By Tan Su Lin
KUALA LUMPUR: Illegal wildlife trade around the world is a hefty issue and known as greatest threats to the survival of vast endangered species in driving them to brink of extinction.
In Africa, 100 elephants are being slaughtered daily by poachers as part of the illegal ivory trade.
Around the world, there are only about 3,000 tigers left in the wild, a drastic decline from 100,000 tigers over a century ago. As we speak, exotic pangolins are being poached at least, one every hour in South East Asia.
Closer to home, Malaysia has an estimated 300 tigers left in the wild; 1,500 pygmy elephants have been reportedly roaming freely and only 20 Sumatran rhinos remain in Sabah.
According to President of Wildlife Alliance, Suwanna Gauntlett, several bird species are becoming extinct thanks to the thriving exotic pet industry and the continuous demand in the United States -- known as the highest importer of exotic animals.
Today, Malaysia is dubbed as one of the biggest exporters of wildlife animals.
The worrying trend has been giving Gauntlett sleepless nights.
"It goes on in silent in the black market unbeknown to most people. It is also known as a very innocent activity with consumers who keep exotic pets at home, but most often than not, those pets are taken from the wild."
"Even in U.S. when breeders say an animal has been bred locally, it most often comes from Malaysia, Cambodia, South America or Africa. The best thing is not to buy snakes, reptiles or birds from the pet stores. Just don't buy them," she told Astro AWANI, after a talk on 'Protection of Wildlife: Successes and Challenges'.
Held in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, the talk was co-organised by local environment NGO -- EcoKnights with the collaboration from the US Embassy.
Gauntlett, who is world renowned, field wildlife conservationist, has successfully labored on her passion towards exotic animal preservation.
Her curriculum vitae are an impressive one. She is known for her tireless effort in saving jaguars from being tortured by poachers, protection of dolphins from being caught in drift nets and saving Amur Tigers (Siberian Tigers).
She was also responsible in the setting up of the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team in Cambodia. Gauntlett pointed out that most illegal animal trades were often caught during transits at international entry points.
"The last case was in Cambodia where people were arrested carrying ivory in their suitcases. We have 12 similar cases involving fresh rhino horns, ivory pieces and the largest case was in the international harbour where about three tonnes of ivory from Mombasa, Kenya that represent 5,000 African elephant tusks,” she said.
Wildlife Alliance is an international non-profit wildlife and forest conservation organization with current programs and partnerships in Cambodia.
Having based in Cambodia for the past 15 years and working closely with local governments and forestry departments, Gauntlett said the country has been steadfast in taking leadership role in terms of wildlife protection that is exemplary for other countries.
"What Cambodia has done is to have the National Wildlife Crime Control Program implementation of forest unit within the protected forest areas to avoid poachers from taking wildlife outside and the second unit (the urban unit) on the road, cities and borders to capture the transit of these animals being transported to consumers" she said.
As a result of strict enforcement, heavy penalty and awareness programmes, Gauntlett also said that exotic animals for sale in Cambodia now are far and few between.
Any wildlife animal lovers would remember Anson Wong, the world’s most notorious international wildlife dealer from Malaysia.
Citing Wong's wildlife trafficking episode as an example, Gauntlett said the local government needs to strengthen its laws to curb illegal wildlife trade.
"If a permit is extended or new permit given after somebody is in prison that is called 'collusion'. So that is the government intervention and that needs to be strengthened."
In 2010, Wong was detained at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport for illegally exporting 95 boa constrictors, sans permit.
He was carrying the snakes in his suitcase, on transit from Penang to Jakarta, when his bag which has burst open on a conveyor belt, alerted the authorities.
Wong walked out of prison a free man after the Court of Appeal reduced his sentence for trafficking wildlife from five years to time served-17 months.
Word has it that Wong is still in the business and operates in Penang.