Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Malaysia now a global hub for wildlife smuggling!

Jan 13, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is ranked among the top 10 illegal wildlife smuggling hubs in the world, specialising in transporting pangolins, birds and clouded monitor lizards.

The wildlife is smuggled out of the country via air through the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Penang International Airport, and via sea through Johor, said South-East Asia regional director of wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, Azrina Abdullah.

She said Malaysia is a transit and harvest hub for the illegal wildlife trade.

“We are among the top 10 smuggling hubs together with Manila (the Philippines), Medan (Indonesia), Singapore and the United States.

"Hanoi (Vietnam) is also catching up,” she said after attending a lecture by Bryan Christy, the author of The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passion of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia on Tuesday.

During the talk, Christy touched on a chapter in his book which chronicles the dealings of a Penangite who was regarded as the “top reptile smuggler in the world.” Azrina said smuggled wildlife would end up in cooking pots in China, and pet shops in Europe and the United States.

“It is especially easy to smuggle reptiles because they are small and cold-blooded,” she said.

She explained that one could smuggle a snake by “balling it up” and tying it for long flights as it can withstand cold temperatures and survive on minimal food.

“Smugglers are also known to export dangerous wildlife species with valid papers as a front. The illegal wildlife would be placed below the legal wildlife.

“Few Customs officers would make the effort to unload the dangerous species to check what is at the bottom,” she said.

She added that some smugglers even dispensed tips to buyers on how to smuggle their new “pets” home on a long haul flight.

Azrina said Malaysia is the preferred hub because of its strategic location and low risk.

“We are right in South-East Asia and in the centre of things. The risk is also very low. If you get caught smuggling drugs, you would be hanged. But if you are caught smuggling a tiger, you are fined,” she said.

She said non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are lobbying for stricter laws under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972 (PWA).

“The Act is outdated and there is a need for heavier penalties. We are trying to push for a minimum penalty instead of the original maximum penalty. We are also trying to increase the penalty to include a jail term as well,” she said.

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