Malaysia steps up action against ivory smugglers

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of  Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) says the scale of ivory trade directed to Malaysia remains a serious concern. — Bernama pic
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) says the scale of ivory trade directed to Malaysia remains a serious concern. — Bernama pic

PETALING JAYA, Aug 26 —  The seizure of a tonne of ivory on July 21 has cast a glaring light on the country’s reputation as a top transit destination for such contraband.

In the Customs Department seizure at KL International Airport, ivory estimated to be worth RM10 million were believed to have been flown in from Turkey, from its original destination in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Customs sources told Malay Mail there had been 24 cases of ivory smuggling from 2011 to early this month, involving a total of RM43.4 million.

The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) had also seized 216 units of whole or partial elephant tusks and ivory-manufactured products weighing 920kg from 2013 to 2015.

The statistics were based on seizures made at the nation’s major airports.

The most recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) report on the Elephant Trade Information System said the scale of trade directed to Malaysia remained a serious concern with increases in the past few years. However, it also noted the country had no known internal ivory market, making it unlikely Malaysians were demanding ivory goods.

In response, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the perception of Malaysia as an increasingly popular transit hub was due to the tightening of national borders that resulted in the recent spate of ivory seizures.

“Malaysia’s geographic location is central, allowing for the smuggled ivory to be transported to China, Thailand and Taiwan, which are the three main countries with the strongest demand for ivory,” he told Malay Mail.

He acknowledged the concerns highlighted in the report, saying that as one of the eight countries listed as being of primary concern, Malaysia had developed its own National Ivory Action Plan.

“In addition, every case of ivory seizure is recorded and documented as government-held stockpile. Following that, Malaysia is obliged to report the government-held ivory stockpiles on Feb 28 every year to the CITES Secretariat,” he said.

Another initiative is the Malaysia Wildlife Enforcement Network, formed by the ministry to coordinate inter-agencies’ roles in combating wildlife-related crimes.

At the regional and international levels, Wan Junaidi said, Malaysia was actively involved in enforcement operations conducted by the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network in conjunction with anti-wildlife and human trafficking NGO Freeland Foundation as well as Interpol.

Asked whether the government was planning to augment the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, which replaced the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, Wan Junaidi said it was  being looked into by the ministry.

“For the time being, we will continue to cooperate with CITES and the relevant local and international governing bodies,” he said.

Wan Junaidi emphasised that the efforts in combating ivory smuggling and wildlife trafficking should not solely be left to the government.

“The public are encouraged to report to Perhilitan should they come across any instances of suspicious activities which may involve endangered wildlife,” he said.

Ivory was seized at KL International Airport on August 3. 

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