Category Archives: bear farming

Fallacy And Absurdity

June, 20, 2013 – 7:11 pm

Fallacy And Absurdity

With the demand of traditional medicine seekers, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild – BSBCC Wong

By Jaswinder Kler

caged20SANDAKAN: Hunted for generations in the jungles of Borneo for the bile from its gall bladder and for food, the Malayan Sun Bear continues to be a target for the ever present global demand in traditional medicine and exotic meat.

The fallacy of the benefits of bile and the idiocy of humans is threatening the world’s smallest bear which is said to have dwindled in numbers by 30 per cent in the last three decades.

Asiatic Black Bears, for example, are kept in unimaginably cruel conditions in small metal cages and their bile extracted for up to 20 years, and then killed once they are unable to produce the liquid.

While there are no bear bile farms in Malaysia, bear bile is consumed locally. Bear gall bladder, bear bile capsules and other bile products are sold illegally in traditional medicine stores.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said natives, particularly in Borneo, traditionally believe that the Sun Bear’s bile ejects itself out of the gall bladder and spreads inside a bear’s body, healing injuries in a fall.

File picture of Sun Bear bile sold at the Gaya Street market in Kota Kinabalu. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

File picture of Sun Bear bile sold at the Gaya Street market in Kota Kinabalu. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

“Sun Bears can climb high up on trees and normally climb down slowly from the tree. However when they encounter human encroachment in the forest when they are on a tree, they tend to slide down quickly or even drop themselves from the tree. They then recover quickly and go about their day.

“This has erroneously made people believe that the phenomenon is due to the power of the Sun Bear bile that spreads within the body and heals the bears, allowing them to recover instantly.

“This is why Sun Bears are traditionally hunted in the wild for their bile, apart from their meat,” Wong said.

With this demand, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild, Wong said in a statement to create awareness on the plight of Sun Bears.

While the actual number of Sun Bears in the wild is unknown, its status as a Totally Protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and its listing as “Vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List are not keeping those after its bile away from the risk of prosecution.

BSBCC founder and CEO Wong Siew Te with rescued Sun Bear, Natalie. As cubs, bears are cute but the law does not allow anyone to keep them as pets. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

BSBCC founder and CEO Wong Siew Te with rescued Sun Bear, Natalie. As cubs, bears are cute but the law does not allow anyone to keep them as pets. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

Under the Enactment, those found in possession of a Sun Bear or its product could face a fine of up to RM50,000 or a jail term of five years, or both.

Wong said Sun Bears are still hunted in Borneo for their purported medicinal properties, and cited a recent news report on bear meat and parts being sold at a market in Kapit, Sarawak.

Other threats that Sun Bears face include habitat loss and demand for the exotic pet trade.

“Sun Bear cubs are cute and there is demand for such a pet. To get a cub, the mother is killed to prevent hunters from getting harmed. Once these cubs grow, they become aggressive and it becomes dangerous to keep them as pets.

“This is when they are surrendered to the authorities. They lose survival skills when kept as pets, as this is something they learn from their mothers,” he said.

Bears surrendered to or confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department are sent to the BSBCC adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. It is currently home to 28 Sun Bears.

Awareness activities will be stepped up once the BSBCC is officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year.

The BSBCC is planning to hold a fund raiser on July 20 in Sandakan to meet the ever increasing costs of caring for Sun Bears in captivity and for awareness work.

Sun Bears are also sought after for the pet trade, but problems emerge once the bears grow older and become aggressive. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

Sun Bears are also sought after for the pet trade, but problems emerge once the bears grow older and become aggressive. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC.

The fundraising dinner with the theme “Big Dreams, Little Bears” will see Wong sharing with guests updates on Sun Bears, apart from an exclusive photographic art auction by Jonathan Tan and performances by Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chow, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and friends.

A free documentary screening is scheduled for July 21 at the Sabah Hotel for 500 students, teachers and representatives of local associations.

The BSBCC is a non-governmental organisation set up in 2008 through collaboration of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

Major funders for BSBCC include Yayasan Sime Darby, the federal Tourism Ministry, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, the Sabah State Government and other foreign and local organisations.

To learn more about Sun Bears, visit www.bsbcc.org.my and Facebook page www.facebook.com/ sunbear.bsbcc.

