Pun­ish them

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT T -

AF­TER read­ing the StarTwo ar­ti­cle about pan­golins ( Deadly crav­ings, Nov 9), these ques­tions are still beg­ging for an­swers:

1. Why were the sen­tences for the in­dicted crimes against wildlife em­bar­rass­ingly le­nient and not de­ter­rent enough to im­pact the il­le­gal trade or reach the con­science of the crim­i­nals?

2. With il­le­gal wildlife trade on the rise, why is Traf­fic concerned with ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic and not ed­u­cat­ing poach­ers and il­le­gal traders in­stead?

Ever won­der who is wildlife’s worst en­emy? Il­le­gal poach­ers and traders or the au­thor­i­ties? Here is an ex­am­ple: In one case in­volv­ing 530 en­dan­gered pan­golins worth close to RM1mil, the au­thor­i­ties let the cul­prits off eas­ily with a mere RM9,000 fine and six months’ jail. In an­other case, a man was fine RM1,500 for pos­sess­ing 32 pan­golins. These penal­ties are just a slap on the wrist. Again, who is the an­i­mal’s real en­emy?

When a wildlife trader and poacher in Pe­nang was ap­pre­hended with a bag­ful of baby boa con­stric­tors worth about RM7mil, he got off eas­ily with a RM170,000 fine and six months jail term. That kind of pun­ish­ment only sends a clear but wrong mes­sage across the field: that it is cheap to com­mit a lu­cra­tive crime of trad­ing in an­i­mals. The jail term was in­creased to six years af­ter pub­lic out­cry and the im­pli­ca­tion of some top of­fi­cers in the wildlife agency. Could the il­le­gal in­volve­ment of wildlife guardians ex­plain the ridicu­lously light penal­ties?

I was at an Eco Day event last year when I no­ticed some­thing strange on dis­play at the ex­hi­bi­tion booth oc­cu­pied by Forestry Depart­ment. There on dis­play was a photo of a slaugh­tered tiger and a caption that said : “The poacher was fined RM2,000 and four days’ jail.” A four-day jail term for killing a tiger? Of course, you can’t see the logic here be­cause there sim­ply isn’t any.

On a sim­i­lar note, the au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the Govern­ment and NGOs, com­plain about lack of funds and the need to im­prove en­force­ment. It is an im­pos­si­bil­ity to fully monitor and en­force the law through­out the vast­ness of our for­est, so there will be loop­holes for poach­ers and traders. But the point is not about mak­ing ar­rests as in most cases the an­i­mals would al­ready be dead any­way, but rather it is to pre­vent such crimes through de­ter­rent sen­tences and se­vere pun­ish­ments. Per­haps whip­ping would also be in or­der, es­pe­cially where it in­volves en­dan­gered species.

As it is, the nat­u­ral chal­lenges of pa­trolling and en­forc­ing laws in the wild will not ef­fec­tively halt all poach­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, and its sheer dif­fi­culty keeps poach­ers com­ing back. Such sit­u­a­tions have made the ef­fort of pro­tect­ing wildlife a bat­tle of wits be­tween the crim­i­nals who be­lieve they can get away with it and en­forcers and the ju­di­cial sys­tem. Nev­er­the­less, the threat of se­vere pun­ish­ment can help win half the bat­tle with­out even hav­ing to go af­ter them in the wild. That would be a smarter move against such odds.

The NGOs also call for more A 15kg pan­golin, among oth­ers, were seized by the Wildlife and Na­tional Parks Depart­ment in Pe­nang re­cently. ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness about the need to pro­tect wildlife, but are these strate­gies tar­geted at the poach­ers and traders, or the pub­lic at large? Ed­u­ca­tion will go down well with the right au­di­ence, but it will not make ir­re­spon­si­ble poach­ers and greedy traders turn over a new leaf. They would sim­ply go on with their ways as their bot­tom line comes from the light penal­ties, and the fact that it is not ex­pen­sive to get caught for an il­le­gal but very lu­cra­tive en­ter­prise.

It’s time we make sense of our ac­tions. And that means un­til we make se­ri­ous ex­am­ples of those who were caught for crimes against wildlife, and prac­tise what we preach about the sever­ity of their ac­tions, new and po­ten­tial poach­ers and traders will con­tinue to flour­ish and our an­i­mals’ fu­ture, ex­tinct. RizNordin KualaLumpur

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