From The Sun (Malaysia)

The Lizard King in Malaysia

(Feb 11, 2009), The Sun, Malaysia

BRYAN CHRISTY, author of The Lizard King – The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers, was in the region to promote his book recently. Christy spent nearly four years researching his book, focusing on a true story of America’s biggest reptile smuggler, Mike Van Nostrand, and Chip Bepler, the federal agent, who built a case against Van Nostrand, in the face of many challenges.

The book has made people take notice of wildlife trade in Malaysia, and that it is an issue which should be addressed effectively by the government and civil society.

The issue of illegal wildlife trade has been recognised by the government as something of a concern. Malaysia became a member of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in 1978. However, the outdated Protection of Wildlife Act 1976 is still used in Peninsular Malaysia to protect wildlife from being illegally traded. The Act has inadequate provisions to penalise illegal traders, including very low penalties, which many consider as a slap on the wrist for the offender trading illegally in valuable and endangered species.

Many NGOs have pushed for the review and changes to the Protection of Wildlife Act 1976 since 1998 to reflect the concerns raised by the worrying scale of illegal trade activities in the region. Many are still waiting for the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to present the revised law to Parliament.

The government, in 2007, had also passed the CITES Act to regulate the international trade of wildlife and meet its obligations as a CITES member. This is a commendable effort by the
government, with stakeholders involved in the drafting process. The provisions and penalties, if implemented, can deter offenders. However, a year on, this law has yet to be implemented.

The Lizard King has been an impetus for many Malaysians to realise that everyone has a role to play to protect wildlife. The loss of biodiversity is devastating, and what makes it worse, is that profits are gained by a select few who exploit the weaknesses of those who are bound to protect Malaysia’s biodiversity.

The book has inspired many Malaysians to push for changes in the protection of wildlife and raised the agenda of wildlife trade a little bit higher. It has positively complemented efforts by other organisations in Malaysia asking for more transparency in the management of wildlife trade. However, it is our role as citizens, with the help of the media and NGOs, to monitor the implementation of our national laws, and ensure that promises made by the government on beefing up enforcement efforts are kept. It is also hoped that the feedback and commitment expressed by Malaysians attending Christy’s talks on what can and needs to be done by the public to work with the government to improve the management and protection of wildlife do not end up as mere words.
Azrina Abdullah
Regional Director
Traffic Southeast Asia

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