Malaysia: Online illicit wildlife trade thriving

THARANYA ARUMUGAM New Straits Times 17 Dec 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: As illegal wildlife traders seek to expand their businesses, they have resorted to promoting wildlife animals online.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, Southeast Asia programme manager for Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, said in Malaysia, trade via social media, Facebook in particular, was growing.

In January, the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) detained seven suspects aged between 19 and 30 in Op Taring. Sixty-four totally protected animals were seized, including sun bear cubs and leopard cat cubs.

“In July, Perhilitan officers arrested a man and his accomplices in Klang by setting up a meeting at a hotel via social media.

“They rescued two baby Orang Utans, which were to be sold for RM40,000,” Kanitha told the New Straits Times.

However, she said online trade was relatively new in Malaysia and there were difficulties in monitoring due to the frequency and sheer volume of wildlife being traded.

“Anyone can sit in their home anywhere in the world and place an order for any totally protected animal without having to meet up. The items are shipped out with just as much ease.”

Kanitha said since online trade via social media often took place in closed groups or forums, enforcement depended on information from the public that had access to such information.

“Therefore, we urge the public to report suspicious activities. The volume and frequency are high and no agency can deal with the problem alone.

“Collaboration with police and the Multimedia and Communications Ministry is crucial.”

Kanitha said poaching and wildlife trade were thriving in Malaysia as it was a key consumer and trader (import, export and transit country).

However, she said, a number of species took a bigger hit, such as tigers, deers (Sambar and Barking species), pangolins, sun bears, freshwater tortoises and turtles.

“In June, the Malayan Tiger moved from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Critically Endangered’ classification under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

“This is the same category that the Sumatran rhinos and leatherback turtles are in. If we don’t do something, we know how this will end for Malaysia’s iconic animal.

“Sabah and Sarawak face similar challenges. Wildlife consumption and trade continue to be an issue. For example, trade involving bear parts and products, such as gall bladder, is more prominent in East Malaysia than it is in the peninsula.”

Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife director William Baya said online trade was not rampant in the state, but it was harder to stop the practice.

Baya cited an example of a Facebook group that advertised the trade of protected wildlife.

“The authorities have been monitoring this group said to be trading Sunda clouded leopard, sun bears, slow loris, pangolins, hornbills and owls.

“Only one case has been traced, apprehended and prosecuted with the help of an agent provocateur.”

A check by the NST found a number of Facebook groups advertising protected wildlife as pets, such as “Free/jual/beli/swap haiwan peliharaan (Labuan)” (Free, sell, buy and swap pets) and “Laman jual beli haiwan peliharaan” (Pets trading website). Some groups were closed.

The groups, some with thousands of followers, were selling endangered species, such as slow lorises, civet cats, turtles and parakeets. Sellers even provided their contact numbers and pictures of the animals to attract buyers.

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