Friday, September 04, 2009

MNS Says: Who's Protecting our Wildlife?

Malaysia may not be the world's largest wildlife smuggling centre but if nothing is done now, it probably won't be long before it can lay claim to that title. This seems to be the grim reality on the status of wildlife, protected or otherwise, in our country, which is one of the 12th mega diverse countries in the world.

RM2.1mil is the value of the seizures from illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia from at least 12 major enforcement actions conducted between July and December 2008. This surely is just the tip of the iceberg. This figure is astounding if you compare this with the budget for enforcement units at our national parks. Clearly, business is good – but who benefits? Certainly not our wildlife.

Denying these problems exist does nothing to solve the problem, which is about wildlife being increasingly threatened. While we hear news reports of seizures, does that mean we are getting better in wildlife enforcement, or is wildlife trade simply becoming more rampant? While issues of illegal wildlife trade, smuggling and government transparency are currently being debated, one would be more inclined to believe the latter.

In 1993, MNS led the first Belum Scientific and Heritage Expedition to study and promote its astonishing natural wealth, to conserve it as a national or state park in direct conflict with short-term logging plans. Fourteen years later in 2007, the Royal Belum State Park was unveiled to the world. With the exception of Temengor, which is still being pursued by MNS for protection, this park on the northern tip of peninsular Malaysia was a major environmental victory for all Malaysians. So it was thought.

A "protected" area, no matter what the label says at its entrance or tourism brochures, does not mean that its precious occupants are safe from harm. Temengor remains unprotected. What's more, Royal Belum, situated at the border of Thailand and Malaysia, is known as one of the entry points for illegal hunters and poachers. Most offenders at our borders to Thailand are non-Malaysian offenders. What are we doing to address this problem?

While illegal trade thrives, the question is, where do these traders acquire wildlife supplies? Where else do these poachers and dealers get their products but at the very place that you and I have toiled and gazetted as safe and stored away for our next generations – our forest reserves, state and national parks.

Who takes responsibility for all of this? The Department of Wildlife and National Parks for its less than enthused response to media reports? The seemingly lacklustre regime of monitoring and patrolling at our protected areas? The authorities issuing guns and hunting licences? The Forestry Department for being silent on the issues of wildlife trade? Or wildlife traders, especially those who are only punished by international laws abroad? Hunters? Zoos that get wildlife through illegal means? Feel-good Disney movies that promote the capture and exhibit of wild stocks of marine fish and other marine resources? The demand generated by people wanting to feast or own an exotic pet for status in the community? The list is nowhere exhaustive but the implications and motivation is a difficult pill to swallow.

As Malaysians, we need to wake up and take ownership – now!

Illegal wildlife trade is about a carefully constructed network of illegal operators, and how we choose to deal with this is crucial. MNS offers our network of members and branches to assist in this regard. Dismissing it as unimportant, or worse, untrue, does a great injustice to wildlife.

We are gratified that the Minister of Natural Resources & Environment has committed to make full investigation into this serious matter and we look forward to perpetrators being brought to justice swiftly.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)

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