Wednesday April 25, 2012
Luxury car-go for smuggling
By JOSEPH SIPALAN
KUALA LUMPUR: A casual observer would be none the wiser seeing a tricked-out luxury car speeding down the highway.
That is exactly what traffickers hope for as they transport their illicit cargo of endangered wildlife.
Perhilitan, the Wildlife Protection and National Parks Department, said it had come across quite a number of cases of Malaysian-registered luxury cars being modified to hide the animals.
“Transporting the animals using lorries is the more obvious choice while luxury cars don't usually arouse suspicion,” a Perhilitan spokesman said.
Traffickers are also getting smarter, switching modes of transport where it is least expected.
The spokesman said the department had encountered cases where the luxury cars were driven from Johor to Kuantan in Pahang for the precious cargo to be transferred to a ship to be taken out of the country.
Another tactic is to hide illegal wildlife by mixing them with products such as fish and vegetables while some traffickers try to pass off the animals as airline cargo, the spokesman said.
He said enforcement activities to stop animal smuggling are being hampered by information leaks, with “tontos” people working for syndicates monitoring the movement of Perhilitan officers.
“We also have to deal with false tip-offs, getting information that is inaccurate and outdated,” said the spokesman, adding that the department urgently needed more enforcement officers.
“We have forwarded the request for more staff to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.
“In the meantime, we have to ensure our staff are trained to deal with international wildlife crime, with the help of the police, Customs Department, the Anti-Smuggling Unit and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency,” he said.
To break the multi-million ringgit cycle of illegal wildlife trade, the Government is hitting smugglers where it hurts.
The Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 spelled the end of token fines and slaps on the wrist for convicted wildlife traffickers.
Offenders now face fines of up to RM500,000 and mandatory jail time.
The highest penalty imposed on a wildlife offender by the courts to date is a RM200,000 fine and one-day jail on an individual in Penang for possessing 135 pangolins in Feb 23 last year.
From the time the Act took effect, the country saw a drastic drop in wildlife smuggling cases from about 3,500 cases a year from 2007 to 2010 to just 464 in 2011.
While the sharp dip is proof that the heavy penalties under the new Act, coupled with intensified multi-agency operations, are working, the Perhilitan spokesman said the department has to be on its toes to keep up with the increasingly sophisticated methods used by the traffickers.