Malaysia ‘not illegal wildlife trade centre’

Posted on September 15, 2011. Filed under: Bio-diversity |

-The Straits Times-

The Malaysian authorities have denied charges that the country has turned into a popular transhipment hub for the illegal trade in endangered species or their parts following a spate of seizures of ivory recently.

They have insisted that the number of smuggling cases has not changed significantly for the past 10 years.

Official records show 376 attempts to smuggle wildlife into and out of the country during that period.

 

“There are always attempts to smuggle wildlife or use the country’s strategic location as a transit point en route to their final country of destination. There are no significant changes in the pattern over the years due to similar market demands for these species,” Natural Resources and Environment Ministry spokesman Yamuna Perimalu told The Straits Times.

But she acknowledged that Malaysia remained a major hot spot for illegal wildlife trade even though enforcement had been stepped up.

More than 1,700 elephant tusks worth millions of dollars were seized in major ports around the country in the past two months. The tusks were found hidden among recycled crushed plastic or declared as plywood in containers. All the shipments were from Tanzania, and were destined for China.

The Hong Kong authorities seized nearly two tonnes of ivory worth about US$1.7 million (S$2.1 million) in a shipment from Malaysia last month.

And Tanzanian police seized another huge consignment of ivory apparently en route to Malaysia late last month.

The world’s wildlife watchdog, Traffic, in a statement after the latest ivory bust in Malaysia, described it as ‘”both heartening and disappointing”.

“It’s heartening because it shows that the country’s authorities can and will take action on the problem,” said its South-east Asia regional director William Schaedla. “It’s disappointing because it clearly validates what Traffic has been saying for some time now – Malaysia is a major transshipping country for illegal ivory.”

He has called for better coordination among Malaysian officials to combat the growing menace. “Often the agencies involved in apprehending illegal wildlife trade are not consolidating resources or coordinating among one another,” he told The Straits Times.

“There is no centralised system or database for recording this information. This has been the case for some time among South-east Asian countries where agencies are isolated and not sharing information.”

Dr Schaedla and other experts have estimated that the illegal global trade in wildlife exceeds US$20 billion annually. Half of that trade was sourced from South-east Asian countries.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Douglas Uggah Embas, who has ordered an investigation into the recent ivory seizures, has denied that these signified Malaysia had turned into a wildlife smuggling hub or that Malaysians were involved. “It was difficult to stop smugglers as there were many entry points. The ships can stop anywhere. But it does not mean Malaysians are involved,” he said.

Under Malaysia’s Wildlife Conservation Act, in force from Dec 28 last year, any person who imports or exports any protected wildlife without a licence can be fined up to RM50,000 (US$16,000) or jailed for up to one year.

Hunting protected species such as tigers and rhinoceros without a special permit is subject to fines of between RM100,000 and RM500,000.

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