We must ‘show Zero Tolerance’ for Wildlife Crimes
Wildlife crimes remain woefully widespread in Malaysia. What to do? The answer is for authorities to adopt and pursue a zero tolerance policy towards such crimes and the people who perpetrate them.
“Although the wildlife laws in Peninsular Malaysia have been strengthened through the implementation of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 six years ago,” argues Dionysius Sharma, executive director and CEO of WWF-Malaysia, notes in an op-ed, “many wildlife crime offenders have either managed to escape prosecution or have been charged with the minimal penalty and subsequently managed to easily pay off the fine, simply because the profits from wildlife trade are much more compared to the fines.”
He has a point. Malaysian wildlife protection laws are stringent enough, by and large, yet they often remain unenforced – or sporadically enforced at best. As a result, poachers continue to act with impunity as they carry on further decimating endangered species almost at will. Worse: even when perpetrators are apprehended, they are regularly left off with slaps on the wrist.
In one case cited by Sharma, a man in Kedah who was arrested for possessing eight tiger pelts, 22 tiger skulls and nine African elephant tusks was let off lightly: 24 months in prison and no fine. This sentence was seen as lenient by conservationists who wanted the full force of the law brought to bear on the trafficker. “The short jail term and the lack of a fine are a demoralising finale to what should have been a victory against wildlife crime,” William Schaedla, the regional director of TRAFFIC, noted at the time.
Without proper enforcement, even the finest wildlife laws will remain mere words on paper with nary a bite, leaving iconic yet beleaguered species like the Malayan tiger further to their fate at the hands of unscrupulous people. To his credit, Natural Resources and Environment minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has promised several new measures to stamp out poaching and wildlife trafficking once and for all, including plans to increase penalties for perpetrators and to step up enforcement efforts by arming wildlife officials.
Complicating enforcement measures against environmental in Malaysia, however, is a culture of rampant corruption and a tendency to see such crimes as victimless ones that may not concern law enforcement officials all that much. Some officials can also be bribed to turn a blind eye, while well-connected local figures with links to international trafficking gangs can game the system to their advantage. That, too, will need to be addressed if Malaysia is to eradicate the scourge of poaching and trafficking.
Make no mistake: wildlife crime is big business. It accounts for around a quarter of the US$90 billion in transnational organized crime each year in Southeast Asia alone, according to the United Nations. “The trafficking of natural resources is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and must be considered a priority transnational organized crime,” Han Chee Rull, chief research officer at the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), recently stressed.
To eradicate poaching and trafficking once and for all, Malaysia will need a comprehensive national strategy to prevent, investigate and prosecute all such crimes, insists Giovanni Broussard, from the UN’s Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. Targeted educational projects among citizens, especially those living in or near wildlife reserves, about the importance of saving the country’s natural resources and endangered species will be equally important.
Sharma himself recommends comprehensive measures to tackle wildlife crimes. These, he says, should include training wildlife rangers better; going after poachers and traffickers with much more zeal; enhancing community projects to win locals over to the cause of conservation; and deploying hi-tech tools to monitor wildlife habitats with greater efficiency. The goal must be to reduce poaching to zero across Malaysia, he stresses.
Does that sound too ambitious an aim? It should not. Malaysia has the wherewithal, in the form of both financial and human capital, to declare a war on poachers and to win that war. All Malaysians can do their part to help eradicate wildlife crimes in the country. “Whoever you are, and wherever you live,” Sharma observes, “show zero tolerance for the illegal trade in wildlife in word and deed, and make a difference.”