Archive for the ‘Law and Policy’ Category

Anson Wong Released

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

 

A Court of Appeals in Malaysia today released wildlife trafficker Anson Wong.  Wong had served 17.5 months of a five year prison sentence for smuggling boa constrictors.  You can read more here.

Wong’s five year sentence was a significant one for a wildlife trafficker anywhere in the world, and unprecedented in Malaysia.   The Appeals Court today ruled that the 5 year sentence did not fit the crime of boa constrictor smuggling, a defensible conclusion in the limited circumstances of this case.  

Ironically, the failure of Malaysia’s Wildlife Department ever to arrest Wong worked to his advantage:  “It is trite law that Wong’s plea of guilt is a mitigating factor. It is trite law that the fact Wong was the first offender is another mitigating factor,” the judge said.

Agents and prosecutors in US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Operation Chameleon would argue that Wong was hardly a “first offender.”   Instead, as Wong confessed in a US Court room, he smuggled critically endangered wildlife for decades. 

What did occur for the first time was that Wong was brought to justice in his own country.   This is a major advance.  It is the result of  good work by Malaysian citizens, national media, NGOs, legislators, prosecutors, and judges.  Every element of Malaysian society except Malaysia’s Wildlife Department worked hard for justice in this case.   The future is yet to reveal itself…

FORBIDDEN: US Bans Giant Python Trade

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Well, it finally happened. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has finally banned the importation and interstate transfer of giant pythons. This is a battle that has been fought for the past several years between leaders in the python and boa constrictor breeding and keeping world and government regulators.   The official issue at stake is the invasiveness of these animals and their environmental impact, but big snakes are so loaded politically and emotionally the battle has always been about about more than that.  It has been about whether average Americans should have giant constrictors in their homes.

As I’ve said from the beginning, it is greed pure and simple that prevented the reptile industry from regulating itself with regard to these giant snakes.  Any idiot can see that giant pythons are inappropriate to most buyers, esp. teenagers, but sell to them the industry did.   That same greed led a number of the biggest breeders to import from Anson Wong even though they knew he was a major illegal wildlife trafficker.   As a person who believes in responsible keeping it is a shame these reptile industry leaders could not really lead.

The new rule does not include Reticulated Pythons, the largest python on earth, and among its most aggressive.  That is strange. And no doubt will come up again.

The new rule also excludes boa constrictors from the ban.  That IMHO is a good thing.  Boas are not for everyone but they are manageable at most sizes.  What boa constrictors and other larger snakes need is not a ban but reasonable standards of welfare. That, too, is no doubt in the future of the reptile industry.  Its leaders should get in front of that.  But history says they won’t.

Malaysia’s Wildlife Department Incompetent?

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

As the following column outlines, Malaysia’s Wildlife Department (Perhilitan) has missed yet another chance to address trafficking.  Of course, the word “miss” suggests failure to investigate was an accident.  It wasn’t.  Perhilitan leadership has consistently chosen not to investigate any major wildlife trafficker, including Anson. 

A golden chance lost

Posted on 15 August 2011 – 12:43am Azrina Abdullah 

WHAT can I say about our Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan)? I like to consider myself an optimist but statements made more than a month ago by a convicted wildlife courier demonstrate yet again the department’s apathy and lack of common investigative sense. After winning much praise for the closure of Saleng Zoo in June, Perhilitan shot itself in the foot.

A Malagasy woman, Sarah, who was convicted of smuggling tortoises from Madagascar into Malaysia last year, claimed that Anson Wong, an international wildlife smuggler serving a five-year term in Kajang prison, paid her to smuggle those critters.

At the news conference held in June there was mention of an officer in blue uniform who took around 20 of the seized tortoises and placed them in his desk drawer in KLIA before handing the rest over as evidence.

A number of NGOs also asked why Perhilitan never attempted to meet the Malagasy woman to investigate her contacts in Malaysia. An interview with her could have possibly exposed other illegal traders in the country.

Now Sarah has returned to Madagascar and a golden opportunity has slipped by.

Sarah and another Malagasy woman were the first to be convicted under the International Trade of Endangered Species Act 2008. You would think Perhilitan would be interested in who the two women were working for, who paid for their travels and who their buyer was.

The list of questions that can be asked is mind boggling but the department did nothing. To make matters worse, the press conference made the front page of a national newspaper in Madagascar, giving yet another black eye to Malaysia’s face.

Too much has been said about what the department should and could be doing but the priority now is the effectiveness of its top management. They should either buck up or be replaced. The department needs a leader that can instil confidence in the public on the department’s commitment to reduce the illegal trade in wildlife and work towards making Malaysia an exemplary country for the right reasons.

Hoping that the story will go away is not an option. Lip service seems to be the norm and the director-general and minister appear to do a lot of the talking and not so much of the walking. There will be reminders time and time again to Perhilitan on what action they have taken on the information revealed by Sarah. Please spare us the run-of-the-mill response which sounds like a broken record – “action will be taken and investigations are underway”. The concerned public deserve better.

Azrina Abdullah was regional director of Traffic, an NGO which monitors the global wildlife trade. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com