| Siti Hajar |
A BRITISH conservationist yesterday urged Brunei Darussalam to take into consideration the environmental impact that economic diversification, which includes attracting foreign investors, may have on the wildlife population.
Louise Fletcher, who is an expert on pangolins, said that Brunei’s Sunda Pangolin could become a target of foreign business people, who see the consumption of pangolin meat, which is rampant in some parts of Asia, as a status symbol.
“The consumption of pangolin meat is no longer limited to its medicinal value,” she said in an interview with the Bulletin.
“They are also consumed over business deals as a sign of wealth and as more (foreign) businesses come to Brunei, stakeholders need to be aware of the potential negative impact the diversification of business will have on Brunei’s ecosystem.”
The trade in pangolin in the country is still low with hunters seen as opportunistic rather than actively pursuing the elusive and solitary creatures but Brunei should put in place steps to ensure that such trade is controlled, she said.
Education and awareness, she said, are among the vital tools that are needed to curb, and even eliminate, the poaching of pangolin. Legislation and enforcement are also important in deterring the sale of not just pangolins but also wildlife in general, she added.
She said the open sale of wildlife, especially on social media, is one of the challenges faced by the stakeholders such as government agencies and environmental organisations.
“The forest areas in Brunei are very accessible,” she said, adding that the public, including poachers, have access to abundant wildlife that can be turned into unethical profit.
“Among the challenges will include encouraging more people to appreciate nature and visit these places. What is important is getting people to care about the environment and ecosystem because simply speaking about it is perhaps no longer enough,” she added.
Unlike many other endangered species, the pangolin does not receive as much attention but their existence, like that of other wildlife, is vital in the preservation of forests.
“Pangolins modify the habitat they live in and removing them will have the potential to lower the diversity of the forest in general and species like these are important in the productivity of the forest and they are particularly important to the environment,” she said.
“If you remove one species from an ecosystem, the cascading effects can be disastrous.”
Over the past few days, Fletcher has conducted workshops and visited schools to gain a better understanding of Brunei’s efforts in pangolin conservation and also spread word on the importance of protecting this species.
She will join the International School Brunei (ISB) today in celebrating World Pangolin Day, which is observed every February 21 to celebrate the uniqueness of pangolins and, more importantly, discourage its trade.
She said, “Brunei has so much to offer as a leading example on how to conserve it (pangolin) effectively.”