By SULAIMAN JAAFAR AND SHARIFAH MAHSINAH ABDULLAH
RAMPANT: They even lend their guns to syndicate members to kill animalsKOTA BARU: WILDLIFE poaching syndicates have been running wild in the jungles of Kelantan, hunting down endangered animals, such as tigers and elephants, in Jeli and Kuala Krai.
However, it has emerged that the syndicates have been getting a helping hand from People's Volunteer Corp (Rela) members.
It was learnt that the syndicates, from outside the state, have been engaging Rela members as trackers for their activities, with a lucrative payday awaiting the members in the event of a good haul.
Rela members not only lead the syndicates to their prizes, but also offer them the use of their government-issued firearms to kill animals.
Sources said the Wildlife Department had identified at least three groups, all of which have one or two Rela members in each group.
They are joined in their hunt by syndicate members from other states and foreigners.
"The activity has been going on for at least five years. It is an easy job for the Rela men as they have the firearm licences and are also familiar with the local jungle. That is why their services are much sought after by the syndicates."
It is believed that the discovery of carcasses of a tiger and four leopards in a taxi in Tumpat in September was linked to one of the groups. The taxi driver has been charged and faces 25 years in prison.
A former state wildlife director said poaching was not so serious in the past but it had become rampant lately, especially in the Gunong Basor forest reserve in Jeli.
"Most of the wildlife killed are tigers and elephants. They are hunted for their skin, tusks and other organs, which are smuggled to Thailand and onward to other countries, including China.
"The syndicates are making big money from their activities as tiger meat can fetch around RM300 per kg while an elephant tusk can go for more than RM1,000 each."
The "harvest" from the animals are believed to be used for a variety of purposes, including to make traditional medicine.
According to sources, the activities were previously limited to Jeli, but the poachers have since expanded to neighbouring Kuala Krai, especially Dabong and Jelawang, which form part of the Gunong Stong state park.
The source said the authorities, especially the Wildlife Department, had identified those involved but could not detain them due to lack of evidence.
"Wildlife officers have gone into the jungle to track them down but only managed to find tents, which had been abandoned by the syndicate members."
It was learnt that the department's rangers were still monitoring the areas round-the-clock to prevent the group from entering the jungles.
"Sometimes, the officers go undercover to avoid detection. However, they were at times spotted by syndicate members who then abort their mission into the jungle," said a villager who declined to be named.
The villager claimed some syndicate members were not locals and would return to the area when the department's officers were no longer present in the vicinity.
"I recognised the hunters as they regularly stop at a nearby coffee shop and would spend hours there discussing their plans or waiting for friends," said the villager. Additional reporting by Aliza Shah