WWF-Malaysia urges govt to upgrade pangolins’ status to Totally Protected Animals

A Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) which was recorded during a camera trap survey in Sarawak. It is classified as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is a Protected Animal under the Sarawak Wild Life Protection Ordinance. Photo © WWF-Malaysia

KUCHING, Jan 19: The World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) had urged authorities to review and uplist the status of pangolins under the Sarawak Wild Life Protection Ordinance to Totally Protected Animal category.

Its Sarawak Conservation Programme head Dr Jason Hon said this is due to the seriousness of pangolin trafficking that has harmed its population in the state.

“We believe the relevant agency is already studying this and WWF-Malaysia looks forward to the positive revision of the Ordinance to grant better protection for the pangolins. A higher penalty could serve as a deterrent factor for future crimes, but this must be done with concerted efforts on the ground to ensure that enforcements are adequate to prevent perpetrators from slipping away from the grip of the laws,” he said in a statement.

Hon added that there have been numerous operations to nab illegal traders, and the public has been supportive of the efforts by the authorities including making reports or lodging complaints when they encountered such cases.

Lauding the authorities over successful enforcement and prosecution of wildlife crime in Sarawak, Hon congratulated Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) for its effectiveness in its enforcement, and the Courts for meting out a heavy penalty on a trader illegally possessing pangolin scales, as reported recently.

On Jan 14, SFC uploaded a Facebook post disclosing that the Sessions Court has sentenced a foreigner to a fine of RM27.8 million and one year in jail for having in possession, three pangolins and 2,782 pangolin scales in Kuala Baram, Miri on Jan 6.

The foreigner was charged under Section 29(2) of the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998.

Hon asserted that the hefty penalty has proven that Sarawak values its wild animals and plants.

“Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that ought to be tackled with concerted and unwavering efforts. This news of successful prosecution with a very heavy penalty show that Sarawak is serious about tackling wildlife crime,” he added.

In Jan 2020, it was reported that the Courts imposed a penalty of RM1.4 million on an individual who was found guilty of possessing 146 pangolins.

In October last year, two men pleaded guilty to possession of 4,468 scales, but were fined RM1,000 each and jailed for one month.

However, Hon opined that in this case, punishment was too lenient to be a deterrent.

Citing cases in Sabah reported in the media, Hon added that the authorities hauled in 29.8 metric tonnes of pangolin scales from a raid in Feb 2019 but a few months later in December, about eight tonnes of scales, equivalent to about 16,000 pangolins, were confiscated.

“These were only what we managed to apprehend and many have slipped the eyes of the authorities. Sarawak must also monitor cases in neighbouring Sabah or Indonesia, as the origin of pangolins may include populations from Sarawak,” he pointed out.

There are eight species of pangolins and they are found in Asia and Africa.

The Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) is classified as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and occurs in South East Asia, including Sarawak.

The population has been reported to be decreasing over time due largely to overexploitation from hunting and poaching.

Pangolins have been labelled as the most-trafficked mammals in the world.

Hundreds of thousands or even millions are snatched from the wild and sent elsewhere, mostly ending up in the wild meat markets and the scales traded as traditional medicine.

There have not been any proven medicinal properties of pangolins scales or meat.

The scales are only keratin, similar to the makeup of human hair and fingernails.

The trafficking of pangolins follows a web of international routes that include Africa, Europe and Asia.

According to a report by non-governmental organisation TRAFFIC in 2017, most of the trafficking occurs in Asia, with significant cases involving whole animals.

Indonesia and Malaysia were identified as the most common origin countries for large quantity shipments, either as destinations or transit points.

Hon said there is no doubt that pangolins from Sarawak are part of this well-organised trafficking route.

As such, WWF-Malaysia calls upon SFC to continue its awareness programme and to engage actively with civil societies and non-governmental agencies in promoting awareness programmes in Sarawak.

“In Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia implements conservation awareness programmes and has engaged with local communities, the public and school children in disseminating conservation messages. To this end, the public must cooperate by not consuming or buying any wildlife, and report to the authorities if they come across any cases of illegal wildlife trading,” he said.

WWF-Malaysia also called on the media to send out the right messaging about wildlife conservation.

Where possible, Hon said all wildlife enforcement activities should be highlighted to send a clear message to the public that the authorities are watching and taking action against illegal wildlife trade. — DayakDaily