The 23 pangolins being kept in bags which were hidden in the trunk of a car in Tenom recently. PIC COURTESY OF SABAH WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT

SABAH has prosecuted 23 cases related to pangolins since 2002, said state Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga.

Five cases were from Keningau, four in Lahad Datu, Tawau and Sandakan (three in each district), Papar and Kinabatangan (two in each district), and one each in Sipitang, Telupid, Beaufort and Luyang.

In recent years, an amendment was made to the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, in which the world’s most trafficked animal had been upgraded as a “totally protected species”.

Those found hunting, consuming, possessing or selling pangolins or their parts could face a minimum fine of RM50,000 and a maximum fine of RM250,000 or a minimum prison term of one year and up to a maximum term of five years or both.

“Some of the cases were prosecuted under the new amendment, where heavier penalties were handed down to offenders and some are still serving their sentence.

“However, crimes against pangolins continue despite the state Wildlife Department trying its best to combat illegal poaching,” he said, adding there was a need for public cooperation in preventing pangolins from being poached and becoming extinct.

Augustine was referring to a recent bust of a pangolin smuggling syndicate with the arrest of a man and seizures of 23 live pangolins worth RM8.4 million which were brought into Sabah from Lawas, Sarawak.

Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew said the ministry was finalising the establishment of the Sabah Pangolin Sanctuary and Research Institute to conserve the species with Penang-born philanthropist Peter Chan.

Chan, an engineer, said he was optimistic that research and technology could boost the chances of protecting pangolins.

In terms of research, he said, the institute would come up with an algorithm for the authorities to track down poaching activities.