By Steve Chao
The illegal trade in wildlife is thought to be worth at least $19bn a year, a sum rivalled only by the black markets in drugs, counterfeit goods and people.
But while drugs and people smuggling are seen as profitable but extremely risky, the wildlife trade has become increasingly attractive to criminal networks because it is not only lucrative but the risks are far lower. The animals caught up in the trade - assuming they even survive the journey - often end up as pets, traditional medicines or food.
The US State Department says trafficking not only undermines conservation, it also threatens the rule of law and is a risk to global health. The concern is now so great that the trade has been designated a new form of transnational crime.
For more than two decades, Anson Wong has been the internationally recognised "face" of the trade; the 'Pablo Escobar' of animal trafficking, according to some. 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.
When Wong returned to Malaysia, his permits reportedly revoked, and many suspected he had returned to the business. In 2010, those fears were confirmed when Wong's bag broke open while he was in transit to Jakarta to reveal 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, despite evidence of his involvement in other smuggling cases.
Once again, he is back home in Penang, Malaysia. And once again, the Malaysian authorities say his permits have been revoked. Since getting out of prison, new reports have surfaced of his return to the illegal wildlife trade.
101 East goes undercover from Madagascar, to Thailand, to Indonesia and to Malaysia in an attempt to follow the trafficking trail and to infiltrate Wong's syndicate. More....