By Baradan Kuppusamy
KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 28, 2010 (IPS) - After years of losing the war against animal traffickers and
poachers, Malaysia has finally responded with the passage of a
new wildlife conservation law. But experts say it might be too
late for some of this South-east Asian country’s endangered
They say that some species like the Sumatran rhinoceros,
orang-utans, Malayan tigers and clouded leopards, are
fighting a losing battle for their survival, so that all
eyes are now on how this new law will be implemented.
"The tough new measures are probably four decades
overdue," said conservationist Mohamed Idris. "Official
neglect and corruption is fuelling the international trade
in threatened species and the tough new law and action
against corrupt officials may be too late for some
The bill, which provides for significantly higher
penalties and mandatory jail terms for a wide range of
wildlife crimes, is expected to come into force as law in
December 2010, following its approval by the Malaysian
parliament in August.
"The apathetic official attitude (in the past) is a
tragedy of unimaginable proportion for our wildlife," said
one conservationist working for a government agency that
preserves wildlife habitat at a forest reserve in East
Malaysia, who declined to be named. "Even the rare and
endangered tapir are found dead on the roadside, killed by
speeding vehicles," she said.
"It all depends how seriously and effectively the
government implement the new law," she added. "If
effectively enforced, the law can give wildlife a respite
against open and blatant poaching."
Critics point out that the Wildlife Department and other
agencies given the power to arrest and prosecute potential
offenders are understaffed, poorly paid and ill-trained.
"They are not modern, don’t have modern equipment, they
don’t use modern technology and their budget is minuscule
compared to the challenges they face in protecting wildlife
against poaches," lawmaker Kulasegaran Murugesan said. "The
law is fine but the implementation part is wanting."
"We have neglected our rich wildlife heritage to the
extent that many rare species like the clouded leopard and
orang-utans are endangered and will soon disappear,"
Murugesan said. "We have the law but without the budget, the
battle is lost."
The new law will replace the country’s 38-year-old
Protection of Wildlife Act – considered obsolete because the
maximum 15,000 Malaysian ringgit (5,000 U.S. dollar) fine
for any wildlife crime is paltry by today’s standards.
The updated wildlife conservation law will increase the
minimum fine to at least 33,000 dollars and provide for a
mandatory jail sentence for offences such as setting snares.
It will also close loopholes in the current law, including
by imposing penalties for selling products claiming to
contain parts of protected species or their derivatives.
Zoos will not be allowed to operate without permits.
The new law will add to the number of agencies empowered
to enforce wildlife laws, roping in police and immigration
customs officers. Those convicted of wildlife crimes will be
barred from holding any licence, permit or special permit
for five years from the commencement of the case.
"Finally, Malaysian agencies have a solid wildlife law
that they can wield against poachers and smugglers, who have
had little to fear from the paltry fines and jail sentences
of the past," said William Schaedla, regional director of
TRAFFIC South-east Asia, a wildlife trade monitoring
The wildlife conservation bill has widespread support
among Malaysians, a number of whom had written members of
parliament and asked them to support the bill during the
parliamentary debates in July and August. In 2009, thousands
signed a petition seeking better protection of the country’s
"The new law has given Malaysia the means and the
opportunity drive home the message that it is serious about
curbing this menace," Schaedla said. "So we hope the new law
will be the catalyst for an all-out war against wildlife
crime and that it will result in more prosecution of such
criminals in the courts."
Yet, some fear that political realities might get in the
way of the new law’s implementation.
A case in point is wildlife trafficker Anson Wong, also
known as ‘Lizard King’, who was arrested at the Kuala Lumpur
International Airport on Aug. 18 while on transit from
Penang to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
Said to be one of the biggest animal dealers in the
world, Wong pleaded guilty to the illegal export of 95 boa
constrictor pythons but was sentenced to only six months in
jail and fined 60,000 dollars.
Following an international outcry by conservationists,
state prosecutors appealed the verdict and sought heavier
Malaysian Animal Rights Society president Surendran
Nagarajan described the light sentence as a "big
embarrassment for our country".
"Malaysia has allowed him (Wong) to use Penang as a base
and although reports were lodged with the police and the
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, nothing was done,"
Nagarajan, a lawyer, said in an interview.