Coined by BorneoFutures, dewildication is the concerted removal of wild animals from nature. It is an act of intent, and not a natural dying of an animal for whatever reasons.
On Borneo, this is a big thing. And its growing. Just as we convert forests to other land uses (deforestation), Borneo’s wildlife is also being systematically removed. Lets investigate how this is happening, the whys, and the wheres.
Firstly, let’s look at this in perspective. Clear a forest, and its kinda logical to assume that everything that lived in that forest is also lost. Some birds can fly away to other forests, and some mammals can scurry away and seek refuge elsewhere. That is if they are not killed on a road first. But the vast majority dies. The landscape has been dewilded.
If we take the continuing loss of forests as a given, then what we have left is an ever decreasing patchwork of natural habitats with a still further reducing number of animals in them. Not all animals can survive for long in patches of forest. Others, like long-lived hornbills, live on for many years, but have no means to breed, and eventually die off too. Also, gaining access to forest patches makes it easy for hunters, quickening the rate at which species disappear. This continuing loss of animals, whether we lose forests or not, is what we term dewildication.
We have examined this removal (a verb, an action) of wild animals on Borneo in depth, and have come up with three main reasons for this. Wild animals are removed to be consumed, to be kept (or used) as objects of desire or for perceived needs, and most worryingly, simply for the thrill of killing a wild animal. Let explore a little these three causes of dewildication.
We eat them
Wild animals have always been humankind’s most important source of food for the past 40 million years. The upright ape was a meat-eater, and it evolved socially to hunt animals. Their first tools were not hammers to build homes, but spears to hunt animals.
Becoming socially advanced allowed them to feed themselves more efficiently, and benefit from living in family units. Eventually they progressed to an agrarian lifestyle, allowing settlements and civilization to develop. And even then, they remained meat-eaters, learning to domesticate poultry, pigs, cattle and even fish.
Fast-forward to today, 21st century humankind is still meat-eating. On Borneo, a large part of society still remains rural, and still has access to the forests where meat (other than pork, beef or chicken) still walks about. And eat them with relish we do. But things are slightly different now. Kill a boar and it can feed 20 families at once, or 10 families for 2 weeks. We also have vehicles to transport hunted meat vast distances, and electricity to store it for months.
In European restaurants, one can order escargot, rabbit, chamois, ostrich, pigeon and quail, in addition to the staple horse, pork, beef and duck. No one flinches, in fact, it’s a treat! In Asian restaurants, one can order soft-shelled turtle, porcupine, snake, civet and a large bat, in addition to the staple wild boar, barking deer, chicken and beef. Surprisingly, the reaction from a “westerner” is one of horror! “How can you eat that poor animal?” He exclaims!
BorneoFutures aims to bring perspective to this discussion, particularly from a large tropical island like Borneo. Yes, we have laws and regulations. We have permit systems, gun controls and lists of protected and non-protected animals. Amidst all this, we also have a culture that literally defines itself by what it eats, and rapidly dwindling populations of some of the world’s most enticing and vulnerable animals. Who is right, and how wrong is wrong? Through our articles and scientific research papers, we attempt to bring a balanced view to the issue of Dewildication.
The Thrill of the Kill
In times past, bring a kill back to your village and you’re the hero. The chest puffs out, the gait is swanky, and the smile is broad. Over the night’s campfire, the chase, and the ultimate conquest of the prey is told, and retold. The meat is enjoyed, and shared. Children are nourished, and the hunter is recognised for his ability, courage, endurance and contribution to society. There were even titled individuals, such as Bear-hunter and Crocodile-killer, who enjoyed privilege and stature in these societies.
On Borneo, this scenario acts itself out even today. In most cases the shotgun has replaced the blowpipe as the death-deliverer, and the longboat that carried the meat back had an outboard engine. But the admiration and freely-given respect to the hunter is genuine, just as it was 7,000 years ago.
