As of October 2021, the laws surrounding the conservation of wildlife have had a number of reforms and tweaks in order to strengthen the punishments given to those who violate them. The Dewan Rakyat passed the wildlife conservation amendment bill of 2021 to make these changes, which have pleased many who have been fighting to improve protection laws such as the Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia Program. It’s part of a recent 2-year long initiative focused on making a reduction in the numbers of poachers that will hopefully last. Among these efforts are the launches of the Biodiversity Protection and Patrolling Programme, a group of former army personnel and Orang Asli dedicated to monitoring key areas. All of these recent moves by the government paint a positive picture for wildlife conservation in Malaysia, but is it enough?
Why protection laws are so important?
As most of us know, there are many wonderful and unique creatures and plants that are native to Malaysia. However, over the last century, some have become endangered or even extinct due to poaching and deforestation. Iconic species like the orangutan, tiger and turtle are all decreasing in numbers exponentially as can be seen on the Red List, a site dedicated to logging comprehensive data on the world's endangered species. In 2019, we even saw the extinction of the last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia that died of cancer while in captivity, with the last 80 of its species living in Indonesia uncertain of their future. It's a sad reminder that the extinction of our beloved animals is a very real threat and if ignored, it will lead to an entire species being wiped off the face of the earth.
While extinction at the moment is an irreversible fate, cloning could offer a possible future for extinct animals that have had their genes and DNA preserved, like the black-footed ferret that was successfully cloned in the US. Although, there are drawbacks to this practice as it limits genetic diversity that makes them susceptible to deficiencies and similar diseases in the long term. It's still too early to say it's a reliable turn to advanced science to bail us out of problems like extinction and until then, we must do what we can to aid animals in order to prevent this from happening.
Poachers, both local and foreign pose the biggest threat to already endangered wildlife in Malaysia. In some cultures, rare and exotic materials for medicines and charms are often obtained from animals and plants that are protected. The law has always been lenient with those charged with the offense and now with the changes being made, more will be deterred from committing the crime. It's not just a question of morality for some as the money offered abroad for rare pieces is enough encouragement for less fortunate people. Education regarding the extinction of these animals can go a long way in helping people make the right decision. According to Malay Mail, authorities have arrested 127 poachers and seized items worth RM31.86m in integrated operations this year alone.
The changes in the law
Specific changes listed are lengthened sentences, increased fines and expanding laws to cover more circumstances. One of the previous grey areas was the hosting of animal shows which will now require a permit or license to operate. Another change is the forbidding of promotion for wildlife businesses. Both offenses have fines of RM50,000 to RM100,000 for violating them. Fine increases were between RM50,000 and RM1 million for more serious violations. The increased fines and time behind bars have been implemented in hope that it will deter and put an end to the rampant poaching that seeks to harm wildlife for profit. These laws aim to protect animals from the ever-evolving threats they face, as we change and divide their land.
The government, alongside NGOs, are working on long-term sustainable initiatives that prevent such losses with permanent positions and constant on foot patrols to stop poaching. It can also function as an opportunity to provide long-lasting empowerment and support for the Orang Asli who work as guides for conservation. The dedication to the changes listed have been reinforced by the Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah (OBK), another initiative focused on enforcing wildlife laws as they are made up of the Royal Malaysia Police, Department of Wildlife, National Parks with the participation of other enforcement agencies and environmental NGOs.
So far, OBK has proven to make an effort in order to complete it's goal as they have also been recognized at the Fifth Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards alongside the Department of Environment (DOE). According to ACN news, OBK has led the arrest of 87 wildlife criminals (49 foreign, 33 local) with the destruction of 460 wire snares and a total seizure valued at MYR 2.7 million. Initiatives like these are stand-out examples of the effort the government is putting into the cause against poaching.
Overall, a great effort can be seen being made both on the government side and also NGOs. Hopefully, this movement snowballs into long-lasting changes that will benefit the wildlife for the future of Malaysia. Let us know what you think about the wildlife issues happening and whether we are doing enough as a country to protect it. We are the youth now but in a few years, we will inherit the problems that befell the generations before us. Will you choose to ignore the decline of the environment or will you help it?
By: Jake Gregory