Malaysia: Poachers target Asian jumbos

SIM LEOI LEOI The Star 22 Jan 17;

PETALING JAYA: Elephants in Malaysia and parts of Asia may be in the crosshairs of poachers hunting for ivory.

Ivory tusks from Asian elephants are a lot rarer than those from Africa and fetch a higher price, said an international group probing the illegal wildlife trade.

Investigators from the Wildlife Justice Commission said given the unique nature of these tusks, these might attract a significant price.

“Our investigators have been offered so-called Asian ivory on va­rious occasions.

“Asian ivory is a lot rarer than those from Africa and a higher price is charged,” they said in an e-mail here.

The investigators, responsible for toppling some of South-East Asia’s most prolific illegal wildlife traders, were responding to the recent case in Sabah where two Bornean elephants were killed for their tusks.

One of the elephants – known as Sabre among the scientists – had a pair of uniquely reversed tusks and was previously featured in newspapers.

The investigators said given the unique nature of the tusks, these were unlikely to be cut up for jewellery or chopsticks.

“These would most likely be sold as a pair of tusks,” they said.

On the possible route for the tusks to be smuggled out of the country, the investigators said given the large movement of people in and out of Sabah, these could be transported by air (passenger baggage or cargo) or by sea.

“Once they reach mainland Ma­­lay­sia, they may be transported by vehicles across the Thai border and from there, they could make their way through Laos to China or Viet­nam or flown out from Kuala Lum­pur directly to China,” they said.

Although China had pledged to close its ivory market by the end of this year, the investigators said the final destination country was still likely to be the republic.

“The closing of the official markets will not necessarily stop all trade in ivory. It may just force it underground,” they said.

The commission’s executive director Olivia Swaak-Goldman said the fact that the world’s smallest elephants were being killed for their ivory showed the length these criminal networks would go to and the need to crack down on them.

“They are escalating their efforts to locate ivory,” he said.

Dr Chris R. Shepherd, regional director for Traffic in South-East Asia, said as only male Asian elephants had tusks, poachers might be desperate to take every opportunity to acquire the tusks.

“If preventive measures aren’t taken now and closer monitoring of wild elephant populations is not put in place, Malaysia could see more of its wild elephants killed for the ivory trade,” he said.

Asked if the closing down of China’s market would see a shift to other countries in the region, he said: “It’s possible that some countries in South-East Asia may become a greater market focus following the closure of China’s ivory markets but it is difficult to say with certainty which country is most vulnerable.”

With the exception of Malaysia and Brunei, Dr Shepherd said all other South-East Asian countries had some level of ivory trade.

“The latest case doesn’t firmly indicate the existence of a local market,” he said, calling the matter unusual and demanding for a more detailed investigation.

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