THE illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia is rising at worrying levels despite stricter enforcement and heavier penalties.
Greedy traffickers who gain huge profits from the cruel and unethical trade are focusing on Malaysia as it is among the few countries which still has tigers, elephants, sun bears, pangolins and other sought-after species.
A live tiger is worth about US$50,000 (S$63,000) in the black market. Its skin alone can be worth up to US$35,000, reported Malaysia's The Star.
A dead tiger's carcass, without the skin, fetches about US$5,000.
Elephant tusks sell for US$1,800 a
Among the animals highly sought after by poachers in Malaysia are wild boar, sambar deer, barking deer, mousedeer and porcupine, and several species of rare birds.
According to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), traffickers are motivated by the high profit margins in the wildlife trade.
"Animal parts are used in traditional medicine, folk remedies and as aphrodisiacs," said a department spokesman.
He said tigers were mostly hunted for bones, skin and body parts, bears for their gall bladders and paws, pangolins for their meat and scales while snakes such as pythons are traded for their skins.
Rare birds are sold at high prices while geckos are traded based on the myth that they are able to cure ailments, including erectile dysfunction.
Run by global networks
"Wildlife crime is run by international networks and operate much like the illegal drugs and weapons business," he said, adding that stricter laws and tighter enforcement had not deterred poachers and traffickers.
Under the new Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, any person who sets or uses any snare for the purpose of hunting can face fines ranging from RM50,000 (S$20,000) to RM100,000 and be jailed for a maximum of two years.
Between 2008 and last year, Perhilitan enforcement officers found and destroyed 2,377 snares set by poachers in forests and protected forest reserves.
The global illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimated US$5 billion to US$20 billion annually, with China, the US and Europe as prime markets.
Ms Kanitha Krishnasamy, senior programme officer for Traffic Southeast Asia, a wildlife monitoring network, said the demand for wildlife parts was on the rise worldwide, with the rate of poaching for elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns at its highest in 20 years.
She said in Malaysia, sambar deer and barking deer have been so rampantly hunted that Perhilitan has banned all deer hunting until 2015.
"Another species of concern is the pangolin, which is the mammal most commonly encountered in seizures across South-east Asia. "Rarer and more endangered animals like tigers and serow are also very much in demand," she said.
"Poachers are very good at what they do. They know the landscape and are usually a part of a vast, well-oiled network that illegally takes, smuggles and trades wildlife with great speed, using clever methods to evade the law," she said.
Ms Kanitha said the most powerful action Malaysians could take in fighting illegal wildlife trade was to "think before buying".
"Don't consume the meat of totally protected or endangered wildlife, don't buy products and medicines made from these animals, don't take them home as pets and don't support places which do all these.
"When the demand stops, so will the destruction," she said, adding that speaking up about the issue would help make decision-makers sit up and take notice."
On its part, Perhilitan has urged the public to report suspected illegal activities such as poaching, trapping or the sale of illegal wildlife meat to its hotline at 1-800-885-151 or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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