A poacher is seen sitting on a banteng bull he just shot in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. - NSTP/Courtesy of Danau Girang Field Centre.

KOTA KINABALU: An allocation of RM4 million has been set aside in a bid to eradicate poaching and wildlife trafficking in Sabah.

The fund will be provided to increase the capacity of the Protect Team or the Enforcement, Tactical, Operational and Protection squad of the Sabah Forestry Department the next two years.

The sponsorship by the Sime Darby Foundation followed a proposal submitted by the department and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) in response to its recommendation on three state action plans.

Implementation of the three state action plans 2019-2028 were for the Bornean banteng, Sunda clouded leopard and proboscis monkey which were launched late last year by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said the proposal was submitted in response to the priority to increase the capacity and effectiveness of the state agencies in combating poaching and wildlife trafficking.

“DGFC and conservation partners identified an alarming increase in poaching and wildlife trafficking for the past few years, especially of elephants, bantengs, sun bears, pangolins and sea turtles,” said Goossens who is also a Reader at Cardiff University.

“In 2019 alone, Sabah lost more than 15 elephants to fire arms and poisoning in forest reserve areas and plantations and seized close to RM 8 million worth of pangolin scales, elephant ivory and wildlife meat in Sepanggar and Tamparuli; and last year, three Bornean bantengs were shot in Paitan Forest Reserve on the same day.

"And we are so grateful to the foundation for approving the sponsorship of RM4 million over a period of two years for the expansion of the department's Protect Team. It will provide a fantastic boost to wildlife conservation in the State,” concluded Goossens.

Chief Conservator of Forests Datuk Mashor Mohd Jaini said support from the foundation will boost the enforcement capacity of the department to reduce the number of poaching cases in Sabah, in particular within forest reserve areas.

"It will do so by putting more boots on the ground, purchasing equipment, as well as conducting trainings and workshops for the rangers,” he said.

“Protect Team was formed in 2016 with the support of World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Malaysia. It monitors two million hectares of totally protected and conservation areas, mainly focusing on illegal forestry activities and forest reserves’ encroachment.

"It also carries out anti-poaching patrols in forest reserves and road blocks at strategic locations. But 24 rangers to cover such an area is not enough. Therefore, the support from the Foundation is crucial to allow us to increase our presence in the field and combat wildlife poaching and trafficking,” Mashor added.

Sime Darby Foundation governing council member Caroline Christine Russell said the foundation looks forward to the collaboration to mobilise a new team of highly trained personnel in Sabah forest reserves, to combat poaching and trafficking.

"The Foundation is concerned about the effects of poaching throughout the whole of Malaysia, and we are currently working closely with another government agency, the Perak State Park Corporation, for the protection of the Royal Belum State Park in Perak by supporting two teams of rangers and Orang Asal as boots on the ground to patrol the state park,” she said.

“Our decade-long relationship with department began with the rehabilitation of 5,400 ha of highly degraded forest at the Bukit Piton Forest Reserve, towards the conservation of orangutan habitat.

"This successful project with department ended impactfully in November last year with consistently more frequent sightings of orangutans and their nests recorded," she added.

Due to this successful collaboration, department's high level of transparency and governance, as well as serious concern of various parties towards the escalating poaching occurrences in Sabah, is timely, Russell said.

This also includes the foundation’s funding for the recruitment and deployment of 25 rangers and a crime analyst officer of the Protect Team, alongside specialised training and high-end equipment to equip the personnel with the right knowledge, skills, and gear to effectively fight poachers.

“We understand only too well that with poaching and wildlife trafficking becoming more rampant, our endangered species of flora and fauna are threatened to the brink of extinction.

"We do not wish for a recurrence of the situation with our Sumatran Rhinoceros, where poaching for the demand of its horn pushed this precious species to extinction.

"We hope that the communities surrounding our forests will also be our eyes and ears in combating this criminal act, following the exemplary achievement of Nepal in celebrating 365 days of zero poaching annually for five years since 2011, with all the agencies and communities playing their part.

"It is hoped that with the Sime Darby Foundation’s support for this government-led initiative and by a renowned wildlife research and conservation centre like DGFC, poachers could be sentenced more gravely towards the eradication of poaching, for the continued existence of our national treasures.” Russell added.