Youths urged to be agents of wildlife conservation

The anti-poaching poster from WWF

KUCHING, May 24: WWF-Malaysia is calling on youths to help promote a sustainable Gawai celebration by not eating wild meat from protected species and buying or selling wildlife parts.

WWF-Malaysia’s Head of Conservation Sarawak Dr Jason Hon said youths could influence change as they had the power of technology at their fingertips, literally.

The change can go both ways, good or bad. A simple, yet impactful, post on conservation can go ‘viral’ and spread faster and further than expected. Recently, a Facebook post showing a group of men posing with a dead clouded leopard in Alor Gajah, Malacca, went viral and they received backlash from netizens.

“Netizens reacted angrily and sent out positive messages by highlighting why it is important to protect our biodiversity and what people can do to help. Platforms such as #PowerShiftMsia promotes youth conversation and actions on climate change and conservation.

“This showed how social media, when wrongly applied, can backfire. However, if we use social media effectively, we can help spread messages about conservation and the need to protect wildlife,” said Hon in a statement today in conjunction with the coming Gawai Dayak and World Environment Day, which fall on June 1 and 2, and 5, respectively.

What happened in Alor Gajah to the clouded leopard could also happen in Sarawak, he pointed out. The clouded leopard is a Totally Protected Species in Sarawak and listed as Vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Citing a case closer to home, Hon said, “The death of the much loved Pied Hornbills at Piasau Nature Reserves in 2013 triggered an immediate reaction by the people in Miri, who used social media to express their shock, anger, and sadness and called for greater efforts by the authorities to step up conservation measures.”

Sarawak’s pride – the hornbills – have now become rare. The helmeted hornbill is now listed as critically endangered because they are poached for their feathers and casques, which are used in traditional costumes and traded illegally.

“According to Bennett et al (1996), up to four rhinoceros hornbills have to be sacrificed just to make a traditional dancer’s hand display. Although these feathers have now been substituted with non-hornbill materials, we must have in the past over-hunted hornbills that they have now become rare.

“If we are not careful with other wildlife species such as bearded pigs or sambar deer, which may still occur in abundance now, their fate may go the same direction as many of our wildlife species, which has now become rare,” he cautioned.

It is understandable that people residing in rural areas depend on the forests for food. However, it is also important for them to be aware and refrain from hunting protected species, and practise sustainable consumption at all times. A forest devoid of any wildlife will not be able to function healthily.

Hon added that youths who are aware of the need to keep our wildlife alive and forest healthy could influence the attitudes of their families and friends because youths could be influential, and they are listened to within their spheres of influence, which also includes their family members.

Hence, family gatherings during festive seasons like Gawai are a good chance for these committed youths to speak out to encourage their families to consume responsibly and sustainably. In time, families and friends will understand and consequently change their eating habits.

“Thus, we call on our youths in Sarawak, who will one day be the leaders of the country, to help spread positive messages to conserve our wildlife this coming Gawai,” he opined.

The public can report suspicious activities concerning wildlife trade to the Forest Department Sarawak’s hotline at 1800-88-7777, or Sarawak Forestry Corporation’s (SFC) hotline at 019-8859996 (Kuching), 019-8290994 (Miri), 019-8266096 (Bintulu) and 019-8290992 (Sibu). — DayakDaily