Medicine practitioners urged to help reduce bear bile demand

http://www.traffic.org/home/2012/11/16/medicine-practitioners-urged-to-help-reduce-bear-bile-demand.html

Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia 16th November 2012—“Traditional medicine practitioners have a crucial role to play in reducing the demand for bear bile and gallbladder that drives the illegal trade in South-East Asia’s bears,” TRAFFIC told delegates to the 9th World Congress of Chinese Medicine held in Kuching, Sarawak in Malaysia last week.

The Congress, one of the industry’s most important annual gatherings, serves as a platform for specialists from all over the world to present the latest developments in Chinese medicine. The theme of this year’s Congress was Traditional Chinese Medicine—contributing factor to the harmony of humans and nature.

Speaking at the Congress, TRAFFIC Deputy Regional Director in South-East Asia, Dr Chris R. Shepherd, described how TRAFFIC’s research had shown that continued demand for traditional medicines made from bear parts and derivatives posed a severe threat to wild bear populations in Asia.

Both bear species in South-East Asia—the Asian Black Bear Ursus thibetanus and Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus—are hunted, especially for their gallbladder, which contains bile—a key ingredient in some traditional medicines.

A 2011 TRAFFIC study, Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia (PDF, 1 MB), had shown such trade to be widespread, often carried out openly, despite it being illegal, and revealed that many of the farms supplying bear gallbladder and bile are stocking their facilities with wild-caught bears and not captive bred ones as often claimed.

Surveys have repeatedly found China to be the main source of the bear bile products on sale throughout South-East Asia. Such international trade in South-East Asian bears, and their parts and derivatives, is strictly prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Both South-East Asian bear species are listed in Appendix I of the Convention, which prohibits international commercial trade. They are also both listed as Vulnerable by IUCN, because of their declining populations in the wild.

In September 2012, a Motion to phase out bear bile extraction facilities stocked with wild-caught bears was overwhelmingly passed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, held in Jeju, South Korea.

The Motion also recommended Parties to CITES to implement fully the legislation to prevent illegal international trade in Asian Black and Sun Bears and products derived from them, and promote greater public awareness of these issues to reduce the demand for bear products.

“While the IUCN Motion is a step in the right direction, it is absolutely critical too that efforts be made to reduce greatly the demand for bear bile. In addition to increased enforcement efforts, active participation from the traditional medicine practitioners and retailers is essential to meet this goal,” said Shepherd.

TRAFFIC is also urging authorities to step up their efforts to shut down the illegal trade, and ensure those violating CITES and national legislations are penalized.

“There are legal herbal alternatives to bear bile – consumers need to be made aware of this and be persuaded to stop using medicine containing bear bile,” added Shepherd.

 

An Un-bear-able trade

Report from http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/2012/01/17/an-un-bear-able-trade/

An Un-bear-able trade

Stephanie Sta Maria  | <!–

January 17, 2012

–>January 17, 2012

Bear farming is rife in Asia with Malaysia as one of its prime product producers and consumers.

VIDEO INSIDE

Louis Ng is no stranger to close encounters with animals in distress. But nothing quite prepared him for the emotional exchange with an adult bear outside a bear farm in Laos.

A film-maker had stumbled upon the farm and contacted Ng, the co-founder and executive director of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) in Singapore.

When he visited the farm in November 2009, the sight that greeted him was that of a female bear lying motionless in a cage.

The owner explained that she was refusing food and starving herself to death so he had left her outside to meet her inevitable end. Ng crouched near but a safe distance from the cage and watched her.

After a few minutes the bear, who was on her 10th day of hunger strike pushed a limp paw through the cage bars and weakly flexed her claws in Ng’s direction. He realised with a start that she was reaching for his hand. And so he gave it to her.

The two “held hands” in silence for a few minutes. Ng remembers the bear’s eyes being flooded with both anguish and gentleness. She died the next day.

In a world where dignity is sometimes only delivered by death, this bear was the lucky one. She died after three years of living on that farm.

Over 12,000 other bears will serve up to 10 years of their lives in similar farms throughout Asia where they will “contribute” their bile to meet the region’s unsatiable demand for its healing properties.

