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Sunday September 1, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 1, 2013 MYT 7:38:52 AM
by allan koay
For a good cause: 'Wildlife Defenders’ producer-cum-director Ira Rakiz Md Tuffile wanted to show the efforts made by the Department Of Wildlife And National Parks to stop illegal wildlife trade.
A new series showcases efforts to curb illegal
DOES consuming tiger penises really help a man’s virility? Does a bear’s gall bladder really have medicinal value? A lot of myths have contributed to the demand for wildlife meat and body parts, causing the number of certain species to dwindle dramatically. Bans, prohibitions and limitations placed on the buying and selling of certain animals and their parts, has also resulted in the trade going underground and becoming illegal.
According to a report in The Star earlier this year, a live tiger can fetch up to US$50,000 (RM154,690) on the black market, and its skin is worth US$35,000 (RM108,283). Its penis sells for US$4,000 (RM12,370). Elephant tusks are US$1,800 (RM5,566).
In Malaysia, some of the animals popular among poachers are wild boar, sambar deer, barking deer, mousedeer, porcupines and rare birds. Seeing how Malaysia always gets bad press for illegal wildlife trade, Ira Rakiz Md Tuffile, managing director of Matavia Reka, and his team decided that it was time to highlight efforts carried out by the Department Of Wildlife And National Parks (Perhilitan) to stem illegal activities on our shores.
The result is Wildlife Defenders, a TV series that consists of three 30-minute episodes where Ira and team follow Perhilitan enforcement officers on their work, weeding out wildlife traffickers and traders. The series premiers on Discovery Channel today, with the remaining episodes shown on consecutive Sundays.
“When the Anson Wong case came up in 2011 (the man dubbed The Lizard King was known as “the world’s most notorious wilidlife trader”), that was when they were talking about the Wildlife Conservation Act being enforced,” said Ira. Under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, any person who sets or uses snares for the purpose of hunting, faces fines ranging from RM50,000 to RM100,000 and a maximum two-year jail sentence.
“It was reviewed in 2010 and came into enforcement in late 2011. During that time, I was working on other projects,” Ira explained. “I kept reading about wildlife trafficking cases, and how Malaysia was getting flak for being a hub for such activities. But there have been efforts to stop these activities, so I thought it would be a good story.”
The first episode focuses on poachers, while the second looks into the traditional Chinese medicine trade. The final part takes viewers into the world of forensics which helps build cases against illegal traders in a court of law.
For more than a year, Ira and his team followed the Perhilitan enforcement officers, going with them on raids and spot checks on restaurants, medicine shops and pet stores, and also on their stakeouts and physical pursuits of syndicates.
As producer and director of the series, Ira wanted Wildlife Defenders to be action-based. They worked with a minimal crew of three. During raids, they often had to pass themselves off as Perhilitan officers. In one segment where Perhilitan carries out a spot check on a restaurant in Selangor, Ira had to shoot the goings-on himself because Perhilitan didn’t want too many people involved in the operation.
“We often had to put on the Perhilitan vests,” said Ira. “There was no real danger but they didn’t want to cause any tension.”
Still, there were tense moments. At a restaurant in Johor, the situation became a bit heated as everything was being taken away. People from the village had also gathered there. Perhilitan officers had gone undercover to check out the outlet’s menu before raiding the place.
Once, while camping in the jungle, they encountered wild elephants wandering into the campsite. There was also the time when they came face-to-face with an elephant. Fortunately, nothing untoward happened. But the team had to constantly be on their toes because Perhilitan was always ready to spring into action whenever there was a tip-off.
“One challenging thing was, like, I would get a call (from Perhilitan) at 11pm, telling me they were going to Kedah,” said Ira. “So, we had to rush to get there on time.”
In the series, viewers get a glimpse of some of Perhilitan’s successes, such as the interception at an airport where more than 130 pangolins were being smuggled into Laos. These pangolins were later tagged with microchips and released back into the wild at night (pangolins are nocturnal) which was an emotional moment for the Perhilitan rescuers.
“(Pangolins) are the most threatened right now, in terms of their numbers,” said Ira. “But they don’t get the spotlight, unlike bears and tigers and other animals. I’m not sure why. Sometimes organisations can be quite selective about what animals they want to highlight. We’ve grown fond of pangolins and we feel they need to be highlighted. In Malaysia, their numbers are dwindling, and they are the easiest to catch. We hope to show an overall picture of what’s happening, and how the Wildlife Department is carrying out its efforts,” he added.
Catch Wildlife Defenders on Discovery (Astro Ch 551) every Sunday at 9pm.
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Entertainment, Lifestyle, Wildlife Defenders, Discovery Channel, Perhilitan
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