By Zairil Khir Johari
The trafficking of ivory is a very serious global concern, as the trade has caused many animals such as elephants and rhinos to come under threat by illegal poachers. African elephants have been particularly affected, as the species’ population has shrunk from 1.3 million in 1979 to about 434,000 to 684,000 today.
In 1989, a worldwide ban on the ivory trade was approved by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Flora and Fauna (CITES). While illegal poaching was successfully reduced in the decade following the ban, current rising demand, especially from China, has reinvigorated the trade and caused a spike in supply. According to some estimates, poaching and trafficking of ivory is now at its highest level in 25 years, with about 170 tons trafficked between 2009 and 2014.
Malaysia a transhipment hub for illegal wildlife and wildlife parts
A recent report by Business News Asia on 10 April 2015 stated that a 110kg shipment of ivory bound for Malaysia had been intercepted by the Australian Customs and Border Protections Service. This further lends credence to Malaysia’s reputation as a transhipment hub for the trafficking of illegal wildlife and wildlife parts, especially following shocking revelations by international satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera two years ago of an elaborate global trafficking operation organised from Malaysia by “lizard king” Anson Wong.
In the last Parliament session, I submitted a question on the confiscation of ivory in Malaysia. According to the verbal reply I received from Natural Resources and Environment deputy minister Dato’ Seri James Dawos Mamit, 4,624 units of elephant ivory tusks had been confiscated between 2011 and 2014. Based on previous estimates by Royal Malaysian Customs director-general Dato’ Seri Khazali Ahmad, this amounts to more than RM19 million in value.
The deputy minister also acknowledged that while they could not trace the owners of the consignments, four individuals have been charged, with three subsequently found guilty. He then noted that all the seized ivory are currently stored in government-held stockpiles.
Transparency and accountability lacking
However, there is very little information on this valuable stockpile worth at least RM19 million, thus raising concerns about its whereabouts and safekeeping. In November last year, confiscated ivory worth over one million US dollars were stolen from a government storage facility in Uganda. Considering that our Government cannot even prevent the theft of two jet engines from right under the noses of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, what guarantees are there that the RM19 million worth of ivory will be safely kept?
Therefore, I support the memorandum submitted today by local wildlife NGO, Friends of the Orang Utans, which calls upon the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to immediately:
Invite international wildlife trade monitoring organization Traffic to conduct an independent audit on all confiscated ivory in the possession of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).
Destroy all confiscated ivory publicly after the independent audit is completed.
Make public the Malaysian Ivory Action Plan submitted to the United Nations’ CITES in May 2013.
In order to allay rising suspicion and to avert any potential theft of the RM19 million stockpile of ivory, the Government should immediately allow for an independent audit to be conducted by international wildlife watchdog, Traffic.
Once verified, the stockpile should be destroyed publicly, as is practised in many countries around the world including the USA, Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Congo. If even African countries can dispose of their confiscated ivory, there is no reason why Malaysia needs to keep them for years.
Only by being publicly accountable and transparent can our Government convince the world of its commitment towards combatting the illegal wildlife trade that threatens to endanger scores of animal species around the world.