Horrific procedure

“This farm had 29 bears in cages just large enough for them to stand up,” Ng said. “All you hear when you walk inside is the constant banging of heads against those cages.”

Solitude, pain and fear have literally driven the bears mad. Their only outlet is to ram their heads against their tiny prison cells or starve themselves to death.


At this point anything is preferable to the horrific procedure of having their gall bladder drained of bile twice a day to fuel a growing trade.

The medical use of bear bile dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 659 AD. Its only therapeutic component is ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) which makes up 15% to 39% of bile in bears compared to its 5% in humans.

Bear bile was traditionally used for gastric bypass surgery and to treat minor ailments like sore throats, sprains and epilepsy. As the bile was taken from the intact gall bladders of bears killed in the wild, the absence of torture eased consumers’ minds.

But the supply was meagre and led to high prices on bear bile medicines. Consumers had also began rejecting bile in pharmaceutical products for its synthetic origins which gave rise to demand for wild-sourced bile from live bears.

In the 1970s, South Korea invented a method of extracting bile from live bears. It was cruel, excruciating and the golden ticket to a booming trade.

“The bile is removed from the bear by inserting a catheter tube through a permanent incision in the abdomen and gall bladder,” Ng said. “Sometimes a permanently implanted metal tube is used.”

Dual role

Imagination eliminates the need to describe the pain that comes with this practice. Most bears are too weak or crazed to protest but those that do face a worse punishment.

“One cub took a swipe at the farmer,” Ng said. “The height of its cage was halved so it could only lie on its back.”

“It soon started gnawing on its own paw which is what happens when bears lose their minds. Often they end up chewing their own limbs off.”

But none of these details reach the ears of the Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese and Malaysian consumers who frequent the 124 Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shops in Malaysia.

A 2010 report by wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, found that while China is the prime origin for bear bile products in Asia, Malaysia is among a string of Asian countries that play the dual role of producer and consumer.

What most concerns Matt Hunt, chief executive of Free The Bears Fund in Australia, about the report is that a significant number of Malaysia’s TCM shops were found to be selling wild-sourced bear gall bladders.

“This means that Sun bears in Malaysian forests are being hunted to feed this trade,” he pointed out. “The Sun bears are an important part of Malaysia’s forest eco-systems and these traders are robbing future Malaysians of their cultural inheritance.”

“The bear bile pills, flakes and ointments in Malaysian TCM shops were found to have originated in Malaysia itself, which is a breach of international agreements on bear trade.”

Illegal status

According to Ng, the price of a gall bladder costs as much as a packet of heroin in the black market. Consumers fork out about RM730 for 127g while one milligram of bile is priced at RM60. Each extraction from a live bear yields 10 milligram of bile.

Malaysian TCM shopowners and staff interviewed by TRAFFIC Malaysia revealed that a majority of the gall bladders sold were wild-sourced and that they were aware of its illegal status.

This ambivalence is bad news for the Asiatic Black bears, Sun bears and Brown bears, the three species who are hunted for their parts.

The Asiatic and Sun bears are already given the “vulnerable” status and the director of TRAFFIC, Chris Shepherd, confirmed that the latter is being killed in Malaysia for local consumption and smuggling.

“Bear farming is also spreading with more farms opening in Laos and Myanmar,” he said.

“TRAFFIC has encouraged a clampdown on TCM outlets and wild meat restaurants in Malaysia but more awareness is needed among consumers.”

“The police and customs departments have to be more involved in combating wildlife trade and you can judge the level of enforcement with the level of open availablity of products.”

The single spark of hope for now is surprisingly Laos where bear farming is outlawed and the government reportedly is exercising its political muscle to reverse the cycle.

Rescue centre

Free The Bears Fund and ACRES are currently in talks with the Laotian government on efforts to rescue the bears and eventually close down the many Laotian farms.

“Many more farmers are moving into Laos following the clampdown in their countries,” Ng said. “A second-generation of bear farming is now taking place there. But our work with the government is very positive.”

“I personally don’t think the farmers are born with a cruel hand. They are just poor people who are looking for money and who have grown immune to the condition of those farms.”

Ng is in the midst of setting up a rescue centre in Laos on a five-hectare site with a 12-room building for volunteers and two enclosures measuring one hectare each to accommodate 29 bears.

