By Fernando Fong
Malaysians are unwittingly helping the illegal wildlife trade due to lack of awareness, according to wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
TRAFFIC is the leading non-governmental organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
TRAFFIC senior communications officer Elizabeth John said many consumers did not check on the origins of the exotic animals or other wildlife items which they wish to acquire.
“They unknowingly participate in the illegal wildlife trade when they buy exotic animals, wild plants or products made from wildlife which are prohibited by law from sale or keeping.
“The lack of awareness makes it easier for unscrupulous wildlife dealers to benefit from the illegal trade,” she told The Rakyat Post.
She said demand for exotic animals is sometimes driven by trends and popular culture, for instance, films featuring wild animals.
People, she explained, became interested to own owls after watching Harry Potter movies, just as the public got into owning clownfish after watching Disney’s animated movie Finding Nemo.
“Little do people realise that these animals are taken out of the wild often illegally to feed the demand.”
Elizabeth pointed that lack of media coverage on wildlife trafficking had made it somewhat more difficult for the public to stay well informed, which might otherwise dissuade them from purchasing illicit wildlife animals.
On its part, TRAFFIC’s staff and volunteers have been constantly educating the public, including on provisions and penalties under Malaysia’s new Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 for poaching, illegal possession and trade of protected species, the use of snares and the prohibition on hunting of certain animals.
The public can help by alerting the authorities such as Perhilitan or the police if they come across what they suspect as illegal sale or keeping of wildlife.
The public can also donate to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which deals with biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
Elizabeth expressed regret that wildlife conservation had low priority in Malaysia.
“There is very little invested in fighting wildlife crime and ensuring that ranger and enforcement agencies have what they need to stop criminals and protect wildlife.”