Increase in penalties for smuggling wildlife a step in the right direction

Amendments to Malaysia's Wildlife Conservation Act would provide for stiffer penalties of up to a RM1 million fine and 15 years in jail for those caught smuggling protected wildlife.


Crackdown on criminals: A file photo of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency personnel foiling a pangolin smuggling attempt. Amendments to the Wildlife Conservation Act will provide for stiffer penalties of up to a RM1mil fine, and 15 years’ jail for those caught smuggling protected wildlife.

February 3, 2023

PETALING JAYA – The increase in penalties for smugglers of protected wildlife is a great first step towards combating the illegal wildlife trade, but conservation groups say more needs to be done.

For instance, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president Meenakshi Raman said enforcers must be well trained and equipped.

“The battle between poachers and enforcers is a constant arms race as poachers are always using their illegal funds to improve their methods and equipment to avoid detection.“As such, it is imperative that enforcement agencies are equally well-funded to ensure that personnel are constantly adequately trained and equipped to deal with the evolving methods of poachers.“Agencies should also consider getting input from foreign experts for training and equipment to better prepare them against poachers who, with their international connections, learn and use methods found in other countries,” she said.

Amendments to the Wildlife Conservation Act, which came into effect on Wednesday, would provide for stiffer penalties of up to a RM1mil fine and 15 years in jail for those caught smuggling protected wildlife.

The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) said along with the amendments, it would continue joint enforcement operations under the Biodiversity Protection and Patrolling Programme (BP3) in Peninsular Malaysia.

Meenakshi said the enhanced punishments showed that the government had acknowledged the seriousness of wildlife smuggling.

“We hope they continue tackling it with fervour to end the loss of our wildlife,” she added.

She also said that an emphasis on the importance of wildlife preservation and the harsh penalties for illegal wildlife smuggling should be part of the school curriculum.

Ecological Association of Malaysia president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said that while the increased penalties of RM1mil fine and a 15-year jail term were a major improvement, poachers may remain undeterred as the possible gains outweighed the risks.

“The illegal wildlife trade is a massive organised crime industry worth hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, putting it on par with the illegal human trafficking industry, with Malaysian authorities seizing over RM130mil in wildlife contraband in 2022 alone.”

“As such, the penalties must also be increased accordingly to act as a better deterrent, making the profits not worth the risk for both syndicates and individual poachers,” he said.

He spoke about how ensuring an effective organisational structure, sufficient infrastructure and an adequate reward system for locals would be vital to the success of BP3.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia president Andrew Sebastian said the involvement of multiple agencies and groups under BP3 was a promising effort and that other government agencies could also play a major role in the programme.

“The Communications and Digital Ministry must also crack down on the online black market for wildlife parts and products. These online markets play a major role in the illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia,” he said.

He added that it was critical that all relevant agencies and bodies take similar firm stances on the issue to better demonstrate the country’s commitment to combating wildlife crimes internationally and deter syndicates from using Malaysia as a wildlife trafficking hub.

“The courts should always impose the maximum penalty for every case of wildlife trafficking, regardless of how severe the offence is or whether it is the convicted suspect’s first offence.

“Government and communication agencies should then ensure that the news of the conviction is spread throughout the country, especially in the local area where the suspect was located by officers.

“This will hopefully dissuade any of the locals nearby from even thinking of repeating the same crime against wildlife in the area,” Sebastian said.

Environment Protection Society of Malaysia executive committee member Randolph Jeremiah said the amendments would prove to be a progressive step towards combatting crime against wildlife in Malaysia, so long as it was continuously supported by all parties.

“It will be critical to continue reinforcing our commitment and resources in fully implementing the Act to match the scale of the problem, especially in terms of the prosecution of offenders,” he said.

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