Sabah’s tourism will suffer if poaching continues, wildlife expert warns

The Borneo pygmy elephant found dead last month was believed to have been shot over 70 times. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: A wildlife expert warns that Sabah may lose its tourist allure if it does not keep a lid on poaching in the state, about two weeks after a pygmy elephant was found dead in Tawau riddled with bullets.

Benoit Goossens said wildlife is “extremely important” for tourism in Sabah, but that much of its fauna has been lost to such activities.

“Maintaining healthy populations is absolutely crucial,” he told FMT.

“The latest killing of a bull elephant does not look good on Sabah.”

A post-mortem of the elephant revealed about 70 bullet wounds in its body. Its tusks had also been removed.

Goossens said there have been many other documented cases of elephant killings in the state.

Benoit Goossens.

He recalled the case of a pygmy elephant named Sabre who was killed about three years ago.

Sabre, who was named for his downward pointing tusks, was fitted with a satellite collar and released into the Kawag Forest Reserve near Danum Valley, Lahad Datu.

A few months later, he was found dead alongside another bull elephant that had been shot and its tusks removed.

Both animals were believed to have been killed by ivory poachers.

“We are losing too many elephants to poaching and poisoning,” Goossens said. “This has to stop.”

Goossens, who leads the Danau Girang Field Centre research outfit, said Sabah has good laws governing wildlife conservation.

However, he said punishing poachers would not necessarily curb the killing of protected species.

“The death penalty in Malaysia has not stopped drug trafficking,” he noted.

“To me, we need more people on the ground. We need to tackle poaching and trafficking by improving intelligence.”

He referred to the Sabah Forestry Department which recently increased the size of its enforcement unit.

“And we can certainly reduce wildlife trade and poaching, and improve prosecutions and convictions for wildlife crimes in Sabah by having a specialised team within the Sabah Wildlife Department which works closely with other government agencies and stakeholders.”

He maintained that Sabah could be the best place for wildlife in Southeast Asia with the support of the state government, NGOs and the various enforcement departments.

“We have many dedicated people in Sabah who will fight to stop poaching and the trade of endangered species,” he said.