Pangolin sanctuary to kick off in Sabah thanks to RM1 mil donation from retired engineer

Retired Malaysian-born engineer Peter Chan (front row, 3rd left) exchanging documents with Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga on a pangolin sanctuary initiative while Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew (back row, third right) looks on in Kota Kinabalu today.

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will soon see a sanctuary for pangolins following the inking of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the state government and a retired Malaysian-born engineer here today.

The agreement sees philanthropist Peter Chan donating RM1 million to jumpstart the Sabah Pangolin Sanctuary and Research Institute or Sapsari.

Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew said the sanctuary would be situated at the Tawau Hills Park on the east coast.

Liew, who is also Sabah tourism, culture and environment minister, said the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Sabah Parks would be tasked with identifying a suitable location within the 20,000-hectare park.

“We are all excited to have the sanctuary, but equally important is the research centre for the animals. Please give us a few months to set this up. The target is before the end of the year,” she told reporters at her office here.

Chan was born in Penang and moved to the US to pursue civil engineering in 1985.

He said he felt moved to save the pangolins as they are an under-represented animal despite their high kill rate by poachers.

“The kill rate is so high that if we don’t do anything, the pangolins will be gone.

“It’s important to educate the next generation, and Sapsari will be a platform to do that,” he said. “Sapsari is about changing people’s attitudes because we are actually the problem, not the animals.”

The 59-year-old praised Malaysia’s standard of education and gross domestic product as well as the eco-tourism industry in Sabah.

“If we can’t do it in Malaysia, I bet we can’t do it anywhere else,” he said to loud applause from the crowd at the signing ceremony.

Liew said Chan had submitted a comprehensive proposal for the sanctuary last year, including strategies to overcome the rapid loss of pangolins in the region, with a focus on animal care, rescue and release programmes and the use of social media for outreach purposes.

“He also placed an emphasis on the use of technology and big data to reach specific audiences. The establishment of Sapsari must be supported,” she said.

She also acknowledged the role of local pangolin expert Elisa Panjang who will be managing the sanctuary.

Liew said the project was a welcome initiative, especially following news that 30 tonnes of pangolin parts worth RM8 million had been seized in Tuaran in February.

She said the syndicate in question had been operating for seven years before it was finally brought down.

Chan meanwhile said he would be willing to channel more money to Sapsari if needed as he is eager to make the project a success.

He said the RM1 million was just to ensure a smooth start to the initiative, adding that the overall project will likely cost some RM4 million.

“I don’t want the funding issues that most people have, but once this gains momentum, it has to be a public-private partnership where the government and others need to chip in to make it successful.”