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Tawau National Park to have world’s first pangolin sanctuary

25th June, 2019


KOTA KINABALU: The world’s first pangolin sanctuary spanning some 20,000 hectares is to be established at the Tawau National Park while the public can expect to pay a visit in a few months’ time.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the State and Sabah Pangolin Sanctuary and Research Institute (Sapsari) Arizona at the Tourism Ministry’s office at noon yesterday.

The press to repopulate the under-represented Sunda Pangolin and raising awareness of its threatened status to the people of the world is with due thanks to Penang-born philanthropist Peter Chan.

Peter, who is the founder and CEO of Sapsari, is an acclaimed engineer in southwestern United States who after sponsoring many scholarship programmes decided to continue ‘paying it forward’, crossing into interspecies solidarity.

One million ringgit have been donated by Peter to kick-start efforts but he estimated about RM3.5 million more is needed to go about the whole procedure.

“Time is of the essence and the massive drop in pangolin numbers is truly a cause of despair. It is our duty as human beings to leave the world in a much better state than it is, through education.

“The animals are not the problem, it is the people who are. Sapsari will become a platform to teach the younger generation, subsequently improving research and the breeding methods of pangolins.

“Everybody must chip in to make it a success. The goal of Sapsari is not for self enrichment where a dollar in is ten cents out. Directors won’t even be paid a salary, but the staff on the other hand must be paid well,” he told a press conference.

He said he would continue to raise funds in the United States for further expansion and upkeep of facilities.

“The working culture at Sapsari must be right. People tend not to support the animals but the people behind the movement. No one will support however righteous the cause if the leaders keep a bad attitude,” he added.

It is unknown how many pangolins are left in Sabah’s wild but judging by the massive seizures of its meat – estimated to worth a whopping RM8 million – from a warehouse in Tuaran earlier in February, chances are there are not many left in addition to the syndicate’s operation of over seven years.

Sabah Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga, commenting on the case’s development, said the culprits have not been charged yet but DNA samples were taken from the meat that was sent to a lab in Kuala Lumpur.

“The sanctuary would assist in recording the numbers,” said Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew.

“The goal is to make sure people understand that pangolins are a protected species, putting an end to its poaching, and enlightening many others to the fact that there are no scientific evidence to the medicinal benefits claimed from its consumption.

“Technicalities are being ironed out. We are hoping the sanctuary to be established by the end of the year with the help of the Sabah Parks Department, where campaigns will follow soon after its launching.

“I have tabled the matter at Cabinet which gained approval from our Chief Minister and we have come up with a ten-year action plan. The place will become a nice tourist attraction too,” Liew said who is also Deputy Chief Minister.

Although conservation efforts are currently being backed by NGOs, the minister said she is highly considering annual grant allocations for the sanctuary along with providing vets and rescue teams that are supported by her department.

Elisa Panjang of the Danau Girang Field Center who has dedicated her life to studying the scaly mammals is one of the catalysts and key players in the movement, and also a huge inspiration to Peter.

Elisa, when asked if she feels the pressure of duty in saving the many endangered species found here in Sabah from the brink of extinction, all the while being watched by the eyes of the world, she replied yes, but has the utmost confidence in her team that is always behind her.

Peter meanwhile added the pressure of not doing anything should be far greater and urged everyone to play their role in making the world a better place for all living creatures.

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