By the end of the year, Malaysia will begin enforcing its new Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 including stiffer penalties for poaching and other wildlife-related crimes, such as first time punishments for wildlife cruelty and zoos that operate without license.
Dr. William Schaedla, the director of the wildlife-trade monitoring group TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, told mongabay.com that “the new law represents the first major revamp of the national wildlife law in over 30 years.” The bill will replace the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
To better combat ongoing poaching problems in the Southeast Asian country, penalties have been boosted: killing a Sumatran rhino, a Malay tiger, a clouded leopard, or any protected wildlife will now bring a maximum fine of RM 100,000 (31,000 US dollars) and five years in jail or both if they are female or young. The maximum fine drops to RM 50,000 (15,500 US dollars) for male animals. In addition, for the first time setting snares, hunting, or keeping certain species captive—such as rhinos and tigers—comes with mandatory jail time.
A Bornean rhino, a subspecies of the Sumatran rhino, in captivity in Borneo. Researchers believe there are only some 250 Sumatran rhinos left. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
“There are areas where the law could be much better organized and tightened, but as it stands, this bill is a vast improvement on the existing law,” says Schaedla. “This is because it shows greater recognition of current threats facing wildlife and addresses problems that have plagued enforcement agencies trying to protect wildlife.”
For example, the bill also expands protection to more species, including the Asian elephant. Before this new bill, the elephant was considered by Malaysian law as a ‘game animal’.
According to the IUCN Red List the Sumatran rhino is Critically Endangered, while the Malay tiger and the Asian elephant are listed as Endangered. These three species are most threatened by poaching, although habitat loss has played a large role in both their historic and ongoing declines. The two clouded leopard species, only recently split into two by taxonomists, are both considered Vulnerable. Although less a poaching target than the other species, clouded leopards are still killed for their coats.
Schaedla says that the success of the new bill in protecting these species will largely depend on implementation. Many countries have stiff penalties for poaching and strong wildlife laws, but fail to catch poachers or punish them with much more than a slap on the wrist.
“How well the new penalties work will depend entirely on how successful enforcement agencies are in bringing poachers and other wrongdoers to justice,” Schaedla explains. “The judiciary system must treat wildlife offences as a criminal offence. Offenders must be held liable and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. For endangered species to be protected, it must be made clear that poaching does not pay.”
Schaedla also says that more needs to be done to infiltrate poaching networks: “[Malaysia] should invest more in intelligence led investigations for more effective enforcement. […] More checks at known hotspots throughout the country, at sites that are known to be used as entry-exit points for smuggling wildlife, is needed. To do this, all enforcement agencies—police, customs, army—must work together.”
Given that it has taken over thirty years for a new wildlife bill, Shaedla adds that the government should look more frequently at its wildlife trade laws to deal with new situations as they arise.
TRAFFIC is a conservation organization devoted to monitoring the global wildlife trade, encouraging sustainability, and ending illegal trade in species or species’ parts.
(02/02/2010) U.S. Global Exotics, an exotic pet dealer accused of animal cruelty and linked with a notorious wildlife smuggler based in Malaysia, will not be getting back of the 26,000 animals seized from their facility during a raid on December 15th, reports the Star-Telegram.
(12/01/2009) Nothing can really prepare a person for coming face-to-face with what may be the last of a species. I had known for a week that I would be fortunate enough to meet Tam. I’d heard stories of his gentle demeanor, discussed his current situation with experts, and read everything I could find about this surprising individual. But still, walking up to the pen where Tam stood contentedly pulling leaves from the hands of a local ranger, hearing him snort and whistle, watching as he rattled the bars with his blunted horn, I felt like I was walking into a place I wasn’t meant to be. As though I was treading on his, Tam’s space: entering into a cool deep forest where mud wallows and shadows still linger. This was Tam’s world; or at least it should be.
(10/29/2009) Rescued in early October from a poacher’s snare, a Malayan tiger has died from stress and infection due to its injuries. The 120 kilogram (264 pound) male tiger died on October 19th in the Malacca Zoo after undergoing surgery to amputate its right foreleg, which two weeks before had been caught in a poacher’s snare and severely injured. “It broke my heart as I was there during the rescue. Everyone had such high hopes of the tiger being released back into the wild after its treatment at the zoo, and no one spoke of the in-betweens,” says Reuben Clements.