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08 September, 2010

A New Hope For Malayan Tigers

By Ummi Nadiah Rosli

(This is the second of a three part article on tigers in conjunction with Malaysia's 53rd Independence Day.)

Chopped up into four parts and stored in a refrigerator, forest rangers were aghast with their findings in a house in the Tumpat district of Kelantan.

Believed to have been shot after it was trapped, the head, body and internal organs of the Malayan tiger, an endangered species, was preserved along with its carcass.

This particular case that occurred five years ago is just another grim reminder of how wildlife like tigers, are callously killed for profit.

The tiger is a totally protected species under the Protection of Wild Life Act 1973, and commercial trade is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

However, poaching and illegal trading remains one of the most urgent threats for the Malayan tiger.

In a lucrative black-market trade, tiger trafficking does not show any signs of slowing down. Demand is still strong for tiger body parts which are mainly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and served as a delicacy in wild-meat restaurants.

Could Malaysia be decimating its own national icon?


With increased law enforcement in the country and around the region in recent times, there have been more seizures of tigers, alive and dead.

Compared to just one tiger seized in Malaysia from 2005 to 2006, at least 37 tigers were seized in Malaysia from 2008 to 2009, including five Malayan tigers seized in Thailand.

Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC (The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network) Southeast Asia, Kanitha Krishnasamy stated that the level of illegal trade over the last few years have shown significant increase.

"TRAFFIC monitors wildlife trade for plants and animals, and our goal is to reduce illegal wildlife trade in the region. The tiger is one of TRAFFIC's flagship species, along with other animals like the Orang Utans, marine turtles, and elephants.

We are preparing a detailed report in highlighting seizures, and the results show that there has been an increase in illegal trade in tigers, specifically in this region. The smuggling areas identified are in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia at the Belum-Temengor area and the Thai-Myanmar border."

Kanitha added that tigers were being poached for meat which are supplied to exotic food restaurants, and for TCM. Furthermore, its skin and head are highly prized as trophies for the affluent and some of them kept as pets.

In Indonesia, tiger parts such as teeth and claws are sought after as amulets, believed by the locals to have curative and magical properties.

Due to persisting wildlife consumerism in Southeast Asia, major markets supplying illegal products still operate openly in many countries.

The region is a major centre for the wildlife trade, both as a supplier and consumer of wildlife products. Hence, monitoring the illegal tiger trade is a cross-boundary issue, most often involving parties from within and outside the region.

"There are no thorough or recent enough surveys on tiger part demand in Malaysia. We are not sure of the level of TCM claiming to be from tiger parts in Malaysia, but from our past experience, we know that a lot of products get channeled to China."


TRAFFIC not only monitors the poaching and illegal trade of tigers, but also of its key prey species such as deer and wild boars.

However, operations to clamp down on poaching were previously an uphill battle as the penalties were hardly a deterrent for the perpetrators.

Take the Tumpat tiger case. Under the 1972 Wildlife Act, it is an offence to possess tiger meat, and the Thai national arrested in cutting up the tiger was faced with imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of up to RM15,000. That's a slap on the wrist, as the tiger parts he was in possession with were valued at double that amount.

But in July this year, the Government made great strides in wildlife conservation by passing a bill in Parliament to revise the outdated 1972 Act.

Known as the 'Wildlife Conservation Act 2010', now the punishment for totally protected animal related crimes (which covers the Tiger, Serow, Gaur, Javan Rhinoceros, Leopard, Clouded Leopard or False Gharial) is a fine of not less than RM100,000 and not more than RM500,000, and with imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

In addition, Section 87 of the Wildlife Act 2010 hopes to further curb illegal wildlife trade.

Under the clause, any person who sells anything which contains or is claimed to contain any derivative of any totally protected wildlife commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for 1 year or both.


This is set to impact the trade, because as long as you claim to have derivatives like animal bones, meat, fats, skin in the packaging, label or mark on the product, it is considered an offence and the burden of proof has shifted to the person being accused rather than the prosecutor.

Kanitha explained that derivatives are very relevant for traditional Chinese medicine shops as previously, the loophole in the law allowed derivatives to be openly available for sale, and authorities could not confiscate the items.

"Claiming to use derivatives, even if you don't, for publicity purpose only in fact fuels the demand. People will buy it for the sheer reason that they think tiger parts have some medicinal value. This loophole has now been covered with the new act.

"If the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) sees a product that says it contains wildlife derivatives, they can seize the product without any question because the law provides for it."

The revised Act has also refined clauses pertaining to what the Orang Asli can hunt. This allows better regulation of hunting activities and the more confined list of animals does not include tigers.


Since the law provides for so much more in the revised Wildlife Act, authorities are now armed with the tools and opportunities to improve on enforcement actions.

But can our enforcement officers tell the difference between what is a protected species and what is not?

Since illegal wildlife are often not smuggled in full forms, TRAFFIC has over the years carried out trainings for enforcement officers to recognize what is and isn't illegal.

"TRAFFIC has trained over 1,000 enforcement officers at airports, customs and the judiciary in each of the 10 ASEAN countries.

Through the training, we sensitize them on the smuggling methods. For instance, when they scan a bag, they should be able to detect what they're seeing. Is it batik or endangered tortoises? It could be anything," Kanitha said.

"Moreover, our training with the judiciary is aimed at bringing attention to why poaching and illegal trading are as important as any other crimes. With the new Wildlife Act 2010, we hope that the judiciary system will use these opportunities to the full extent to prosecute more wildlife criminals."




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