THE Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) lauds the US$18 million (RM80 million) seizure of elephant tusks, rhino horns, pangolins and other threatened animal parts by police on July 10, which is said to be the largest in the nation’s history.

While the haul is significant, the recent bust is not the first as there have been recurring cases of illegal wildlife trade making its way into Malaysia.

Our country has become a popular regional transit hub used by criminal networks for lucrative illegal trade, with Port Klang being a port of choice for containerised shipment. The lack of action to stamp out this appalling trade in ivory and rhino horns has earned Malaysia an international reputation as a “serial” importer of both these illegal items.

It is worrisome and intriguing that the seizures of wildlife shipments have never resulted in any arrests despite investigations conducted. In the past, labelling of ivory for delivery to addresses in Malaysia failed to produce any arrests as the addresses were believed to be fake.

The perpetrators of this illegal activity will continue to carry on this trade, knowing how easy it is to evade arrests in Malaysia as they are rarely caught and even more rarely punished. For years, ivory shipment has been making its way through Malaysia unhindered.

Founder and Director of Nature Alert (UK) Sean Whyte has expressed concern in the past, and recently in his email dated Aug 6 noted that: “For the last 10 years, Malaysia has been known and talked about in both national and international media as a major hub for the illegal trade in ivory. We have seen many confiscations, (but) practically no transparency over the confiscated ivory and no arrests. Given that these shipments arrive in Malaysia addressed to someone, does it not seem suspicious that no Malaysian ivory trafficker has been arrested, much less prosecuted? Something stinks and it is not from the blood on the ivory.”

Whyte’s email suggests that the illegal trade could not have happened without inside help.

A shocking truth came to light recently with the arrest of a Malaysian major wildlife trafficking suspect by Thai police in Thailand. This was revealed in an Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report on June 30 June, a day after his arrest.

The EIA investigations revealed his involvement in the wildlife trafficking business for more than two decades. He was providing concealment and packing services to criminal networks involved in the smuggling of elephant ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales into Asia via Malaysian ports.

CAP is shocked by this revelation. The EIA report further stated that anyone with a good relationship with this specialist transporter is bound to have successful clearance in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries, often used as transit hubs for illegally-imported wildlife products from Africa to Asia. His business dealings have been undetected because of his strong connections to Customs officials and individuals involved in the illegal wildlife products in Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Laos.

With the seizure, it would be interesting to note whether the seized animal parts are identified, marked, registered and secured in the presence of an international wildlife watchdog, the Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce, to ensure the items do not go missing or re-enter the illegal market.

Upon verification, the ivory stockpile should be destroyed publicly as has been practised in many countries – the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tanzania, Kenya and Congo. The destruction is a powerful act to demonstrate that the country will not tolerate wildlife crime. This will send a clear signal that Malaysia is serious about seeing an end to the brutality of the massacre, and ensuring that seized ivory and horns will never again be sold. Only by being transparent can we convince the world of our commitment to combating the illegal wildlife trade.

To this end, CAP calls on our enforcement authorities to work together with all the relevant countries to strengthen cooperation on the suspect’s case and to conduct an in-depth investigation of the offences committed, which could lead to successful prosecution and conviction of the accused and his associates implicated in wildlife trafficking.

Mohideen Abdul Kader

President Consumers Association of Penang

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