Poachers and Gamekeepers: the Tangled Web of Conservation
By Ashleigh Kivilaakso Seow, Citizen Conservation Specialist
“Try it. This is very nice,” said the wedding guest. I did and it was. “What is it called?” I asked.
“Gulai Kawah”, he replied, “It is much better with deer instead of beef,” he said wistfully, “Have you seen any lately?”
“Yes have you seen any?” other guests chimed in.
These men were poachers, or associates of poachers, and were lamenting the absence of sambar, the large deer species that makes up the greater part of the tiger’s diet.
We were at a village wedding in the appropriately named Deer Wallow village, and Crater (cauldron) Stew is a traditional festive dish in this part of the country especially at the end of Ramadhan (the Muslim fasting month) and at weddings. Sambar has been an important part of their diet as well.
This demand has made sambar locally extinct in the Yu River Wildlife Corridor and poachers, local and foreign, encroach into the adjoining forest reserves and National Park in search of the meat.
They knew I was a conservationist with MYCAT and that we walked the forests in search of their snares, and reported finds to the authorities who removed them. The bride hailed from the village but also worked with a conservation NGO. The groom was one of our volunteer leaders. It seems all rather confusing but the bottom line is that conservation is about hearts and minds as well as effective enforcement and should not be adversarial. Traditional practices, lack of job opportunities and penury all contribute to poaching and when these are resolved poaching will wane.
In earlier blogs we highlighted the selfless volunteers who do community outreach and how locals are joining CAT Walks. Now I estimate only four villages out of 22 still poach and our efforts show that poaching is much reduced in the former hotspots.
But the really good news is that after a long absence, sambar have returned in a number of different places and that hopefully they are avoiding the edges of the forest.
“So where are they?” the men persisted.
If you want to build confidence and rapport one must be honest.
“There, but very few”, said I, with a vague wave in the general direction of the steep ridges and deep ravines of Taman Negara, a vast area three times the size of Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park and twice the size of Luxembourg.
Of course, an occasional dissemble in a good cause is permissible, don’t you think?