Land-use change, political shifts, and economic changes have influenced hunting around the globe, yet traditional hunting practices are still widespread. Oil palm expansion and urbanization are two important forces that are influencing physical landscapes as well as social landscapes, both of which impact human hunting practices. We studied these two forces through a case study on Indigenous Kadazandusun-Murut (KDM) hunters in Sabah, Malaysia, and bearded pigs, their favourite game animal. Sabah has experienced widespread land-use change due to oil palm expansion into previously forested areas, and has also been rapidly urbanizing in recent decades. We conducted 38 interviews spanning over 50 hours with bearded pig hunters, asking them about their hunting practices, hunting motivations, animal protein consumption, and the changes they have experienced in hunting approaches and pig behaviour over time. Interviewees reported substantially different hunting styles and strategies in oil palm plantations as compared to forests. Additionally, almost half of the hunters mentioned that bearded pigs are behaving in a more skittish or fearful way as compared to the past. Respondents consumed wild bearded pig meat more frequently in rural villages as compared to urban contexts, indicating an important shift in dietary patterns associated with urbanization. Some respondents also hunted less frequently when living in urban environments, due to reduced time, increased distance to the forest, lower energy, or other factors. However, despite these substantial changes in hunting practices, numerous KDM motivations, hunting techniques, and cultural traditions have endured over the last several decades. For some KDM hunters, the bearded pig is still critical for food, gift-giving, and / or cultural celebrations.
Oil palm has cultivated new hunting practices that differ from those in forests, and has potentially contributed to changed bearded pig behaviour by providing a context for increased hunting access. Additionally, urbanization has led to changes in dietary patterns, as well as shifted schedules and time availability for hunting. We recommend location-specific management approaches that ensure fair access to the food and cultural benefits provided by bearded pig hunting, and that preserve the conservation needs of bearded pig populations and habitat. Strategies that prioritize people and pigs are particularly urgent given the recent confirmed outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in numerous forests and districts within Sabah. Mass bearded pig deaths have been recorded in Sabah and Kalimantan, presenting a major challenge for the bearded pig, a threatened species, as well as for some communities who rely on bearded pig hunting for social and dietary needs.