By Paul Gallagher
He might sound like something from the pages of a Spiderman comic but a Malaysian man nicknamed “The Lizard King” for his smuggling of endangered reptiles is reportedly back in business.
Wildlife trafficker Anson Wong was arrested at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport in August 2010 while attempting to smuggle 95 endangered boa constrictors to Indonesia. He was released by an appeals court after serving just 17 months of a five year jail sentence, outraging campaign groups.
Wong’s licences for legitimate wildlife trading were revoked following his conviction and the restrictions remain, but a year-long investigation by Al Jazeera claimed Wong, also known as “the Pablo Escobar of animal trafficking”, has returned to his illicit methods.
In a show called “Return of the Lizard King”, journalist Steve Chao went undercover to talk with wildlife dealers and said Wong was believed to be trading albino pythons and other animals from his base in the northern Malaysian state of Penang. Trade in the pythons requires a permit, said the report by the Qatar-based network, which said documents also revealed shell companies used by Wong to hide his activities.
Chao infiltrated Wong’s network from Madagascar to Thailand, to Indonesia and to Malaysia, uncovering the trade in radiated tortoises - the second most endangered in Madagascar.
Illegal trade in wildlife is thought to be worth at least $19 billion a year worldwide - a sum rivalled only by the black markets in drugs, counterfeit goods and people – according to conservation groups who demanded action from the government and expressed shock over the lax attitude by the authorities for failing to monitor Wong.
Shenaaz Khan, an official with wildlife-trade monitoring network Traffic, said: “Return of the Lizard King raises so many doubts and questions about Malaysia’s commitment to that fight. It is time we had some solid answers from government.
“If a news agency, with no enforcement powers and little access to information, could unearth such damning details, there is no excuse for government agencies with full enforcement powers not to do more and act on what they find.”
She said Traffic viewed the revelations about Wong’s post-prison activities with deep concern and is seeking a credible explanation on his apparent ability to continue trading wildlife despite government promises to the contrary. The organisation, an alliance of the WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has called on the Malaysian government to declare all permits issued to companies believed to be linked with him. More....