Malaysia haven for illegal logging and wildlife trade

VICTORIA BROWN The Star 27 May 16;

PETALING JAYA: While Malaysia is a legitimate top exporter of tropical logs, agarwood and reptile skins, the United Nations World Wildlife Crime report has also highlighted the illegal aspects of such trade in the country.

The inaugural report that was launched on Tuesday listed Malaysia as the top global exporter of tropical logs in 2013 with a total of 3,455,000 cubic metres being exported.

The report noted Malaysia’s seizures of illegally sourced wood protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

It cited Malaysia as one of the primary sources of illegal shipments of agarwood, with seven metric tonnes seized between 2005 and 2014.

Malaysia was also listed as the second most prominent destination for illegal shipments of ivory.

While Malaysia was one of the top reptile skin exporters, the report said much of the trade saw illegally sourced reptile skin being introduced into the legal supply chain.

Commenting on the report, Traffic Southeast Asia regional director Dr Chris R Shepherd said there was a lack of study on this aspect of the trade which was a “big worry”.

He said more information on the origins of the reptile skins was needed to allow consumers and retailers to make informed choices.

“We don’t know what percentage of the supply is illegal,” said Dr Shepherd.

“If the consumer is not sure if a handbag, belt or boots are made of legal skin – don’t buy it,” he said.

While the report listed Malaysia as the second most prominent destination for illegal shipments of ivory, it noted that the ivory was ultimately destined for another country.

On this, Dr Shepherd said Malaysia had no open market or demand for ivory.

“But the fact is that ivory is still going through Malaysia, and that is a problem.

“Malaysia is a popular transit country. Criminal networks pick the path of least resistance to get to their final destination,” he said.

Dr Shepherd said that if the risk of getting caught and prosecuted was high, illegal traders would stop moving through Malaysia.

“Malaysia has good laws. But good laws are only as good as the people who enforce them. If our officers are not trained, illegal wildlife trade will flourish,” he said.

He said a check and balance system must be put in place for anything traded in high volume.

“The system is to ensure that whatever your harvest is, it is done in a legal manner and one that is not detrimental to the conservation of the species,” he said.

Overall, the report states that wildlife and forest crime were not limited to certain countries or regions but was a global problem.

“Small battles are being won. But overall, we are still losing the war. We are losing so many species,” he added.