Zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade — Dionysius Sharma

JUNE 3 — WWF-Malaysia applauds the recent plan by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to further arm enforcement officers in its department as well as its plan to look into amending the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, by raising the fine towards offenders to as high as RM1 million plus whipping (“Gunning for the poachers”, The Star, May 30, 2016). These efforts to address the rampant killing of wildlife happens to tie in nicely with the theme for this year’s World Environment Day which falls on June 5 — “Go Wild for Life — Zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade”.

Although the wildlife laws in Peninsular Malaysia have been strengthened through the implementation of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 six years ago, 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. The plan to increase the penalty is therefore a step in the right direction, following which maximum sentences should then be handed out to criminals convicted of killing or trading endangered species like tigers. In 2013, one of the biggest tiger trafficking cases occurred in Kedah when a local man was caught in possession of eight tiger skins and 22 bags of tiger bones. He was subsequently convicted, but sentenced to just 12 months in prison and RM200,000 in fines, which was less than the minimum penalty.

Globally, the illegal wildlife trade now ranks among trafficking in drugs, arms and humans in terms of profit, especially with the advent of technology such as social media groups and online trading that has provided a platform for poachers to easily exploit. This illegal trade in wildlife is driving entire species to the brink of extinction, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Our Malayan tiger is one good example, whereby recent studies estimate that as few as 250 individuals remain in the wild.

During the recent World Ranger Congress held last month, WWF, TRAFFIC and eight international organisations called on governments and park authorities to make full use of the freely-accessible zero poaching toolkit available on the new website to professionalise their ranger forces. Governments and protected area managers now have access to the best available tools, technology, training guidelines and practices for halting poaching which have now been gathered together in this toolkit, which is supported by 28 organisations.
However, building the capacity of rangers is just one of the six pillars within the zero poaching framework, which was endorsed by the 13 tiger range countries, including Malaysia, at the Symposium Towards Zero Poaching in Asia hosted by Nepal in 2015. Countries serious about zero poaching also need to look into the other five pillars: assessment, community, cooperation, prosecution and technology.

If this approach is followed, then zero poaching is indeed possible. In early May, Nepal marked its fourth year of zero poaching of rhinos since 2011 due to a combination of high-level political will, motivated rangers, cooperation with the military, and increased community involvement.

Poaching and illegal wildlife trade is not just a local problem as it involves international syndicates using advanced technologies. This will continue so long as there is demand for wildlife, be it for consumption, to be kept as pets or as ornaments.

With the month of Ramadan just around the corner, poaching of wildlife is predicted to increase as closer to Aidil-Fitri, the demand spikes for meat of wild animals such as barking deer, sambar deer and gaur. Poachers are seen to seize this opportunity to fulfil this demand and increase their pocket money.  Unfortunately, this is still a common occurrence despite the fact that it is illegal to hunt all of these species. The increase in poaching will also increase the offtake of other endangered wildlife via opportunistic shooting and snaring.

And so as the holy and sacred month of Ramadan approaches we urge the people to stop the demand for wild meat and to report any wildlife being sold, traded or caught to the Wildlife Crime Hotline: 019-3564194 or the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Wildlife is one of our nation’s natural capital along with water, soil and geology. The relationships between these elements are intricately dependent upon one another and the ecosystem services they provide to us can be adversely affected if one is without the other. Without them, human life would be impossible on earth. Similar to financial capital, if we spend too much and run up debt, we run the risk of bankruptcy. But bankruptcy of natural capital could lead to starvation, conflict over resources and displacement of populations. Therefore, we have to protect wildlife just as we protect our terrestrial waters from foreign encroachment, our bank vaults from robbers and our homes from intruders.

We all need to understand the damage this illicit business is doing to our environment, livelihoods, communities and security. We must change our attitude and behaviour so that demand for illegal wildlife products stops.

Whoever you are, and wherever you live, show zero tolerance for the illegal trade in wildlife in word and deed, and make a difference.

* Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma is Executive Director/CEO, WWF-Malaysia.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and/or the organisation in whose name it is written and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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