WILDLIFE trafficking is thought to be the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world, after drugs and weapons.
In Malaysia, the media often displays images of seized pangolin, ivory, rhino horns, tiger parts and Testudines, with headlines hailing the success of the authorities.
The sheer quantity of wildlife products seized not only in Malaysia, but also those in transit or re-exported from Malaysia, is alarming.
Discussions on combating wildlife trafficking have focused mainly on elephants, rhinos and tigers in Africa and Asia.
Often forgotten is the fact that wildlife trafficking occurs across the continents and threatens exotic birds, sea turtles, corals, caimans, iguanas and pangolins.
Wildlife is hidden and passed through checks unknown to Customs and border officials or is accompanied by false documentation.
Customs officials may turn a blind eye, give tip-offs or conceal illegal wildlife in exchange for bribes. The passage of illegal wildlife through checkpoints and borders may reflect a lack of capacity or training or a low priority for preventing wildlife crime.
The transportation and logistic sectors play critical roles in identifying and eliminating these risks along the supply chain.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an agency tasked with regulating the international wildlife trade.
It has proven ineffective as it has no enforcement powers, meaning the slaughter of endangered species and their sale for profits continue unabated.
Globalisation has increased opportunities for concealed transactions, especially where law enforcement and agencies charged with protecting wildlife are under-resourced and poorly supervised.
In many countries, agencies responsible for combating wildlife crime and corruption in organisations lack resources and training.
They may also see it as a low priority or even benefit from it.
Malaysia is one of the top 10 hubs for smuggling due to developed infrastructure in the areas of Johor, Kuala Lumpur and the Penang International Airport. The Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam also are on the list for the illegal sale and trade of wildlife.
Internet sales to foreigners also contribute to the illegal trade. It is clear that legislation, enforcement, and sentencing have proven ineffective and need to be readdressed.
It is time for Malaysia to address wildlife crime in the region through a joint effort across government agencies and institutions.
Strengthening wildlife law enforcement and fighting wildlife crime have to be given regional, national and global priority and support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Interpol, World Customs Organisation and CITES.
S. M. MOHD IDRIS
President, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Penang