Saturday, September 03, 2011

Malaysia identified as a major transit point for elephant tusk smugglers

Saturday September 3, 2011

PETALING JAYA: More than 20 tonnes of illegal ivory have passed through at least two Malaysian ports since 2003, earning the country an unsavoury reputation as a transhipment hub for the multi-million ringgit trade and the figure involves only those seized.

Wildlife monitoring trade network Traffic regional director Dr William Schaedla said Malaysia had become a major hub for illegal ivory trade in the last few years.

This could have been caused by stricter enforcement measures in neighbouring countries, leading smugglers to venture through Malaysian ports, he said.

“Smugglers tend to move to an easier' place. If enforcement in other countries heats up, then they will find a soft spot elsewhere,” he said.

It was reported that 794 African ivory tusks were confiscated by Hong Kong authorities on Monday after they arrived by sea from Malaysia. The tusks, weighing 1.9 tonnes and estimated to be worth around HK$13mil (RM4.97mil), was concealed in a consignment declared as non-ferrous products for factory use.

The seizure came after last week's report that more than 1,000 elephant tusks were seized by Tanzanian authorities. The tusks were hidden in a strong-smelling container of anchovies destined for Malaysia.

The huge amount of ivory being shipped accounts for thousands of elephants killed in the past few decades. Some tusks come from freshly-killed animals while others are from stockpiles.

Dr Schaedla said it was vital that Malaysia increased its regional cooperation and exchange of information with Asean countries via the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network.

He also suggested that customs officers improve their communication mechanisms by using the Ecomessage system set up by Interpol. (Ecomessage is a database to coordinate international efforts to combat environmental crime, including illegal trafficking of wildlife.)

Local enforcement agencies should gather intelligence or information and bring it to the National Central Bureau (NCB) located at the federal police headquarters in Bukit Aman.

Dr Schaedla said Malaysian customs officers should also work with the World Customs Organisation's regional intelligence liaison offices to exchange information and intelligence effectively.

However, Dr Schaedla commended the Customs Department for heightening its enforcement measures of late, saying: “Malaysia is now quite serious about wildlife crime but still has a long way to go.”

Traffic has identified Malaysia as “a country of concern” in its latest Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) report.

Records of confiscated ivory shipments showed several seizures in other countries had transited through Penang and Pasir Gudang, which were considered “high-volume” ports.

Among the countries that seized ivory shipments after transiting through Malaysian ports were Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

The latter two are themselves known transit hubs for the illegal ivory trade, according to Traffic reports.

A general manager of a shipping company said there were around 50,000 to 100,000 containers which entered ports for transit in a month, adding that the containers were allowed to be stored free in the container yard for 28 days.

He claimed that Customs officers would only conduct an X-ray inspection on containers if they had a tip-off.

According to the World Wildlife Fund Global website, there could have been as many as three to five million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s.

However, today, only some 300,000 elephants roam southern Africa and considerably fewer in West Africa.

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