More bite to curb smuggling


Sharp nose: Perry, the 17-month-old Belgian Malinois, showing the audience how he gets the job done. — LOW BOON TAT/The Star

SEPANG: Malaysian border control agencies are stepping up their game by increasingly taking on a whole-of-government approach in combating the smuggling of contraband, particularly endangered wildlife.

The matter was revealed on Friday when Customs Department director-general Datuk Anis Rizana Mohd Zainudin witnessed the handover of two sniffer dogs to beef up the enforcement’s “manpower” for the Wildlife Protection and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

The two specially-bred and trained Belgian Malinois were donated by Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) as part of its corporate social responsibility to assist enforcement agencies to better combat wildlife smuggling, especially at major entry points such as the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

The two male dogs, aged 14 months and 17 months, respectively, were trained at the Netherlands’ Police Dogs Centre, and arrived in Malaysia a month ago.

At the ceremony, MAHB senior general manager Mohd Arif Jaafar said even though the enforcement of illicit wildlife trade regulations fall under government agencies such as the Royal Malaysia Customs, police and Perhilitan, the airport operator is also concerned about the issue as airports are often used as a transit point.

“We always have engagements with the agencies for joint operations to enhance safety and thoroughness of baggage checks,” he said at the event attended by Anis Rizana, representatives from the Quarantine and Inspection Services Malaysia (Maqis), with Perhilitan represented by its deputy director-general for conservation, Datuk Fakhrul Hatta Musa.

Mohd Arif said there had been several instances of wildlife found in the baggage of passengers departing from Malaysia, resulting in widespread publicity all over the world.

“The Prime Minister does not want to hear any more of these, so there is pressure on us,” said Mohd Arif.

The Customs Department had helped broker the deal between MAHB and Perhilitan, with the logistics, training and support for the two dogs costing RM300,000.

On her department’s role in curbing wildlife smuggling, Anis Rizana said she is all for inter-agency cooperation.

“I am all for concrete action and not mere lip service. To effectively curb wildlife smuggling, there must be comprehensive collaboration.

“We must break silos and the job is not just up to Perhilitan. We are public servants, so we all must work together,” said Anis Rizana in her speech.

Prior to the addition of the two Belgian Malinois, Perhilitan had to make do with only two Labradors, with these dogs trained to sniff out commonly trafficked animal parts such as tiger skin, elephant tusks (ivory), rhinoceros horns and pangolin scales as well as live animals such as snakes and tortoises.

These species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, (also known CITES or the Washington Convention), a multilateral treaty to protect more than 38,000 species of endangered plants and animals from illicit international trade.According to a Perhilitan official, these sniffer dogs are highly adaptable and can also be further trained to detect other kinds of contraband, including drugs.

Anis Rizana added that in 2023, the country saw three high-profile wildlife smuggling cases mostly linked to passengers flying from Malaysia to India.

“These were attempts to smuggle out animals such as snakes, tortoises, monitor lizards, pangolins and some primates.

“We have taken note that smugglers are getting increasingly sophisticated and have switched from using carry-on luggage to checked-in baggage,” she said.

As a countermeasure, the department is discussing with other agencies on tightening the check-in process at airports further, while also keeping a keen watch on incoming passengers.

“Earlier this year, we introduced seven new scanning machines that come with artificial intelligence technology to scan the baggage of inbound passengers at KLIA, with five of them installed at Terminal 1 and two at Terminal 2, to pick up contraband, including drugs,” she added.

While having two more highly-trained sniffer dogs is a good start, industry experts say this is just a mere trickle in the bucket.

“Peninsular Malaysia alone easily needs up to 200 sniffer dogs to effectively guard our entry points,” said specialist dog trainer, A. Stephen, who runs a dog training academy in Kuala Lumpur.

He added that Perhilitan, as the custodian of the Belgian Malinois, must have a systematic plan to deploy the dogs so that they can be used as effective tools for the rest of their optimal service life, which is around nine years.

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