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: firstname.lastname@example.org