Anson Wong is one of the world’s most infamous wildlife traffickers, convicted twice of smuggling exotic wildlife across international borders. Working with anti-trafficking groups, 101 East goes undercover to expose Anson Wong’s Malaysian-based operation – and the officials who allow it.
The illegal trade in wildlife is thought to be worth at least $19 billion a year. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the world’s wildlife black market is rivaled in size only by the illicit trade in drugs and arms. The US State Department says trafficking not only undermines conservation, it also threatens the rule of law and is a risk to global health.
“He’s almost public enemy number one for us in terms of his reputation” - Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust:
For more than two decades, Anson Wong has been the internationally recognised ‘face’ of the trade. The Malaysian’s notoriety stems from 1998 when he was arrested by US agents after they lured him to Mexico in a highly elaborate five-year investigation that became a best-selling book, ‘The Lizard King’. He was later convicted for smuggling endangered species and sentenced to 71 months in prison.
In 2010, Wong was caught trying to transit to Jakarta with 95 boa constrictors. Initially sentenced to five years in jail, his term was cut to 17 months on appeal and Wong was released in February 2012.
Recently, new reports have surfaced of his return to the illegal wildlife trade. In Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo, the son of a presidential candidate introduces undercover reporter Steve Chao to one of his contacts, who shows him samples of endangered tortoises and promises that with the help of customs officials on-the-take, he will be able to ship hundreds at a time to a destination of Chao’s choosing.
In Indonesia, Daniel Tanuwidjaja, one of Wong’s trusted distributors, claims he pays off wildlife and customs officials in both Indonesia and Malaysia to allow for shipments from Wong. He also says that the Lizard King continues to deal, and that Wong’s wife is increasingly involved in the business.
Steve Chao then travels to Wong’s hometown of Penang, Malaysia, where he follows a paper trail of public records to various properties owned by the Lizard King, his family and associates. There he uncovers shell companies used to hide the illicit trade in reptiles, and also stumbles on a number of exotic wildlife buyers. After a year-long investigation, Steve Chao finally tracks down the Lizard King. And in a final confrontation, he presents to him the evidence 101 East has gathered.
Al Jazeera’s 101 East Return of The Lizard King premieres Thursday 21 November at 22.00GMT, with the first repeat Friday 22 November at 09.30 GMT. Join the twitter discussion using #AJwildlife. Audiofile.