The goat, the bad and the ugly

Amid the excitement of ushering in the Year of the Goat, environmentalists are bemoan­ing the fate of Malaysia's only native goat - the heavily-hunted Sumatran serow.

Standing up to 1m at shoulder height, the serow is a shy and solitary animal that can be found in mountain forests, Traffic Southeast Asia regional director Dr Chris Shepherd said in an interview.

"It is very large, black, and has a mane like a horse. It has very sharp horns," he said.

Dr Shepherd added that very little is known about Malaysia's serow, its numbers or its effect on ecosystems.

Most people, he said, had never come across, much less seen, a serow except on dinner plates and in medicine shops here, reported Malaysia's The Star.

"The trade in them is extremely heavy. People eat them, (and) use their horns in traditional medicine," he said.

Fully protected under conservation laws, it can be hunted only via a special permit issued by the Natural Resources and Environment Minister.

Those found guilty of hunting, taking or keeping serow parts can be fined between RM100,000 (S$37,000) to RM500,000 and be jailed up to five years.

In a 2012 Traffic survey of 165 restaurants serving wild meat nationwide, 18 of them had serow on the menu. Six were in Johor.

Citing the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Dr Shepherd said only 10 confiscations of serow parts were recorded from January 2003 to January 2012, with only five convictions.

He said that the serow was threatened by habitat loss, adding that limestone hills which it frequented were often quarried for cement.

It was reported that the serow was found in parts of Gunung Kanthan in Perak, which were eyed by a cement company there for mining.

He said the only area in the country set up to protect the serow was in Klang Gates, Selangor.

But he added that it was probably empty of serow today. There are no serow in Sabah and Sarawak.

The IUCN Red List - which tracks threatened species worldwide - lists the Sumatran serow as a "vulnerable" animal, although Dr Shepherd said it was probably a lot more threatened.

"I doubt that it's in the thousands. We need to see these wild meat restaurants shut down, and people need to stop eating them," he said.

This article was first published on Feb 21, 2015.
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