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Silent Roars: On The Illegal Poaching Threats


Imagine a day when our beloved national tiger, the Harimau Malaya, or the Malayan tiger, no longer roams our lands. It’s a grim scenario where the unique tiger species that define Malaysia face extinction due to our inability to conserve them. This isn’t just a concern for the Malayan tiger; numerous other species share a similar fate.


Source: Tourism Malaysia


Malaysia, recognised as the twelfth richest mega-centre for biodiversity globally, boasts over 185,000 animal species and 15,000 flowering plant species (EPU, 1993). However, our rich biodiversity is severely threatened, with many of Malaysia’s flora and fauna finding a place on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red Data list. Malaysia stands out on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The country we cherish for its diverse ecosystems is now under siege from the menace of illegal poaching.


I vividly recall when this issue was recurring during the UPSR practices and high school. However, its urgency has escalated, prompting me to ponder whether we are genuinely committed to acting against this selfish menace. It goes beyond being a mere essay topic; it transcends our ability to pinpoint what our government should do. Malaysia’s distinctive ecosystems now face a severe threat from illegal poaching, pushing iconic species like the Malayan tiger and pangolin to the brink of extinction due to the relentless demand for their parts. Despite ongoing conservation efforts, the combination of weak enforcement and corruption provides fertile ground for criminal networks to thrive. 

Allegations of illegal poaching involving individuals in positions of power in Malaysia are distressingly common. One notable case centres on the former governor of Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, and his affluent family clan, who collectively possess a staggering wealth of US$21 billion (RM64 billion, as reported by the Bruno Manser Fund – BMF). They stand accused of significantly contributing to the vast rainforest degradation in Sarawak. Another prominent figure is the infamous Malaysian smuggler Teo Boon Ching, who was convicted of conspiring to traffic hundreds of kilograms of rhinoceros horns valued at millions of dollars. 

The examples provided do not intend to place the entire blame on specific individuals or entities. They illustrate the broader issue where reported crimes often fail to receive the justice they deserve, and concurrently, many unreported crimes go unnoticed. When travelling with family and friends on highways, we have always witnessed landscapes marred by hutan gondol (bald forests), prompting contemplation about our collective concern for these pressing issues. Selfish crimes inflict harm on the environment and involve many unreported offences that remain concealed from public awareness. 

Source: Shutterstocks

Causes and Consequences

To foster care and concern, it’s essential to understand the underlying motivations. According to a report by WWF, the illegal wildlife trade thrives on lucrative profit margins, often fueled by exorbitant prices paid for rare species. This relentless demand pushes vulnerable wild animals to the brink of extinction as nature struggles to replenish their populations at the pace of human consumption. The prices of these endangered species vary widely depending on factors such as rarity, demand, and market dynamics, with some fetching astronomical sums in underground markets. 


Source: New Straits Times                   


Meanwhile, when talking about illegal logging, As noted by Hoare (2015), approximately 35% of Malaysia’s timber production is sourced from unlawful sources, with 10% of this illicit timber finding its way into the international market from local forests. Illegal poaching is driven by a mindset that perceives nature solely as a commodity. Motivated by greed and a blatant disregard for the repercussions. Perpetrators prioritise immediate profits over long-term sustainability. And, of course, the influence of wealth and power often shields them from accountability, perpetuating a culture of impunity where illegal activities flourish unchecked. 


Therefore, we must feel a sense of outrage for the land being ravaged by poaching, jeopardising not only our comfort but also exacerbating climate issues such as worsening floods. These floods have led to death and the displacement of thousands of people in states like Pahang, Kelantan, Perak, and Terengganu. Other than that, the alarming frequency of landslides, with around 100 occurring annually in Malaysia, as reported by The Star in 2019, further underscores the environmental degradation. It’s essential to recognise that native communities are also disproportionately affected by these crises. With biodiversity at stake, the delicate balance between humans and animals is threatened, posing risks to our coexistence. 


Systemic Action

To address the pressing concerns surrounding wildlife conservation in Malaysia, the government should consider a multifaceted approach to tighten regulations. First, building on the evolutionary strides seen in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (WCA), amendments should be made to strengthen penalties for wildlife crimes further. The recent cases involving Vietnamese nationals in 2019, who were punished with two years in jail and fined RM1.56 million for poaching, should be a good example. 


Receiving substantial fines under the WCA is again a positive example, but ensuring such penalties are consistently enforced is crucial. Moreover, a comprehensive review of existing legal instruments and their impact on deterring wildlife crimes is essential to identify and address shortcomings. Additionally, the government must ensure unbiased and stringent law enforcement in cases involving influential individuals, such as the rich, powerful, or politicians. Transparency and accountability are paramount to prevent the exploitation of legal loopholes and to send a strong message that wildlife conservation laws apply equally to all, regardless of social or political standing. This approach aligns with the urgent calls from wildlife NGOs and conservationists for more effective measures to protect endangered species like the Malayan tiger, whose survival is critical. 

Individual Actions

Other than that, as each individual, we are responsible for combatting this selfish crime. Being mindful of the products we purchase is one of the ways. Supporting companies that prioritise transparent and ethical sourcing practices is essential. Avoiding products linked to illegal wildlife trade, refraining from endorsing exotic foods, and understanding the connection between tourist demand and the supply of illicit items are vital steps. Perhilitan enforcement director Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim highlighted the diverse forms these products take, including animal parts, ivory, wildlife skin products, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) containing ingredients like bear bile, gall bladder, powder, and skin. These items often get exported as luxury or decorative items, trophies, ornaments, handicrafts, collectables, or even for use in religious practices. 


Furthermore, spreading awareness about the repercussions of illegal poaching within your community is a powerful tool. Advocating for stronger environmental regulations and supporting organisations dedicated to conservation are impactful actions. Environmental journalism becomes crucial in enhancing our ecological literacy, an area where responsible individuals can make a significant difference. Given Malaysia’s moderate level of ecological literacy, some irresponsible individuals take advantage of this situation, believing that their actions will go unnoticed quickly.


Source: WWF

Lastly, opting for eco-friendly and wildlife-conscious tourism options is another way to contribute. Avoiding attractions that exploit animals for entertainment supports responsible tourism. A notable concern, as highlighted by World Animal Protection in 2020, is the prevalence of elephant tourism in Malaysia. Many venues offer interactions like shows, riding, bathing, and exploiting these majestic creatures for self-interested opportunities. Other than that, the deceptive nature of claims that wildlife tourism serves educational purposes is brought to light by the disturbing practices of poachers in Malaysian and Indonesian rainforests, where female orangutans are butchered, and their babies are imprisoned and torture-trained in bikinis or beach pants for performances in venues across the region. This underscores the need for responsible tourism practices that prioritises the well-being of animals over exploitative attractions.


In summary

The plight of endangered species like the Malayan tiger underscores the urgent need for action against illegal poaching in Malaysia. As a nation blessed with rich biodiversity, we must recognise the severity of the threat posed by this selfish crime and take decisive steps to address it. Strengthening regulations and enforcing laws consistently, particularly against influential individuals, is imperative. Additionally, as individuals, we have a responsibility to combat illegal poaching by making informed consumer choices, advocating for stronger environmental regulations, and supporting conservation efforts. Let us care before it’s too late.