Tougher Wildlife Laws Not Enough, Say Activists
By Baradan Kuppusamy
KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 28, 2010 (IPS) - After years of losing the war against animal traffickers and poachers, Malaysia has finally responded with the passage of a new wildlife conservation law. But experts say it might be too late for some of this South-east Asian country’s endangered species.
They say that some species like the Sumatran rhinoceros, orang-utans, Malayan tigers and clouded leopards, are fighting a losing battle for their survival, so that all eyes are now on how this new law will be implemented.
"The tough new measures are probably four decades overdue," said conservationist Mohamed Idris. "Official neglect and corruption is fuelling the international trade in threatened species and the tough new law and action against corrupt officials may be too late for some endangered species."
The bill, which provides for significantly higher penalties and mandatory jail terms for a wide range of wildlife crimes, is expected to come into force as law in December 2010, following its approval by the Malaysian parliament in August.
"The apathetic official attitude (in the past) is a tragedy of unimaginable proportion for our wildlife," said one conservationist working for a government agency that preserves wildlife habitat at a forest reserve in East Malaysia, who declined to be named. "Even the rare and endangered tapir are found dead on the roadside, killed by speeding vehicles," she said.
"It all depends how seriously and effectively the government implement the new law," she added. "If effectively enforced, the law can give wildlife a respite against open and blatant poaching."
Critics point out that the Wildlife Department and other agencies given the power to arrest and prosecute potential offenders are understaffed, poorly paid and ill-trained. "They are not modern, don’t have modern equipment, they don’t use modern technology and their budget is minuscule compared to the challenges they face in protecting wildlife against poaches," lawmaker Kulasegaran Murugesan said. "The law is fine but the implementation part is wanting."
"We have neglected our rich wildlife heritage to the extent that many rare species like the clouded leopard and orang-utans are endangered and will soon disappear," Murugesan said. "We have the law but without the budget, the battle is lost."
The new law will replace the country’s 38-year-old Protection of Wildlife Act – considered obsolete because the maximum 15,000 Malaysian ringgit (5,000 U.S. dollar) fine for any wildlife crime is paltry by today’s standards.
The updated wildlife conservation law will increase the minimum fine to at least 33,000 dollars and provide for a mandatory jail sentence for offences such as setting snares. It will also close loopholes in the current law, including by imposing penalties for selling products claiming to contain parts of protected species or their derivatives. Zoos will not be allowed to operate without permits.
The new law will add to the number of agencies empowered to enforce wildlife laws, roping in police and immigration customs officers. Those convicted of wildlife crimes will be barred from holding any licence, permit or special permit for five years from the commencement of the case.
"Finally, Malaysian agencies have a solid wildlife law that they can wield against poachers and smugglers, who have had little to fear from the paltry fines and jail sentences of the past," said William Schaedla, regional director of TRAFFIC South-east Asia, a wildlife trade monitoring network.
The wildlife conservation bill has widespread support among Malaysians, a number of whom had written members of parliament and asked them to support the bill during the parliamentary debates in July and August. In 2009, thousands signed a petition seeking better protection of the country’s wildlife.
"The new law has given Malaysia the means and the opportunity drive home the message that it is serious about curbing this menace," Schaedla said. "So we hope the new law will be the catalyst for an all-out war against wildlife crime and that it will result in more prosecution of such criminals in the courts."
Yet, some fear that political realities might get in the way of the new law’s implementation.
A case in point is wildlife trafficker Anson Wong, also known as ‘Lizard King’, who was arrested at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Aug. 18 while on transit from Penang to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
Said to be one of the biggest animal dealers in the world, Wong pleaded guilty to the illegal export of 95 boa constrictor pythons but was sentenced to only six months in jail and fined 60,000 dollars.
Following an international outcry by conservationists, state prosecutors appealed the verdict and sought heavier penalties.
