The Star Online, 13th December 2013
BY VICTORIA BROWN
Illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia may be rampant, but we should work to plug gaps in enforcement rather than concede defeat.HUSKS being sawed off, tigers being skinned, bears kept in captivity to harvest bile, and endangered animals being eating by humans.
Wildlife poaching and trade is becoming a huge problem in Malaysia.
I spoke to the Southeast Asia regional director of wildlife protection NGO Traffic Dr Chris Shepherd and he told me that Malaysia plays an important role in the global wildlife trade.
Malaysia is not only a source of exotic wildlife to be sold off in the black market, but we are also a consumer of illegal wildlife items, and transit point for several poachers around the world.
“Tigers are being poached all over Malaysia. Malaysia is also a source for pangolins, freshwater turtles and many more, for both the domestic market and export. Sambar deers are also being poached in a serious way which is mostly used for local consumption at the local restaurants,” said Shepherd.
The illegal slaughter of these animals have already caused banteng (wild cattle) and rhinos to be extinct in Peninsular Malaysia.
“Tigers are dwindling, and that’s sad because Malaysia really has a chance to keep its tigers. We will lose them if we don’t change,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd says that there is no excuse for the senseless drop in our wildlife population.
“The only reason it happened was because there wasn’t enough effort to protect them. The habitat is still there,” he said.
“There’s enough habitat to have over a thousand tigers for example, they’re just getting emptied out,” said Shepherd.
It is estimated that less than 500 tigers can be found in the wild in Malaysia.
“Everything is in decline. It’s very depressing that we’re losing so much wildlife so fast. Even though people know about this, the most depressing thing is that so little is being done,” said Shepherd.
The worse thing is that these illegal items harvested by poachers are relatively easy to find in Malaysia.
“Malaysia is one of the top five countries in the world for availability of illegal bear bile medicine.
“And it’s in the “group of eight” countries known for illegal ivory smuggling. It’s also a major consumer and transit point for illegal tortoises from India and Madagascar,” said Shepherd.
This business is not only responsible for the dwindling amounts of wildlife in Malaysia, but these poachers are earning millions out of the illegal trade.
“Anson Wong is just one of them. There are other dealers that is of the same scale as Anson Wong operating in Malaysia, and the authorities really need to do something about this because these guys are operating in huge volumes and big money,” said Shepherd.
He says that the authorities are aware of the issue, but corruption and complacency is a problem.
“There’s no way that dealers can operate on such a large scale without the authorities becoming aware of it. But being aware about it and doing something about it are different things,” said Shepherd.
He says that illegal wildlife trade has to become a priority for the government.
“The authorities have to be going after the big dealers in Malaysia and putting them out of business. They are completely plundering Malaysia’s forests and they think that they are untouchable. This has to change,” said Shepherd.
He says that authorities should be catching the big players and putting them in jail and slapping them with a huge fine (and not just a slap on the wrist).
“The wildlife trade is worth billions, if someone is earning millions of dollars of wildlife what good is it going to do fining them a thousand dollars?”
“Malaysia has really good laws actually, some of the best laws. But they are not always being enforced as well as they should be. We have the tools to tackle wildlife trade but if you don’t use them they are useless,” said Shepherd.
Everyone has to see that wildlife poaching is get worse year by year, with species being wiped out because of the trade.
“We have already seen the results of this kind of activities in other countries. Cambodia has no more tigers. Thailand has no more rhinos.
Vietnam lost its last rhino two years ago when it was shot,” said Shepherd.
Poaching and illegal traders are a even bigger threat to many species than habitat loss. So let’s learn from the mistakes of other countries and take action!
It is our concern that that poachers are killing protected animals in our jungles. It is concern that poachers are driving our wildlife to extinction for their own gain!
We can’t be sitting down thinking that somebody else is doing something or that it isn’t our problem. Stand up and take action!
“The public has to keep speaking up, the public has to stop eating at restaurants selling illegal wild meat.”
“The public has to stop going to shops that sell illegal medicines. If a shop sells bear bile, don’t go there. Don’t buy anything there.
Don’t even buy your bread there. Report it. It shouldn’t be just the NGOs making noise,” said Shepherd.
Everyone is going to lose at the end of the day if nothing is done.
Shepherd says that it’s not too late for Malaysia to turnaround and save our wildlife.
“Malaysia is unique in that there still is a good chance to keep its wildlife. There is still a lot of wildlife here and there are still many species still in good population numbers. Whereas other countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, it is already too late for many species,” says Shepherd.
So let’s take a stand for our animals. Report shops selling illegal products from the trade. Urge for better wildlife enforcement and penalties. Speak up before it’s too late!
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.