Malaysia has to go all out to fight wildlife crime, as trafficking goes global
Wildlife trafficking is thought to be the most profitable illicit trade in the world, after drugs, weapons and human trafficking. In Malaysia, the local media often display images of seized pangolins, ivory, rhino horn, tiger parts and testudines with headlines hailing the success of the local authorities. The sheer quantity of wildlife products seized not only in Malaysia, but also those seized in transit or re-exported from Malaysia is alarming (“Critically endangered pangolins die after rescue from smuggling ring”, August 7).
Discussions about combating wildlife trafficking have focused mainly on elephants, rhinos and tigers in Africa and Asia. But wildlife trafficking occurs across all continents and threatens a wide range of imperiled species including coral, sea turtles, caimans, iguanas, pangolins and exotic birds.
Illegal wildlife products are moved through countries and across borders and sold both openly and covertly. Much of the trade goes undetected and it is difficult to ascertain the enormous quantity of illicit wildlife shipped and sold internationally. In some cases, wildlife is hidden and passed through checkpoints unknown to officials, or is accompanied by false documentation. Customs officials may also turn a blind eye, give tip-offs, or help conceal illegal wildlife in exchange for bribes or other benefits.
The passage of illegal wildlife through checkpoints and borders may reflect a lack of capacity or training or the low priority given to preventing wildlife crime. The transport and logistics sector plays a critical role in identifying and eliminating these risks along the supply chain. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an agreement that seeks to regulate international wildlife trade, has proved to be ineffective – as enforcement is lacking in many countries. This means that the slaughter of endangered species for profit continues unabated.
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Globalisation has created more opportunities for concealed transactions, especially when agencies charged with protecting wildlife are under-resourced and poorly supervised.
Malaysia is one of the top 10 hubs of wildlife smuggling, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore are also on the list. Internet sales to foreigners also contribute to the illegal trade. Legislation, enforcement and sentencing are clearly ineffective and need to be readdressed.
It is time for Malaysia to address wildlife crime in the region through a joint effort across government agencies and institutions. Fighting wildlife crime has to be given regional, national, and global priority and the support of organisations like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Interpol and World Customs Organisation is crucial to the success of such efforts.
S M Mohd Idris, president, Friends of the Earth Malaysia, Penang