Malaysian Animal Rights Society president Surendran Nagarajan described the light sentence as a "big embarrassment for our country".
"Malaysia has allowed him (Wong) to use Penang as a base and although reports were lodged with the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, nothing was done," Nagarajan, a lawyer, said in an interview. (END)
Date: September 18th 2010
By: Siew Te Wong
- This is Ah Chong, one of the 19 sun bears currently house in BSBCC. Ah Chong is a 12 year old smale sun bear. This is the first time he touches the soil and the forest again after 12 years live in captivity.
Wednesday September 22, 2010
Don’t protect the wrong
The Star Says
TO anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Perhilitan, Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, its duty is to protect our nation’s flora and fauna rather than tolerate its ruthless exploitation.
With the questionable conduct of some Perhilitan officials in the infamous Anson Wong affair, the department’s announced revamp is long overdue. But will this promised “revamp” be the thorough overhaul the department needs, or will it be a mere bureaucratic whitewash?
The record of such matters is discouraging and disquieting. Perhilitan’s Penang director had simply been transferred, rather than fully investigated and penalised for any misconduct, following a disturbing pattern of transfers of controversial civil servants.
These transfers tend to be to locations too remote for continued controversy, and where misconduct may continue unobserved. The official message is that those suspected of guilt can remain free of proper investigations and disciplinary action, so long as they keep a low profile.
With convicted serial wildlife smuggler Anson Wong, the authorities have again shown a woeful lack of backbone. His latest crime had been discovered only by accident. Even after conviction his punishment was meek and mild.
From a maximum penalty of a RM1mil fine and a seven-year prison term for smuggling 95 live boa constrictors on board a passenger jet, Wong’s token RM190,000 fine and six-month jail term were paltry. We need to know what exactly happened in the judicial process.
The prosecution’s efforts in pressing for a tougher sentence warrant wide public support. Far from changing their ways, weak sentences will only encourage traffickers like Wong in their lucrative crimes.
We need not spend so much money in promoting the country’s image abroad if our actual standing is so transparently ugly. Like human trafficking, wildlife trafficking is a crime of international proportions that Malaysia is now seen to be a hub for.
Even big-time smugglers like Wong may find it difficult to escape chance discovery for so long without corruption in official circles. Ridiculously weak sentences then encourage more speculation on further corruption and collusion, aggravating Malaysia’s already dented image.
Since corruption is highly probable, the MACC should launch its own investigations alongside routine police work and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s internal audit.
These probes should include personnel in Perhilitan and the Customs Department, without being limited to them.
Wong once said that he “got greedy,” which is about as close to regret as he can get. It suggests that had he smuggled less, he might have escaped or been allowed to escape to continue smuggling more.
It must be clear that a licence to trade in the country’s natural resources is a privilege and not a right. Anyone even remotely suspected of wrongdoing should be removed from the list of applicants, with past offenders banned for life.
Much hope is now invested in the proposed Wildlife Conservation Act for licensing zoos.
The required criteria, conditions and vetting and approval processes must be open to public scrutiny, as well as the identities of the awardees.
However, we must reserve judgment on the proposed Act because Malaysians have too often been promised appropriate action only to be disappointed by miserable delivery. Necessary laws need to be in place and be enforced effectively and consistently.
It is high time Malaysia rises to the standards of current international practice. This must be expected of any decent country, particularly one that is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and vying for developed country status.
To ensure that proper official action continues, Malaysia should also set an example by encouraging private lawsuits by concerned individuals and NGOs against offenders like Wong, with the sums awarded going to wildlife and habitat preservation.
Coupled with official action, this should serve as an effective deterrent against their crimes and help redress the ecological imbalances they perpetrate.
Malaysia should be moving in these constructive directions to stay ahead, not only at the urging of foreign critics but for its own sake.
Ultimately, what is the worth of a country and its proud claims to success if it cannot even protect its own natural heritage against brazen criminals determined to profit by robbing and destroying it?