KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department is aware of dining trips for foreign tourists interested in eating the meat of protected animals.
The department’s director, Augustine Tuuga, said he needs timely tip-offs from the public so that he can take action against those found flouting the law.
He was commenting on FMT’s exclusive report on certain tour operators organising such dining trips, particularly in the Penampang area.
A tour guide, speaking on condition of anonymity, had told FMT that certain tour guides and organisers took groups of Chinese tourists to dinners in private homes serving meals from protected animals such as pangolins, wild boar, pythons and soft-shelled turtles.
“We are always monitoring the situation and we are aware of this scourge,” Augustine told FMT.
“All the four types of animals mentioned are protected species.
“Those who hunt or possess these animals are liable to legal action, except those who have a licence to hunt wild boar.
“For the other three types of animals, we don’t issue any licence at all to hunt.
“In fact, we recently arrested a person suspected to be in possession of meat from two pangolins, which was served to a group of about 10 Chinese tourists, during our raid.
“The investigation into this case is ongoing and we’ll charge the person in court soon,” he said.
“We’re investigating this case under Section 41 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 for possession of protected animals or their meat.
“Another offence is that of hunting protected animals under Section 25 of the same enactment.
“Both offences carry a fine of between RM30,000 and RM100,000 or imprisonment for six months to three years, or both.”
According to the tour guide FMT spoke to, the dining trip organisers usually have poachers who hunt the animals and deliver the catch to the dinner venue.
Such exotic dinners are lucrative as foreign tourists, especially from China, are willing to pay a lot of money for such meals, the guide said.
Augustine said his department knows the modus operandi of the tour organisers who would often change the dinner venue to avoid detection.
“They usually organise the dinners in the homes of private individuals and they don’t stick to just one house.
“They avoid restaurants which are too open for them.
“We’ll get tips from the public about such dinners. But sometimes when we carry out raids, they have already finished eating and dispersed because the information comes to us late.”
Augustine called on the public to alert the department and gave some tips on how to recognise such activities.
“It’s easy to spot such dinners. If you see private vans or even legitimate tour vans carrying many foreign-speaking tourists whom you know are not friends or relatives of the house owner, then most probably they are there for dinner with meat from protected animals.”
He also warned tourism players to stop their illegal activities or face the wrath of the department.
“We’d like to advise tour companies, organisers and any tourism players to promote our tourism industry ethically and without breaking the law,” said Augustine.
“We know such dining trips are great attractions, especially to foreign visitors, and are profitable but they involve illegal activities. So they must be stopped.
“Heavy punishment awaits those who flout the law and we’ll never compromise with them.”