THERE was a drop in crimes against wildlife following the movement control order last year.
But now, the cases seem to be making a comeback over the past few months this year, and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) isn’t letting their guard down.
Instead, the department is deciding to up the ante to crack down on such offences.
“We will continue to fight crimes against wildlife to protect these animals, which are our national treasures, ” Perhilitan director-general Datuk Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim tells Sunday Star.
He says the department, assisted by its K9 unit consisting of tracker dogs, will be intensifying operations and collaborating with the Customs Department to deter such crimes.
These efforts will be focused at airports, shipping ports and the country’s borders, even with the lessened traffic due to the MCO to control the spread of Covid-19.
“Perhilitan’s duty in protecting wildlife and ending crimes against such animals goes on despite the MCO.
“The department, together with other enforcement agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), will continuously have joint operations.
“We are targeting to have 12 operations this year, ” Abdul Kadir says, adding that Perhilitan will also have cross-border cooperation to exchange intelligence on wildlife crimes.
Crimes against wildlife dipped in 2020, compared to pre-pandemic times in 2019.
But so far this year, the cases seem to be emerging again.
Between January and April this year, a total of 44 crimes against wildlife were recorded – a 25.7% spike from 35 cases in the same period last year, when the MCO was first imposed.
Prior to the pandemic – from January to April 2019, there were 45 cases.
Of the 44 cases this year, most or 39 involving protected wildlife being kept illegally or without permits from the department.
“Most of the animals in these cases are bird species such as white-rumped shama (murai batu), blue-rumped parrots (bayan puling) eagles and jungle fowls.
“Others include mammals like Asian leopard cats, Sumatran serows and bears while some offenders kept elephant tusks illegally, ” Abdul Kadir says.
Three other criminal cases involved smuggling wildlife in Johor, whereby there were two attempts to transport 110 white-rumped shama birds, 71 gamefowl, 1,000 Oriental magpie-robin (murai kampung).
Another case involved offenders trying to smuggle crocodile skins.
This year, there was also one case involving illegal wildlife trading and another about encroachment on protected areas.
He urged all parties to work together in beefing up efforts to bring down perpetrators in wildlife crimes.
Any complaints or information on such crimes can be channeled to the department’s hotline at 1-800-88-5151 or through its website at www.wildlife.gov.my
Abdul Kadir says the department has been tasked with carrying out conservation efforts on protected areas in Malaysia such as the Taman Negara national park which cuts across several states like Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan and Penang and other wildlife sanctuaries.
“Overall, there are 40 protected areas, spanning 662,890 hectares in Peninsular Malaysia.
“Besides being natural wildlife habitats, such areas also serve as a source for research, education, economy, recreation and the conservation of the ecological function of wildlife for generations to come, ” he points out.
Abdul Kadir says Perhilitan will continue its proactive efforts in curbing offences against wildlife.
Perhilitan has also increased support for wildlife patrolling with the Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah (OBK) initiative with the police, state agencies and NGOs.
The OBK is also strengthened with the BP3 (Biodiversity Protection and Patrolling Programme) by Perhilitan involving army veterans and Orang Asli recruited to join wildlife patrolling activities.
“However, such crimes cannot be stopped without the support and involvement of various parties.
“Aside from enforcement activities, public awareness on protecting our endangered species also counts.
“The public should share the joint responsibility in ending the chain of demand and supply for wildlife trading, ” he urges.
Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Foundation director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma says the initial strict enforcement of the MCO via border patrols and roadblocks served as a strong deterrent for crimes against wildlife.
“Additionally, the incidences of people coming into contact with wild animals would have been greatly reduced and hence a reduction in human wildlife conflicts, especially in areas of contact between agriculture and forests.
“However, in the recent months we have seen so many variations of the MCO and certainly a lack of strict enforcement of orders to a point where many people are confused, with delayed actions taken against those that break the regulations.
“There are people who have lost jobs and livelihoods and are desperate to feed their families and pay bills.
“Sadly, some that live in and around agriculture-forest contact settings may have resorted to illegally hunting and trapping wild animals for sale, as a source of income, ” he says.
Acknowledging that Perhilitan has had challenges in fighting crimes against wildlife, Dr Dionysius says such incidents persist with illegal international wildlife traders still at large.
“Illegal traders have also used various means and ways to avoid detection and use social media as a platform to conduct illegal wildlife digital marketing.
“All authorities relevant to border controls at air and sea ports and land routes leading out of the country need to enhance capabilities and capacity to detect smuggling and increase the use of intelligence and technology to intercept illegal shipments, ” he urges.
While the Covid-19 pandemic may have limited human movement and hence smuggling activities, Dr Dionysius says this situation should not be taken for granted.
“We have to keep up intelligence and networking and keep sampling and examining shipments to check on smuggling.
“This is not a time to be complacent as desperate individuals and organised criminals will do all it takes to beat the system, ” he says.