Sunday, March 31, 2013

Protected Sarawak wildlife on the menu

“In my father’s generation, when they saw a wild animal, they saw food. In my generation, we see some wild animals as food, others not. I hope (through education) when it comes to my son’s generation, they all see wild animals as animals, no more as food.”
– Oswald Braken Tisen, SFC senior manager (Protected Areas & Biodiversity Conservation Division)

UNDER the law, protected wildlife should be not be kept, sold or consumed.

Yet, there is no lack of restaurants offering ‘exotic’ wildlife dishes – and one need not drive very far to get a taste of these ‘forbidden’ foods.

Many eateries in and around the state capital are serving ‘wildlife specials’ prepared from the meat of river terrapins, wild boars, frogs and flying foxes.

In upcountry towns like Bau and Lundu, these gastronomic taboos can also be found except that they do not appear on the menu.

As it’s against the law to sell or eat protected wildlife, their meat is usually available after office hours (when wildlife protection officers are not on duty). Furthermore most restaurants offer such dishes only to their ‘best’ customers.

Apart from restaurant owners, rural folks in different parts of the state are also playing hide-and-seek with enforcement personnel from the Forestry Department Sarawak (FDS) and Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) when selling wildlife meat, especially at native markets (tamu).

The ‘hot spots’ are more prevalent along the border such as in Serian and Serikin. Other such areas include riverine towns such as Kapit, Song and Selangau which are nearer the (wildlife) source, according SFC operation manager (Security and Assets Protection Divisions) Mohamad Jirin Anis.

As of March 21, SFC, acting on public tip-offs, have made surprise checks on 25 premises, five of which were found to be displaying wild boar, python and labi-labi meat for sale.

Jirin said on the same date, five cases, involving the sale of wild life meat, were detected – plus another four where derivative parts such as spines or quills of porcupines were put up for sale.

Jirin said one of the difficulties encountered in eradicating the illegal trade was that by the time the enforcement officers reached the selling premises, the culprits would just disappear “into the thin air.”

Not one would own up as to who were responsible for the wildlife remains left behind.

This cat-and-mouse game has been going on since the Sarawak Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998 was implemented to reinforce the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1990.

Not even genuine

The problem is not confined only to wildlife meat. Protected species like eagles, mynas and parakeets are also being sold – at RM250 each – before bargaining at Serikin and a plastic bag of nine turtle eggs costs RM10.

There are also demands for certain “exotic” wildlife parts or derivatives such as the phallus. For example, a crocodile penis can be bought for RM250.

However, SFC senior manager (Protected Areas & Biodiversity Conservation Division) Oswald Braken Tisen, questioned the genuineness of most of such derivatives which people believe can give their libido an extra boost.

He related a recent case where the public tipped off SFC on a drug stall selling “bear gall bladders.”

The products were confiscated and found to be fakes after testing.

“There are penile parts of wild animals sold for RM30,000. In most cases, they are not genuine,” Braken pointed out.

He found it quite puzzling that there were people willing to pay so much for some “exotic food” which has not been proven scientifically to be effective in enhancing health.

Since these so-called “exotic” wildlife parts might be phony, what’s even worse is that the substance used to fake their authenticity is usually not known and could be detrimental to health.

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