The Dark Reality of the Illegal Wildlife Trade
The illegal wildlife trade is an organized crime that is threatening the existence of many species due to overexploitation, and has caused many of these animals to be classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ on IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species. In fact, poaching is one of the key reasons the Sumatran rhino was declared extinct in the wild in Peninsular Malaysia in 2015. The illegal wildlife trade operates the same way illegal drugs and weapons are dealt with – by dangerous international networks – linking across the globe.
Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director / CEO of WWF-Malaysia, said “The increasing demand for exotic animals driven by factors such as greed, alleged medicinal value (though never truly medically proven) and cultural reasons (particularly in Asia) have contributed to the massive increase of wildlife crimes. The scale of this business is massive, 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.
Malaysia isn’t spared from this dark web of wildlife crime either. 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.
To highlight the seriousness of the issue, between 2010 and 2013 alone, 2,241 animal traps and 1,728 illegal campsites were found by NGOs working in the three priority tiger landscapes. Parts from 103 tigers were also seized in Peninsular Malaysia from 2000-2015.
“Within the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex (a tiger priority site in Malaysia), WWF-Malaysia spend days on end deactivating and removing snares, yet poaching is still rampant”, said Dato’ Dr Sharma. “In fact, between January 2016 and March 2017 alone, 60 active wire snares were deactivated and removed from Belum-Temengor by WWF-Malaysia. Even when arrests are made by the authorities, the ones who are usually caught are not the real masterminds behind the operations. Wildlife crime prevention requires transboundary collaboration, and it is imperative to work closely with our international counterparts to curb this.”
Once an operation is busted or exposed, the seized animals that come into the custody of the authorities have often been subjected to very high stress and torment. The animals are handled, stored and prepared for long shipment times through various means – air, land and sea travel. This would mean the animals may have also been drugged to be kept silent. By the time the animals are rescued, most of them would have experienced severe trauma and are barely alive.
Dato’ Dr Sharma stressed, “Focusing on the untimely deaths of these protected animals will not solve the larger and more pressing issue at hand – addressing and eradicating the international illegal wildlife trade network and committing to zero poaching in Malaysia. While it may currently seem far-fetched, it is not impossible. For instance, Nepal has been able to achieve 365 days of zero poaching for rhinos, elephants and tigers from February 2013 – 2014.”
For Malaysia to achieve zero poaching, it is crucial for all parties to play an active role in fighting the illegal wildlife trade. This also includes educating the consumers, who create the demand for this in the first place. WWF-Malaysia strongly urges all Malaysians to be more vigilant and aware of the seriousness of this crime. We appeal for Malaysians to practice intolerance towards wildlife crimes, and work together with us to support the protection and conservation of our Malaysian wildlife for generations to come.
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
Tel: +603-7450 3773