Two news items out of Malaysia: In the first, from The Star, Malaysia’s wildlife department (Perhilitan) demonstrates why more and more people see the wildlife department as a bigger problem than even the wildlife traffickers who exploit the country. ”Illegal trade in wildlife is happening in Malaysia but it is still under control with effective enforcement,” said Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), in an interview with The Star newspaper of Malaysia(emphasis added). “The department is doing everything within its authority and jurisdiction to curb illegal wildlife trade in Peninsular Malaysia.”
Really? That’s the department’s official response to years of wildlife trafficking, to a reputation for so little law enforcement that Malaysia is a favorite hub for criminal syndicates moving endangered wildlife from Africa, Asia, the US and Europe? We have it under control?
Obviously, the wildlife department cannot and will not fix itself any more than an alcoholic can fix himself without help. The Malaysian people and the world have confronted the department with its problem (we have had the intervention)–everyone (except the wildlife department) recognizes years of abuse has occurred–of smuggling, of issuing endangered species permits to smugglers, of poorly managed rescue centers, and on and on (click perhilitan in my blog and you’ll see some examples over just the past 2 years; here’s a good story today). The first step to reforming an alcoholic is for the person to admit he has a problem. Despite all the endangered species that have passed through Malaysia, the wildlife department is not even at this stage yet. It still denies it has a problem. A person in denial cannot be cured.
In the second news item, from The Sun, Azrina Abdullah makes the case for increasing the punishment on Anson Wong, listing major laws Anson recently broke, “Come Down Hard on Illegal Wildlife Traders.”
(BTW, news outlets around the world have picked up The Lizard King to describe Anson Wong, drawing the moniker from my book. As Ms. Abdullah points out, Wong is not The Lizard King; he was part of the syndicate described in my book. Wong was, of course, the subject of the National Geogprahic story, The Kingpin, which makes a good nickname, too.)
Last up, Malaysia’s Ministry of Environment (MNRE), which oversees the wildlife department, announces today it is creating an internal audit committee to review standard operating procedures in enforcement of laws and regulations on poaching, whatever that means. A similar announcement was made last spring. Malaysia’s new laws are excellent steps forward, but the audit committee idea sounds like just another way of saying, We aren’t going to do anything.
Which brings me back to the first sentence of this post.