Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Wildlife crime in Sarawak: WWF lauds authorities over successful enforcement

Secara Rawak

KUCHING: World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) congratulates Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) for effective enforcement, and to the Courts for meting out a heavy penalty on the illegal pangolin scale trader, as reported recently.

The hefty penalty, amounting to RM 27.8 million, shows that Sarawak values our wild animals and plants, said WWF-Malaysia Head of Sarawak Conservation Programme Dr Jason Hon.

“Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that ought to be tackled with concerted and unwavering efforts. This news of successful prosecution with a very heavy penalty show that Sarawak is serious about tackling wildlife crime,” he said in a statement today in response to the recent update shared by SFC.

On 14 January, SFC posted in its Facebook page that the Sessions Court has sentenced a foreigner to one year and a fine of RM 27.8 million for having in possession, three pangolin and 2,782 pangolin scales in Kuala Baram, Miri on 6 January. The foreigner was charged under Section 29(2) of the Wild Life Protection Ordinance, 1998.

Dr Hon said due to the seriousness of pangolin trafficking that has harmed its population in Sarawak, the status of pangolins under the Sarawak Wild Life Protection Ordinance ought to be reviewed, and uplisted into the Totally Protected Animal category.

“We believe the relevant agency is already studying this and WWF-Malaysia looks forward to the positive revision of the Ordinance to grant better protection for the pangolins. A higher penalty could serve as a deterrent factor for future crimes, but this must be done with concerted efforts on the ground to ensure that enforcements are adequate to prevent perpetrators from slipping away from the grip of the laws,” he said.

He added that there have been numerous operations to nab illegal traders, and the public has been supportive of the efforts by the authority including making reports or lodging complaints when they encountered such cases.

In January 2020, it was reported that the Courts imposed a penalty of RM1.4 million to an individual who was found guilty of possession of 146 pangolins. In October last year, two men pleaded guilty to possession of 4,468 scales, but were fined RM1,000 each and jailed for one month. These punishments were too lenient and have not prevented the crime from repeating.

Citing cases in Sabah reported in the media, Dr Hon said the authority hauled in 29.8 metric tonnes of pangolin from a raid in February 2019 but a few months later in December, about eight tonnes of scales, equivalent to about 16,000 pangolins, were confiscated.

“These were only what we managed to apprehend and many have slipped the eyes of the authorities. Sarawak must also monitor cases in neighbouring Sabah or Indonesia, as the origin of pangolins may include populations from Sarawak,” he pointed out.

There are eight species of pangolins and they are found in Asia and Africa. The Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) is classified as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and occurs in South East Asia, which includes Sarawak. The population has been reported to be decreasing over time due largely to overexploitation from hunting and poaching.

Pangolins have been labelled as the most-trafficked mammals in the world. Hundreds of thousands or even millions are snatched from the wild and sent elsewhere, mostly ending up in the wild meat markets and the scales traded as traditional medicines. There have not been any proven medicinal properties of pangolins scales or meat. The scales are only keratin, similar to the material of our hair and fingernails.

The trafficking of pangolins follows a web of international routes that include Africa, Europe and Asia. According to a report by TRAFFIC in 2017, most of the trafficking occurs in Asia, with significant cases involving whole animals. Indonesia and Malaysia were identified as the most common origin countries for large quantity shipments, either as destination or transit points.

Dr Hon said there is no doubt that pangolins from Sarawak are part of this well-organised trafficking route.

As such, WWF-Malaysia calls upon SFC to continue with their awareness programme and to engage actively with civil societies and non-governmental agencies in promoting awareness programmes in Sarawak. Repeated messaging will eventually reinforce the message that trading in wildlife, either whole or in parts, without any permit is illegal in the state.

“In Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia implements conservation awareness programmes and has engaged with local communities, the public and school children in disseminating conservation messages. To this end, the public must cooperate by not consuming or buying any wildlife, and report to the authorities if they come across any cases of illegal wildlife trading,” he said.

WWF-Malaysia also calls on the media to send out the right messaging about wildlife conservation, he said.
Where possible, all wildlife enforcement activities should be highlighted to send a clear message to the public that the authorities are watching and taking action against the illegal wildlife trade.


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