THE recent raids conducted by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) in Peninsular Malaysia led to the arrest of a Vietnamese national who was found in possession of more than 200 teeth and claw parts from sun bears, claws from a Malayan tiger, and a pair of antlers from a sambar deer in Sungai Siput, Perak. He will be charged under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716).
The arrest of this 30-year-old foreign national is not the first, as there have been previous cases reported involving Vietnamese poachers in Malaysia. In September 2016, for instance, seven Vietnamese traffickers were arrested after a joint surveillance effort by Perhilitan, Interpol and the Wildlife Justice Commission.
WWF-Malaysia congratulates the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry (NRE) and Perhilitan on the recent arrests of suspects involved in the illegal wildlife trade in Peninsular Malaysia. While these arrests send a strong message to poachers, the ones who are usually caught are not the real masterminds behind the operations. This reiterates the seriousness of international organised wildlife crime, one that Malaysia isn’t spared from either.
This trade is operated in the same way as illegal drugs and weapons by international networks across the globe. Poaching and wildlife trafficking are the most critical and urgent threats to the survival of many iconic species in Malaysia including the critically endangered Malayan tiger.
These wildlife crimes strengthen the need to have both intelligence-based and special operations teams to act on targeted information to cripple them. This is the only way to stop the empty forests syndrome from becoming a reality in Malaysia. (Empty forests syndrome refers to threats that are primarily caused by humans, particularly hunting, in tropical forest ecosystems. These cause the ecological extinction of species and continued degradation of biodiversity.)
An increasing demand for exotic animals driven by factors such as greed, alleged medicinal value, and religious reasons particularly in Asia have contributed to the massive increase in wildlife crimes. The scale of this business is immense, with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) valuing the global illegal wildlife trade business at between US$10bil and US$23bil a year in 2016. After narcotics, human trafficking and weapons, wildlife crime is the fourth most lucrative illegal business in the world.
However, it is almost impossible to obtain actual figures for the value of the illegal wildlife trade. Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC states that the primary motivating factor for wildlife traders is economic. This ranges from small-scale local income generation to major profit-oriented businesses. It is therefore easy for criminals to obtain the highest financial returns at very minimum risks.
Efforts by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and Perhilitan to combat the illegal wildlife trade network demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the survival of iconic species in our country. This call for greater action has also been met by other federal and state authorities alike.
An excellent example is Perak state’s recent commitment to achieving zero poaching by 2020. While it may currently seem far-fetched, it is not impossible. Nepal, for example, has been able to achieve 365 days of zero poaching from February 2013 to 2014 for rhinos, elephants and tigers.
This move to achieve zero poaching also complements the state of Perak’s recent registration for Conservation Assured Tiger Standards, a new conservation tool to set minimum standards for effective management of tigers and to encourage assessment of these standards in relevant conservation and protected areas.
Apart from stepping up enforcement, imposing high penalties for wildlife offences will also act as a deterrent to wildlife crimes. Perhilitan is currently reviewing the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 to strengthen this legislation, which includes increasing the penalties for wildlife related crimes. WWF-Malaysia welcomes this move and urges for the introduction of minimum penalties that take into consideration the value of the wildlife seized, apart from mandatory imprisonment.
For instance, Tanzania’s Wildlife Conservation Act 2013 imposes imprisonment and possible fine in the amount of at least twice the value of the wildlife involved. Closer to home, Malaysia’s Customs Act 1967, which includes provisions that consider the value of goods in its minimum penalties, is a good example. Under this Act, offences such as smuggling of prohibited goods carry a minimum fine of 10 times the value of the prohibited goods (or RM50,000 whichever is greater), or a jail term of three years, or both upon conviction.
Considering the staggering value (amounting to millions of ringgit) of wildlife parts seized in recent successful operations, we call for stiffer minimum penalties that also consider the value of the wildlife as a determining factor for minimum penalties in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. Wildlife crimes should be considered a serious crime and maximum sentences should be meted out on those convicted of an offence.
This will send out the signal that Malaysia is serious in penalising wildlife offenders, and ultimately aim to achieve reduced human pressure on the country’s biodiversity.
We also strongly urge all Malaysians to be more vigilant, aware and practise intolerance towards wildlife crimes, and play an active role in the protection and conservation of our Malaysian wildlife for our future generations. Please report wildlife crimes to the Wildlife Crime Hotline 019-356 4194.