Malay Mail: “Enlightening Words” TLK 2009 SE Asia Tour

Here is a terribly generous summary of my trip to Southeast Asia apearing in today’s Malay Mail. What is not said is the terribly difficult work Azrina and others in the region do on behalf of wildlife. (Read her related article today, “Please Don’t Eat These Animals,” linked to Chinese New Year.) This trip was very rewarding. Not only did I have a chance to speak to a variety of people, but also I was able to go behind the scenes at the Singapore Zoo’s reptile house, to visit a wildlife rescue center on the Thai-Burma border, to speak with smugglers and see their wares. Well, here is today’s article:

Enlightening words on illegal trade

February 3, 2009 Category: News

Judging by the response to author Bryan Christy’s book tour to the region, the story of The Lizard King speaks volumes in terms of wildlife conservation, especially the need for more action to be taken to curb the illegal trade in endangered species.

Christy was in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore for two weeks prior to the Chinese New Year to promote and discuss his book on wildlife smuggling – a “true story of a crafty reptile smuggler and a US Federal agent” who tries to nab him. While the use of the book to raise awareness among Malaysians may not have been intentional, the reception to his appearances in the region and subsequent discussions about the state of illegal wildlife trade, told another story.

In KL, the substantial turnout at his talk at MPH MidValley indicated a heightened awareness of the issue among the public. Christy was also interviewed by two national radio stations, two television networks, four magazine writers and four newspaper reporters.

Forums at prestigious organisations such as the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, the Siam Society in Bangkok and the Faculty of Law/ Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law at the National University of Singapore saw audience turnout exceeding average numbers by at least three-fold.

At the Academy of Sciences, seating had to be increased and even that was not enough, leaving many having to stand. More than 100 copies of his book were sold over a space of two days.

Enforcement authorities too were positive in their feedback, especially the documentation in ‘The Lizard King’ on the challenges they faced.

The book, one officer said, represented their voice in conveying the daily obstacles they encounter – ‘sometimes the size of boulders’ – in their fight against poachers and smugglers.

Christy spent nearly four years researching for his book, examining transcripts and court documents focusing on “Operation Chameleon”, which he described as a ‘cat and mouse’ game between owner-trader of Strictly Reptiles, Mike Van Nostrand, and US Fish and Wildlife Service agent, Chip Bepler.

Since the launching and highlighting of Christy’s book by the media in August last year, there have been more letters written to the Press by the public on issues raised, such as those concerning transparency, good governance, law enforcement and the loss of Malaysia’s precious biodiversity.

In the past five months, more public views have been forthcoming compared with the number over the previous three years.

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic Southeast Asia is using the book as a part of its training curriculum for wildlife enforcement officers in the region.

It has even been suggested that the book be made required reading material for university courses and used as a platform for teaching environmental education in schools. Translation of ‘The Lizard King’ into Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin has also been proposed.

* Azrina Abdullah is Regional Director of Traffic Southeast Asia.

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