Successful individuals in Bornean society have disposable cash, and amongst the things that they value most now, apart from the nice car and big house, is a gun. We are not a violent society, but a gun embodies power. If you can afford a nice gun, with a license, what would you do with it? You can’t take it down to the pub for your friends to admire, nor can you walk around town with it.
Hunting for the sake of hunting is big on Borneo. And it’s not limited to the urban wealthy businessmen. Even village people hunt as a means of spending time. There’s only so much television one can watch, and going off with a group of friends with a week’s rations into the forest is perhaps the most exciting thing to do. If you come home with a pig and a deer, great!
Sport hunting is increasingly becoming the biggest cause of dewildication today. These hunters don’t target only wild boar or deer, which are the main species hunted for food. They are the ones who shoot hornbills, leopards, monkeys and orang-utans. And their impact is both intense, and localised. One person comes back with a leopard, and by the next week, there are several hunters out there, in the same spot, looking for the other leopard. Within a few months, that area has been deleoparded. Same with orang-utans.
BorneoFutures explores the myths of hunting for sport, and seeks to convene debate and discussion on the matter. At what point does one cross the line between hunting for food and hunting because of the thrill and recognition it brings? In this day of social media, posts of one’s prowess are irresistible, and invoke wide online discussions. Is this a good thing? Does it promote sport hunting, or does it become a tool to control hunting? Or does anyone care?
Iban hunters processing a bearded pig by a stream. It’s an elaborate process once a kill is made, and involves everyone, from the making of the fire, to the skinning, chopping and separation of entrails, and packing the meat in salt for transport back to town. It’s a jolly time of hard work, laughs and good eating!
Seeking Eternal Life & Beauty
For thousands of years people have believed in cures and remedies from nature. Many are true, and some still exist in the pills and balms doctors prescribe us today. Many are not true, and have receded to the old tomes of alchemy and witchdoctoring. But not all have receded… some continue to hold firm in our beliefs, like the powdered bones of a tiger, the gallstone of a bear or the horn of a rhino.
Conservationists shudder at the thought of the torturous existence of bears in bile farms, and precious tigers snared right inside strictly protected areas by daring poachers. Why, oh why they scream.
The point is no longer whether there’s someone out there who believes in exotic tonics or remedies, or not. The deep cultural emotions around losing loved ones, or the fear of losing worldly possessions through death, are not sentiments a conservationist can appeal to. These are human traits, more apparent in some cultures, and less in others.
A Chinese farmer, arrested in Manchuria, said “What kind of son would I be if I didn’t cross the world, and spare no expense, to find a cure for my dying mother?” “I will be damned to hell if I didn’t”. He had just bought 3gms of a grey powder, from a critically endangered rhinoceros butchered for its horn in northern Vietnam.
BorneoFutures seeks to promote debate and discussion on dewildication for beliefs. We present findings of scientific research, and continuous surveillance across Borneo for this aspect of dewildication – the international trade in wildlife and animal parts and products. Ivory and pelts are things of great beauty. There is something in humans that draws them to an item of beauty, and the more exotic it is, the more it is valued. Animal parts, and living animals too, are much sought after. A Bulwer’s Pheasant, a beautiful endemic bird on Borneo, can fetch USD25,000 for a single live bird. Why? Two minor reasons, it is found only on Borneo, and it is hard to find. But the main reason is…. its ILLEGAL to own one!
The Helmeted Hornbill, the only species with ivory, has been an object of art for over 2,000 years. The early Chinese traders to Borneo’s shores cherished this ivory, and called it Ho-Ting
Pangolins are being "eaten to extinction" due to a demand for their meat at banquets in China and Vietnam and their scales for use in Chinese medicine, conservationists have warned.
Besides for food and medicine, animals are also hunted for trophies.
A forest turtle makes for a delicious meal, albeit a small one. Local people don’t call this hunting, because it only involves picking up the turtle from the forest floor, and chopping it up for the pot. Some don’t even consider turtles wildmeat!