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Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Assafal Alian said despite having adequate laws to protect animals, the state still lost its rhinos and other endangered wildlife. (NSTP/EDMUND SAMUNTING)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has expressed willingness to work with stakeholders to protect its wildlife including the iconic sun bear to prevent the tragedy of losing the Sumatran rhinos from recurring.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Assafal Alian said despite having adequate laws to protect animals, the state still lost its rhinos and other endangered wildlife.

He was referring to the demise of the last male Sumatran rhino "Tam" in May 27 and euthanisation of cancer-stricken female rhino "Puntung" in 2017.

“We made the mistake of managing the state by not sustaining our rich biodiversity. Now, Sabah is committed to preserve more than 50 per cent of the forest, which is our biggest asset (for conservation).

“The current government is willing to listen to your (stakeholders) proposals and opinions. We need to leave a good legacy for our future generations,” he said, adding that the state government will also stand firm in taking action against those who break the laws.

Assafal said this today at the launch of the two-day 2nd International Symposium on Sun Bear Conservation and Management Sabah 2019 here.

Present were Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) chief executive officer Dr Wong Siew Te and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) director Professor Benoit Goossens.

Meanwhile, Wong said he believed that the sun bear numbers are much lower than the population of orangutan in Sabah.

WWF-Malaysia’s research titled, “Changes to Sabah’s orangutan population in recent times: 2002 – 2017”, indicated that the Borneon orangutan population remained the same - about 11,000 - over the last 15 years.

However, the sun bear, as a slow reproduction species, only produces 3 to 4 cubs each.

"They could not cope with the mortality caused by humans." he said, adding the species were often poached due to the belief that it has medicinal properties.

“As a wildlife biologist, people who engaged in this (poaching) is small but the impact they create is huge.

“Buyers or tourists have huge purchasing power that made those (with low income) desperate to take risks (to poach protected animals) despite knowing that it is unlawful.

"It is a global phenomenon,” he said, adding incoming visitors should be informed of laws that protect wildlife in the state.

Augustine said in the past few years, the Wildlife Department had prosecuted two sun bear-related cases and expect to bring another man in Kota Belud who possessed the animal to the court in the near future.

Sun bear is classified as Class I Totally Protected Species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

Amendment in 2016 saw the fine increased to not less than RM50,000 and not more than RM100,000; or imprisonment of not less than six months and not more than five years, or both.

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