the past, when we had a special guest, we would go out and hunt some animal to honour our guest. The honour was in the effort to serve him meat, not in the providing wild meat.
> Restaurants serving wild meat – if I don’t eat it, someone else will.
How about this: if we all don’t eat it, they will stop serving it. Once they stop serving it, they will stop buying it. Once restaurants stop buying wild meat, hunters will stop hunting far more than they need to eat themselves. And, once they stop hunting for commercial gains, our wildlife will begin to recover. Once Sarawak forests are full of wild animals, people will stop going to Sabah.
Lastly, this animal that lost its head in Kapit is a Bornean clouded leopard. It is found only on Borneo, and is the largest cat in Sarawak. It is a very rare animal, and in great danger of being hunted out. It is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful of the world’s large cats, and lives most of its life up in the trees.
If this article makes just one Sarawakian decide that he will stop eating wild meat, this leopard would not have lost its head in vain. - By ANTHONY SEBASTIAN
Anthony Sebastian is an environmental consultant and a former president of the Malaysian Nature Society.