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Anti-Poaching Efforts in the Royal Belum State Park – Interview with Hadi, Orang Asli ranger

Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) has been supporting Perak State Parks Corporation (PSPC) since September 2017, with a total commitment of RM4.12 million until 2023 for the enhancement of anti-poaching efforts in the Royal Belum State Park. Apart from protecting the State Park’s precious flora and fauna, YSD’s sponsorship now in its third phase is essential to conserve the Malayan tiger, which may become extinct within the next decade if no drastic measures are taken to protect the species.

On top of effectively tackling poaching issues, YSD’s sponsorship is also used for capacity-building and to help sustain the livelihoods of individuals involved in this project, which include the local community and Orang Asli. In phase 3 of YSD's support running until 2023, a total of 7 rangers and 8 general workers are supported as a patrol team, 8 of whom are Orang Asli. In an interview with YSD, Hadi, a PSPC ranger, shares his journey on working in the State Park and how the project has changed his life as well as its’ impact on the environment.

As the eyes and ears on the ground, wildlife rangers provide valuable information for anti-poaching investigations and enforcement operations. They are indeed nature’s frontline defenders who remain in remote field locations for long periods while working under extremely difficult conditions ranging from tough terrain to life-threatening encounters with wild animals and armed poachers.

Hadi Bin Mes, 34, a Jahai native from Kg. Sungai Tiang, Royal Belum, understands these risks. As a PSPC ranger for the past 3 years or so, his core task is conducting long-range patrols covering protected areas including forest borders to collect poaching intelligence and wildlife information. When not patrolling, the father of three is actively involved in engaging local communities in conservation.

Hadi Bin Mes, 34, a skilled PSPC ranger from the Jahai tribe
What inspired you to become a PSPC ranger?

Growing up here all my life, I have always been close and connected to nature and wilderness and I always knew that this is something that I would like to do for a living. Before being involved in conservation, I used to collect resources from the forest and sell them to make ends meet.

In 2015, I started working for the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) to observe and gather data as part of the Hornbill Guardian team. The experience convinced me even more on the importance of conservation of wildlife and the habitat and I wanted to be more involved in protecting the State Park. I then began my career with PSPC under the support of YSD back in 2018. After a couple of years of going through YSD-sponsored training programmes, I gained valuable skills and was recently absorbed as a permanent ranger under PSPC’s payroll. Apart from patrolling, I now lead and guide the Orang Asli community patrol unit to monitor poaching signs, read maps and collect data. As a local like them, I understand their concerns and I am able to address their skills gap so they may become independent in carrying out anti-poaching patrols. I am very grateful to PSPC and YSD for giving me these opportunities which I could not get anywhere else.

What are the skills you gained from this project and how are they helping your career as a ranger?

I have learned the skills and knowledge on navigation, operation planning and protocols including data collection and camera trapping which have enabled me to perform my duties as proficiently and safely as possible. We are trained in teams because monitoring the 15 blocks across Royal Belum relies heavily on teamwork. I also joined several modules of training on collecting and removing snares and other trapping devices, law and arrest procedures, as well as other relevant policies. Though we don’t have the authority arrest poachers, these modules teach us how apprehend and hand over suspects to higher authorities. These comprehensive training modules help to prepare me mentally and physically to carry out my responsibilities as a ranger.

Our patrolling expeditions usually last for days or weeks depending on the aim and terrain — the longest I’ve spent on a trip was 15 days. We keep our eyes peeled for poachers’ snares, nets, tracks and trails; and then we collect and monitor the data to detect any signs and trends of poaching. After gathering information, we usually necessary take action ourselves – such as removing snares and other traps, but we also work with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) and Department of Forestry rangers as well as Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) personnel, when the patrolling operations require bigger coordination.

What is the most dangerous experience you have gone through as a ranger thus far?

I can still vividly remember in 2019, our team was patrolling a ‘hotspot’ area bordering Thailand, about a 4-day trek away from the entry point. On day seven, the team was on high alert as we detected fresh footprints and trails left by suspected foreign poachers. I had met foreign poachers in the forest before, but in the previous encounters we did not pose imminent threats to each other. This time, I was on duty as a second in command in the operation, so I decided to do a close target recce with my colleague Mazlan. With trepidation, Mazlan and I had to collect more intelligence on the suspects and the only way to find out was to approach them stealthily and leave the area as carefully as possible.

