The Illegal Wildlife Trade - A Critical Threat to the Survival of Iconic Species
WWF-Malaysia congratulates the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) and Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) on the recent arrests on 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 operates the same way illegal drugs and weapons are dealt with – by international networks – linking across the globe. Poaching and wildlife trafficking is the most critical and urgent threat 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 in crippling poaching in our country. This is the only way to stop the empty forests syndrome from becoming a reality in Malaysia. The empty forests syndrome refers to threats that are primarily caused by humans, particularly hunting, in tropical forest ecosystems. This causes 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 of 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 USD10 to 23 billion 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 illegal wildlife trade. Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC states that the primary motivating factor for wildlife traders is economic reasons. 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 Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and PERHILITAN in combatting 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 – 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 (CA|TS), 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 also considers the value of 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 is a good example that includes provisions that considers the value of goods in minimum penalties. For example, offences such as smuggling of prohibited goods carries 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 if found guilty.
Considering the staggering value of wildlife parts seized amounting to millions of ringgit in recent successful operations, we call for stiffer minimum penalties, which also considers the value of the wildlife as a determining factor for minimum penalties in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. Wildlife crimes should be considered as serious crimes, and maximum sentences should be meted out for 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 Malaysia’s biodiversity.
We strongly urge all Malaysians to be more vigilant, aware and practice intolerance towards wildlife crimes, and play an active role in the protection and conservation of our Malaysian wildlife for generations to come. Please report wildlife crimes to the Wildlife Crime Hotline - 019 356 4194.
Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma
Executive Director / CEO, WWF-Malaysia
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For more information, please contact:
Communications Coordinator, Peninsular Malaysia Terrestrial Conservation Programme (WWF-Malaysia)
Tel: +603-7450 3773