PETALING JAYA: To combat wildlife trafficking, Malaysia must look into standardising wildlife protection laws between the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak, as well as beefing up action against online traders, says a new report by Traffic.
The report recommended these among others after examining the issues faced by Malaysia, which continues to be a hotbed of illegal wildlife trade with products not only moving through Malaysian ports, but also online.
The "Southeast Asia: At the heart of wildlife trade" report which studied thousands of wildlife product seizures in 10 Asean countries, said among Malaysia’s main challenges were that the wildlife protection laws for the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak were not standardised and harmonised.
“For example, more than 1,900 species are considered totally protected in the peninsula from any form of hunting or trade though only 12 and 76 species are considered totally protected in Sabah and Sarawak respectively.
“Corresponding fines are similarly low particularly in Sarawak (maximum of RM25,000 compared to the peninsula, which reaches up to RM500,000 fine and a jail term of up to five years per offence, ” said the study by the wildlife trade monitoring network published on Thursday (Feb 20).
It said that the wildlife protection laws in Sabah (Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997) and Sarawak (Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998) should be updated to improve the coverage of native and non-native species.
These species should be accorded protection while improvements should be made for penalties and regulation governing the issuance of harvest licences and trade permits, said the study.
“Similarly, penalties must also be standardised, particularly an increase in penalties for violations in Sabah and Sarawak, ” it added.
Law enforcement agencies in the peninsula had been making significant progress in apprehending illegal traders over the past two years, said Traffic, which encouraged authorities in Sabah and Sarawak to do the same.
It said significant progress has already been observed since the launch of Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah in September 2019 led by the police and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).
The study also noted that Malaysia’s air and sea ports were being utilised and exploited to continuously facilitate large volumes of ivory, pangolins and rhino horns from Africa being tracked through the country.
At least 63,419kg of illegal ivory seizures have implicated Malaysia as part of the trade route from 2003 to 2014, with Malaysia itself seizing some 19,000kg of ivory during this period.
More than 50% of these had passed through Malaysia undetected and were seized by other countries and an additional 5400kg of African ivory was seized by Malaysia from 2015 to 2017, all of which transited the Middle East.
“Malaysia was also identified by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as Category A with a key role in the ivory trade as large amounts of ivory implicate the country as a transit hub, as well as a consolidator and redistributor, ” it said.
Other challenges that Malaysia was facing in its bid to combat wildlife trafficking include traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) shops openly selling bear bile, restaurants and outlets selling wild meat, and widespread illegal trade activity online.
About 70% of TCM shops surveyed in the peninsula from 2017 to 2018 openly sold bear bile products compared to 48% of the shops surveyed in 2012, said the study.
Meanwhile, at least 3,640 Indian star tortoises were seized from 2011 to October 2019 with online surveys from 2006 to 2015 finding at least 1,023 Indian star tortoises were offered for sale in 185 advertisements.
“Given that Malaysia does not have open physical wildlife markets at the scale of those elsewhere in the region, conducting investigations into individuals involved in hunting and supplying wildlife is paramount, especially so for trade on social media, ” it said.
Online markets should be monitored and researched while social media platforms and online commercial portals should adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against the trading of endangered wildlife on their platforms, it said.
Malaysia should also investigate and collaborate with neighbouring countries to prosecute those involved in moving containerised shipments of high-proled commodities such as ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales from Africa, said the report.
“This should include the building of regional portfolios on shippers and seizures (proling), investigations into anti-money laundering, potential locally-based operators enabling the trade as well as carefully planned controlled delivery operations, ” it said.
The report also proposed for Malaysia to improve its prosecution and conviction rates, particularly through the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Financing Terrorism Act to criminalise offenders.
The report found in recent years, globally, some 900,000 pangolins had been trafficked and over 200 tonnes of African elephant ivory as well as 100,000 pig-nosed turtles seized.
It also revealed that over 45,000 songbirds were seized in Sumatra and Java between 2018 and 2019.
Meanwhile, over 6,000 Indian star tortoises were seized in 2017 with all of them heading to either Malaysia, Thailand or Singapore and more than 3,800 bear equivalents were seized in Asia, implicating almost all Asean countries between 2000 and 2016.
The report said despite the 10 Asean countries being parties to the CITES and recognising illegal wildlife trade as a serious crime, the legislation strength in the region is still “largely weak”.
Illegal trade continued to thrive in the region due to issues such as organised criminal networks, poor conviction rates, inadequate laws and poor regulation of markets and retail outlets.
South-East Asia Traffic director Kanitha Krishnasamy said that not a day went by without a wildlife seizure taking place in the region, and all too often in “jaw dropping volumes”.
“Seizures are certainly commendable but what must be eradicated are the many basic enabling factors that drive and fuel illegal trade.
“This assessment shows the close links between Asean countries and the wider world. The region is source, consumer and transit personified.
“Only political will at all levels of government and a willingness to act will break the grip of illegal trade chains and networks, ” said Krishnasamy.
The report also proposed a range of solutions including in policy, law enforcement, demand reduction and cross-sector cooperation to reduce the prevalence of illegal wildlife trade coming to or through the region.
The full report can be downloaded here.
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