Deployment of armed guards crucial to combat wildlife poaching

Frequent reports of seizures of pangolins, snakes and tortoises bound for export out of the country is alarming. The wildlife trade has become even more rampant with the illegal sale of wildlife through the internet. Unregulated, anonymous and virtually unlimited in reach, it offers endless opportunities to a flourishing trade in protected wildlife.

Malaysian wildlife species are seriously at risk unless there is concerted effort by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment  to address the situation now.

The urgency for the training and deployment of armed guards and anti-poaching patrols to protect wildlife in parks and protected areas across the country could not be greater.  The deployment of guards has been adopted in places in Africa and Asia. Places like Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the  Republic of Congo, Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the democratic Republic of Congo  and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda have shown population increases in the great apes and other primates where park rangers are present, compared to areas lacking a security force to protect them.

In Asia, the government’s training and deployment of park guards in Thailand’s most important reserve, the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary has noted seven years of population stability in tigers and other wildlife in contrast to dramatic declines in nearby unprotected areas.  A harsh penalty helps where in  2011,  2 poachers were caught and sentenced to the longest prison terms to date: one for four years and the other for five.  Since then no high value poaching has occurred in the reserve since.

This makes sense as our ‘valuables’ must not be left unprotected. Just as guards are employed in art galleries and museums to secure our cultural heritage the same approach should be taken to safeguard our natural heritage.

The government would do well to emulate from countries that have not only retained their species number, but have seen population increases.  The most effective protection inevitably involves long term efforts of committed park rangers patrolling protected areas with the endorsement and support of local communities.   Given the legal authority and mandate to operate against poachers, hunters and wildlife smugglers, vehicles and equipment are crucial to combat poaching.  These rangers toil in landscapes that are frequently remote, physically tough and dangerous. In the long term, an increase in number and   effectiveness of guards is vital to the survival of many species targetted by poachers.

Until the government can provide the resources and security to safeguard our country’s great natural treasures, populations of our endangered and protected species will slowly wink out, and our beautiful wildlife species will continue its slide into oblivion.

Letter to the Editor, 23 August 2012