By Balqis Lim
Going undercover to report on wildlife trafficking is an eye-opener for Al Jazeera journalist Steve Chao.
The biggest challenge for the presenter of the news network's 101 East programme, who went on a year-long undercover assignment stretching from Madagascar, Thailand, Indonesia to Malaysia, on the trail of infamous wildlife smuggler Anson Wong, was to make traffickers believe that he was one of them.
"We were dealing with traffickers who were part of a huge network. Thankfully, we managed to keep our cover and no one caught on that we were reporters," said Chao.
"In Madagascar, for example, we were presented with endangered tortoises. We drove around for hours to make sure we weren't followed."
For more than two decades, Wong, who is known as the "Lizard King", has been internationally recognised as the "face" of wildlife trafficking.
The Malaysian's notoriety stems from an incident in 1998, when he was arrested by United States agents after they lured him to Mexico following a five-year investigation.
He was convicted for smuggling endangered animals and sentenced to 71 months in prison.
In 2010, Wong was again caught trying to transit to Jakarta with 95 boa constrictors.
Initially sentenced to five years in prison, his term was cut to 17 months on appeal and Wong was released in February last year.
Chao, 40, said many questions were raised from the investigation into Wong's syndicate, such as why the Lizard King and his family were allowed to continue to run his wildlife export company after his arrest in Malaysia in 2010.
He said there had been allegations and accusations against authorities for many years that some officials and departments were assisting wildlife traffickers. More....