Lamentations of a repentant hunter

If there is a sacred moment in the ethical pursuit of game, it is the moment you release the arrow or touch off the fatal shot.

— Jim Posewitz, American conservationist

When I was 16, I was a crack shot but as I have reached four score and 10, I wonder if I’ve played a part in contributing to nature’s gift to mankind?

As a privileged son of a police chief, I owned a .22 air rifle and roamed the jungle fringes behind the VIP residences where the likes of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the late Chief Justice Tun Mohamed Suffian were staying.

Many years later Dr Mahathir, who was visiting Chief Minister Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud in Kuching, teasingly remarked: “So you are the young man who used to hunt behind our backyard!”

Ask my classmates at Kedah’s premier school Sultan Abdul Hamid College, the padi birds and “snipes” of Alor Star’s golf links, in front of our residence, was my hunting ground.

A year after I arrived in Sarawak to pursue my HSC in 1967, I went to Tanjung Datu on a wild boar hunt.

In those days, wildlife roamed freely and boars braved the deserted Tanjung Datu beach to drink from the salty sea.

After my HSC examination I was sent to be a student volunteer with the Skrang Rubber rehabilitation scheme.

It was here that my classmate Paul Ruping Ratep from Singai and I discovered one day that there was a “pandemic” of sorts because a ghost was at large.  

At that time, several elder Iban natives appeared to have suffered from testicular problems; apparently one by one, they dropped dead.

Consequently, the natives laid the blame on the Koklir who was an angry woman who had died during childbirth.

According to a story she was a “victim” of the age-old custom of ngayap, where a visitor was sometimes lucky to share her bed under a mosquito net.

Apparently, the man reneged on his promise to marry her and she died and to take her revenge, she went for the village’s elderly men who at some time in their life, were ngayap philanders themselves!

A day after the woman died I accompanied a group of manang shaman to the new grave with offerings of tuak (rice-wine), eggs, flaky rice and a white cockerel meant for slaughter.

Suddenly we heard the cries of the Koklir “kok…kok…kok..kok” and the entourage panicked. But it was not the sound of the Koklir but that of a forlorn nightjar.

In 1970, I left for Kuala Lumpur but returned to Kuching as the correspondent of a national newspaper.

Very soon I was hanging around with booze-indulging hunters with semi-auto shotguns who were boasting about their jungle exploits.

Unlike the natives who hunted for food, many of the townsfolk with guns hunted for sport.
During the flying fox season, they would seek out giant keluang (bats), and “ambush” them as the animals left their nesting trees to look for fruits.

Dozens of hunters would wait patiently and the skies darkened with the bats, and then let fly.
Sadly, I was part of these people who killed thousands, especially during the 1980s. When I look back I cannot imagine how cruel we had been.

Often, small or injured bats would be left where they were shot while the hunters would return to Kuching to feast on pitpor (Chinese name for flying fox) cooked in herbs and wine in an orgy of fun and laughter.

Needless to say, whole bat communities, fledglings, were wiped out. Today, the sight of blackened skies with flying foxes, is no more!  

In the old days, the natives who own 60,00 shotguns, were also involved in mass killings of migrating wild boars during the fruiting season.

Thousands were killed for food but some were also sold openly in the market.

In 1996 a master plan for wildlife in Sarawak” was drawn up resulting in the creation of more the national parks and nature reserves.

Today, thanks to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC), the sale of wild meat has been banned while there are better laws to control the sale of guns and ammunition.

Even so, attitudes have not changed and the killing continues.

Fortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has given wildlife a reprieve with a ban on hunting!
But for how long?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.