There were three of them who were busy netting birds and as we observed their behaviour from afar, we worked on our strategy to handle the situation as per the guidelines. It was indeed a terrifying experience because they could have been armed with knives, machetes and even rifles! we did not ambush or apprehend the suspects immediately as they could be heavily armed and turned defensive, not to mention that we were near the borders, which was far from reinforcement. And so, we observed, gathered as much information as we could, and reported the incident to our superiors for their further action. Since then, we have also carried out several patrol operations to monitor the area.

Hadi (middle) guiding a community patrol team on data recording. Most of the Orang Asli in the Royal Belum did not receive formal education. Speaking the local language and being familiar with the patrol protocol, Hadi is the perfect candidate to lead fellow community members to play an active role in conservation.

All risks considered, what makes being a ranger so rewarding? 

If it was not for this job, I would not be able to further explore and learn more about the exquisite Belum-Temenggor forest complex, its mysteries, and unexplored secrets. As a wildlife enthusiast myself, I am very grateful for the opportunity to witness and observe a variety of wildlife species such as the tiger, gaur, wild boar, serow and pangolins. Some of these animals are rare and hard to be sighted so I consider myself lucky to be part of the selected few to run into these amazing and majestic species in the course of my duty.

Why is this project important to protect the wildlife in our forests?

Our forests are home to some of the most diverse ecosystems. As human beings who have higher intelligence than animals, it is our duty to protect them especially the vulnerable species. Poaching has driven the extinction of many animal species. Ecosystems are interdependent and when we lose one species, we would often lose another soon after, like a chain reaction. We are highly concerned about the dwindling tiger population and this project is just what we need to ensure the tigers don’t disappear from Royal Belum forever.

We can already see the impact of anti-poaching initiatives here. Back in 2017 and 2018, there were hundreds of snares found each year in Royal Belum but last year we only found three, despite much intensive and extensive patrol coverage. We believe that our actions have frustrated the poachers who mainly come from Indochina countries. They have been wary of our presence and as a result, had cut down on their activities and syndicates.
What is your opinion on the current wildlife protection efforts?

Effective wildlife protection requires a collective effort from all relevant parties. We need regional, national, and global involvement. The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for instance, can only do so much. Poachers and syndicate leaders may feel the current laws and penalties are not so serious which means they are not strong enough deterrents.

We must all be committed and responsible in the fight against poachers. Collaborative efforts by PERHILITAN and the police in ‘ops Khazanah’ for example, are helping to curb poaching syndicates at the national level. From PSPC’s point of view, we can definitely intensify our efforts, but we can’t act beyond the State Park’s boundaries. Therefore, initiatives for anti-poaching and anti-illegal wildlife trade at higher levels are more crucial.

If the wildlife continues to be threatened, what will happen to the Orang Asli communities in the forests?

Most of the Orang Asli communities live near or within the forested area and rely heavily on subsistence activities which include farming, hunting, and collecting the forests’ resources. For instance, the Royal Belum is not only one of Malaysia’s most important preserved forest areas but also home to the Orang Asli of the Jahai tribe. Any form of threat to the environment is a threat to the community itself. In my community, we believe that nature must be treated with respect and we can only take from it only what we need as subsistence and not more.

Our traditions prohibit us from killing animals unless it is to feed ourselves. For example, when we want to eat a deer, then we would only hunt for this animal and no other kind. Over-exploiting or disrespecting nature and other creatures will lead to many undesirable consequences. We saw it happen before — due to overfishing, there were way fewer fish to catch in our river. Our ancestors taught us to hunt only for food but nowadays, many have chosen to sell what they catch or hunt. Thankfully, the communities here are aware that conservation is very important for everyone and so many only fish once a year.

What are your hopes for Royal Belum and its sustainability?

I believe that more need to be done consistently to make sure that our children and younger generations could live harmoniously with the flora and fauna of Royal Belum like their forefathers and generations before them. I really wish that more efforts could be put in place to ensure that the local communities are well educated about environment protection. This is the reason why I started a team to raise awareness on the importance of wildlife conservation among our community. I also hope more of us could be actively involved in conservation initiatives so that we can take care of this land we call our home.

PSPC rangers led by Hadi (front) trying hard to keep their backpacks dry to prevent adding extra weight onto their burden.

Hadi (3rd from left) and his fellow YSD patrol team members celebrating the National Day patrolling in 2019.
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Last Updated:
25 Feb 2021
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