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Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Dr Wong Siew Te said the involvement of the police in helping to end wildlife crime was timely and crucial in highlighting such illegal activities. - NSTP/EDMUND SAMUNTING.

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah wildlife conservationists and traders are in support of the police stepping up crackdown against those involved in the illegal capture of wildlife and the supply of exotic meats.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Dr Wong Siew Te said the involvement of the police in helping to end wildlife crime was timely and crucial in highlighting such illegal activities.

"(Police) giving stern warning and reminder to poachers, traders, and restaurateurs is good...I am glad that wildlife crime is being treated seriously now. It is now or never," he said.

He welcomed this as good news for both the wildlife and those who care about the issue.

The wildlife biologist was commenting on Inspector General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador's statement, where he declared “total war” on wildlife poachers and restaurants serving exotic meats, particularly of endangered species.

Police had recently launched Ops Khazanah as part of an ongoing effort to protect the nation’s flora and fauna, stressing all parties involved in the illegal capture and supply of wildlife would be arrested and prosecuted. This includes restaurant owners who serve exotic animal dishes.

In the context of Sabah, Wong observed that the police force were not really aggressive going after exotic meat suppliers in the past, noting the Sabah Wildlife Department was the one making the catch most of the time.

Except for the smuggling of turtle eggs from neighbouring countries into Sabah, he said the various enforcement authorities were on their toes to combat the crime.

He also stressed on the importance of building a strong cooperation between the police and wildlife conservationists in Sabah, noting that the room for such cooperation requires improvement but was heading in the right direction.

"Wildlife crimes have to be treated equally as human related crimes. For example, all the wildlife poaching cases have to be treated as human murder cases.

"Law enforcement agencies need to collaborate with different agencies in order to have all of the resources to solve wildlife crime cases and bring justice to the deceased wildlife.

"For example, panda poachers have been given the death sentence in China. In short, treat wildlife crimes seriously," said Wong, adding that he was also in support of the whipping punishment on wildlife criminals as proposed by the IGP in September.

To a question whether endangered wildlife meats were still being sold openly in the market, Wong noted many traditional Chinese medicine shop were still selling sun bear gallbladders and their products.

Meanwhile, Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens said the police's stern warning could definitely serve as a strong reminder to the pubilc on the consequences of their actions.

"I can't remember the police being this aggressive in the past. It is therefore a great move and I can only praise the police for being proactive on this matter. Hopefully those are not only words and those words will be followed by action," he said.

Goossens, who is a wildlife conservation biologist, stressed that better and more coordinated intelligence should be put in place to catch poachers and traders.

This, he said, included having inter-agency cooperation that could be facilitated by the setting up of a Sabah wildlife trafficking brigade, adding that Sabah was on the right path to achieve this.

"I'm pretty sure that there is still exotic meats being sold in the open in rural markets, such as in Nabawan. However, it is obvious that protected species such as pangolins and sun bears are less likely to be sold in the open.

"Awareness has increased dramatically and information can be channelled very quickly now. Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp) is used to sell exotic meats illegally, probably more than open markets," he added.

Meanwhile, Johnny Pinson, who sells meats at the Donggongon market in Penampang, said wildlife meats were usually sold in rural tamus.

"It is impossible to come across exotic meats at urban markets in Penampang and Kota Kinabalu due to the awareness on such activities.

"Those who supply endangered wildlife meats will not dare to sell them openly because ordinary people have become the eyes and ears of the police and the Sabah Wildlife Department," said the 56-year-old butcher.

Another tamu trader Jeremiah Tusin, 38, said the authorities should not only focus on wildlife meat suppliers but also those catching and selling endangered marine species such as turtles, sharks, stingrays, and dugong.

"There has been concern that shark meats are being sold openly in the Kota Kinabalu wet market. Whether these sharks are categorised as protected species or not, the relevant authority should conduct continuous checks," he said.

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