Malay Mail Interviews Bryan Christy

The Malay Mail has run an impressive series of articles on the illegal wildlife trade.  Yesterday saw a story on The Lizard King’s role in illuminating the need for stronger wildlife laws in Malaysia.  Today appears a double-barelled feature on The Lizard King and the importance of Malaysia to controlling the flow of illegal wildlife.  You can read the stories with their photos as they ran here.  Malay Mail Lizard King Stories .  Following is the text:


Wildlife trade flourishes in Fortress Malaysia:
Weak enforcement laws attract smugglers

WILDLIFE smugglers search the world for countries with weaker enforcement
policies and when they find one, they route their illegal trade
through that country, said lawyer Bryan Christy, author of widely-acclaimed
book The Lizard King –The True Crimes and Passions of the
World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers

“To understand this, one needs to only look at the number of high-technology
multinational companies that have made Malaysia home. Companies
recognise when laws are favourable to business. So do smugglers.
Strong protections for investment attract good companies; weak protections
for wildlife attract others.”

In the book, US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent George Morrison,
who arrested reptile smuggler Anson Wong in 1998, “refers
to Malaysia as ‘Fortress Malaysia’ because Anson flourished so easily,”
said Christy, clarifying that Malaysia certainly had officials committed to
wildlife protection.

“But without stronger laws and policies, it will remain ‘Fortress
Malaysia.’ Malaysia is in a difficult geographic position and it is what
security experts refer to as a “choke point,” a place through which significant
resources pass on their way to the world.

“The entire world counts on a handful of countries to protect its wildlife
— and Malaysia is one of them,” added Christy.

For over 10 years now, wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC
Southeast Asia, the Malaysian Nature Society, the Wildlife Conservation
Society, the WWF-Malaysia and other concerned Malaysian people have
pressed for stronger wildlife laws.

An online petition on this has been started early this month at www.petitiononline.
com/MYLaw/petition.html by the four NGOs and the target
is 100,000 signatures by June next year.

“Wildlife crime is still a crime.

“Source countries and consumer countries need to treat them so. Wildlife
smugglers steal what the world values most,” said Christy.

To conduct business on such a large scale, he said illegal wildlife traffickers
forged documents, laundered money, smuggled across borders and
bribed government officials.

“In some cases (such as for elephant ivory, sturgeon eggs, or Malagasy
reptiles) they even murder. They do all the things we think of as deplorable
crimes but because they traffic plants and animals, we treat what
they do as an environmental issue, not a criminal issue.”

And in this gap between the environment focus and crime could be
found smuggling’s most appealing aspect, Christy explained. “Unlike
crime involving theft, forgery, money laundering, bribery or murder, wildlife
criminals face almost no penal risk.

“Traffickers are rarely caught, and when they are, chances are that
nothing significant will happen to them. In the US, we refer to the penalty
most wildlife smugglers get as “a ticket,” as in a parking ticket.”

Even a country with strong enforcement policies, such as Australia, can
usually only protect wildlife within its own borders.

“Wildlife is the most innocent of victims, and yet around the world we
offer it almost no international protection,” Christy said, adding he was
“very encouraged by the immediate response of Malaysian Customs,
which (in reply to an article in the New Sunday Times in September),
had committed itself to looking into the situation described in my book.”

Christy said that everything written in The Lizard King is documented,
including by audio tapes secretly recorded by the US Fish and Wildlife
Service and through emails, faxes, CITES (Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) permits, court plea
agreements and other primary sources.
[Photo:  KOMODO DRAGON: One of the endangered species traded by Wong]

[sidebar: The entire
world counts
on a handful
of countries
to protect its
wildlife —
and Malaysia
is one of

Christy, lawyer and

Wong ran an international ring

By Francis C. Nantha

MALAYSIAN Anson Wong, one of
the key accused in what has been described
as one of the largest cases of
illegal trade ever prosecuted in the
US, was reportedly a key supplier
to the father-son team of Ray and
Mike Van Nostrand, who ran Strictly
Reptiles and were known as the most
notorious reptile smugglers in the
United States.

Wong had been accused of running
an international smuggling ring
between 1996 and 1998 to illegally
export more than 300 protected reptiles
native to Asia and Africa to the
world’s biggest market — the US.

As part of his plea agreement upon
his conviction in the US, Wong agreed
that the market value of the animals
he smuggled in the San Francisco
case alone exceeded US$500,000
(RM1.73 million), and that does not
include the animals he had been
charged in a separate Florida case.

International police agency, Interpol,
says wildlife smuggling is so
pervasive on a global scale, estimated
that total annual value exceeds US$6
billion and is surpassed only by the
black market in drugs.

In many areas, organised gangs, including
South American drug cartels
and the Russian mafia, have added
wildlife smuggling to their other illegitimate

The World Wildlife Federation estimates
that 103 species of reptiles
and 58 species of amphibians are
currently under threat of extinction.
Even zoos can’t find some of these
species, yet smugglers can and reap
handsome profits as a result.

Wong, now 50, was caught in September
1998, when an undercover US
Fish and Wildlife Service agent posed
as a reptile trafficker and lured Wong
to Mexico City, where he was arrested
by the Mexican Government and incarcerated
pending extradition to the

Wong fought the extradition until
June 2000, and was then flown to
San Francisco for the trial — where
he pleaded guilty to federal felony
crimes alleged in the San Francisco
and Florida cases on Dec 13, 2000
and sentenced to 71 months prison.

The charges to which Wong pleaded
guilty included money laundering,
conspiracy, smuggling, making false
statements and violating US laws that
prohibit trade in protected animals.

In addition to Wong, seven other
defendants have been convicted or
pleaded guilty to federal crimes associated
with the smuggling ring.

These include James Michael Burroughs,
of San Francisco, in connection
with his role as a human courier
of smuggled animals in airline baggage.

Sinaporean Jailed 37 Months
SINGAPOREAN national, Lawrence
Wee Soon Chye, now 43, was also
sentenced in 2003 to 37 months prison
for smuggling protected animals
into the US.

The former advisor to National
Geographic filmmakers, who had an
authoritative knowledge of reptiles,
was scolded by Orlando judge John
Antoon, who wished out loud that he
could sentence Chye to a much longer
sentence than the 37 months federal
guidelines allow.

Chye was convicted of smuggling
several hundred protected reptiles
into and out of the US in 2002 and
2003 by sending them in express
mail packages mislabeled as magazines
or books.

Many died in transit while those
who did survive the trip posed significant
risk of salmonella infection.

The World Wildlife Federation
estimates that almost 90 per cent
of smuggled animals die in transit:
they’re packed carelessly, they starve,
they die of thirst, crush or eat each
other, or are left on tarmacs waiting
to be boarded on planes.

[Photo:  BRYAN CHRISTY: Wildlife smugglers steal
what the world values most]

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