Protecting our forests: one year running

Kota Kinabalu – After a year of active ground operations, Sabah Forestry Department’s PROTECT team has notched significant achievements in its role as enforcement frontliners in combatting forest crime, wildlife poaching and trafficking in the state. 

“I’m pleased to report that between January and December last year, more than 200 enforcement operations have been carried out by our PROTECT team in forest reserves, protected areas and public roads, despite the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Mr Frederick Kugan, Sabah Forestry Department’s Chief Conservator of Forests. “As a result of these operations, 68 arrests were made with suspects handed to the police and Sabah Wildlife Department for various offences under the law. This includes the arrest and prosecution of two suspects detained in Tawau for possession of elephant tusks last January. Besides, the team also managed to confiscate about RM3.1 million worth of forest produces from various illegal activities,” said Kugan. 

Roadblock training of PROTECT rangers. Courtesy: Sabah Forestry Department 
Four poachers were arrested under firearm act and the case was surrendered to the police. Courtesy: Sabah Forestry Department 
Poachers are often circulating on motorbikes in forest reserves. In this case, three suspects were handed to the police and motorbikes were confiscated. Courtesy: Sabah Forestry Department 

“While we are unable to technically cover the whole state and have permanent presence in every forest reserve or protected area due to limited resources, it is undeniable that our rangers have put the pressure on poachers and illegal loggers,” stressed Kugan. “At the moment, the PROTECT unit consists of (only) 50 forest rangers, out of which 25 members are currently funded by Yayasan Sime Darby for two years as part of its RM4 million grant for combatting wildlife crimes in Sabah,” he added. 

“The recent killing of a male elephant in Tongod shows that the task of protecting our wildlife against unscrupulous poachers is extremely challenging. We aim to further intensify our efforts in identified areas, working closely together with our partners. The Department is fully committed to put every effort in protecting our forest resources and in tackling poaching and wildlife crimes,” said Kugan. 

Project partner Dr Benoit Goossens, Director of Danau Girang Field Centre and Professor at Cardiff University echoes: “The challenge of fighting poaching and wildlife trade is immense and cannot be easily solved in a few months. It requires massive resources to enable intensive ground presence and intelligence gathering by enforcement bodies such as Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department, PDRM and many others. 

He added, “Equally important is the participation and awareness of these crimes from the public. We all understand and acknowledge the importance of wildlife for Sabah, and it is through everyone’s combined effort that we can fight wildlife crimes. I truly appreciate the commitment that has been shown by the PROTECT team and applaud their achievements so far.” 

“With full commitment and proper financial support from the state government and other agencies, I am confident that we will be able to win this fight. And we are all hopeful that when the pandemic situation improves, we will be ready to welcome tourists again to appreciate what Sabah has to offer,” concluded Goossens. 

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