Not only will the bears be rescued but they will also be put through a rehabilitation process to help them adapt to a community after being in solitary confinement for so long.

The RM1.5-million facility is expected to be ready for volunteers by June. It will be a big step forward on a still long road towards saving Asia’s bear population.

Ng’s passion for animal rights is hardly surprising for someone who received the Outstanding Young Persons of Singapore Award in 2007.

But if you ask him today, he would attribute the current ferocity of his passion to the female bear that he met outside the first Laotian farm.

“Any human treated that way would have spitted at you but this bear offered her paw,” he said quietly. “And her death was the only choice she made for herself in her life. It shouldn’t be in vain.”

Compassionate Conservation: the holistic approaches of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre to conserve sun bears

 Last week Wai Pak and I attended the Asia for Animal 2011 Conference in Chengdu, China. Representing Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, we are the only participants from Sabah, and one of the few animal welfare, care, and rescue organizations from Malaysia to attend the biggest event and gathering of the year for animal lovers all over Asian countries. The conference was hosted by Jill Robinson and her team at Animal Asia Foundation.  During the conference, I am honored to deliver a talk during the “Compassionate Conservation” session and my talk entitled “The holistic approaches of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre to conserve sun bears in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo.” I am grateful to the organizer of the conference to provide the travel expenses for me to share our experiences working with sun bears with the audience.

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The abstract of the talk is as following:

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is being developed in Sabah Malaysian Borneo as rescue, rehabilitation, education, and research centre for the sun bear. In Sabah, these bears continue to be threatened by forest degradation and habitat loss, illegal hunting for bear parts and to protect crops, and poaching to obtain young cubs for the pet trade.  As a result of these threats, many young sun bears are living in unnatural and solitary captive conditions throughout Sabah, with no access to outdoor areas. The goal of the new BSBCC is to promote Malayan sun bear conservation by (1) creating the capacity to confiscate, rehabilitate and release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild; (2) providing an improved long-term living environment for captive bears welfare that cannot be released; and (3) educating the public and raising awareness about this little known species through visitor and education outreach programs, and (4) conduct research on both captives and wild sun bears. The BSBCC was established as a non-profit organization in Sabah in 2008.  It is a joint project among sun bear researcher Siew Te Wong, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD).  Funding for the project is acquired through various grants from funding agencies, individual donations, government supports, and special events. Bear Action Teams (BATs) volunteering program provide the opportunity for locals and international volunteer groups to get involve on husbandry and construction of the facilities. We develop BSBCC from a holistic approach involving multiple levels of people that work toward compassionate conservation where animal welfare, education, research and conservation the species all meet on the same ground. This approach is particular important to conserve threaten species like the sun bears so that maximum conservation outputs can be achieved without wasting the already limited conservation resources in this region.  

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Beside attending the conference and meeting and networking with everyone. We also visited the AAF’s Chengdu Moon Bear Rescue Centre. It was truly an eye-opening experience for us to see and to learn the day-to-day operations and husbandry of the centre which currently is home to more than 160 moon bears and few brown bears. We are grateful to the centre for letting Wai Pak stay for few more days after the conference to learn more about the day-to-day husbandry and veterinary care of these rescued moon bears. All of the knowledge is crucial to help BSBCC do a better job on caring and managing our rescued sun bears.

Wai Pak and the rescued moon bear in the enclosure

Wai Pak and the rescued moon bear in the enclosure

This is a relative size of a moon bear and me! Moon bear is big!

This is a relative size of a moon bear and me! Moon bear is big!

Finally I also visited the Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu to see the third species of bears beside the moon and the brown bears – the black and white bear- Giant Panda! They, of course, is the complete opposite of the little known sun bear because giant panda is THE super star, super celebrity, super worship, super popular and by far THE most well known bear species in the world!        

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The Panda centre also has many red pandas!

BSBCC Facebook fundraiser 2011 starts NOW!!

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After months of preparation, the BSBCC Facebook fundraiser 2011 finally starts NOW and will end at 6 pm Central Standard Time in USA.

Please come and join us for this event that we all have been waiting for.

Please visit:

 http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.103856799693275.8355.103848556360766#!/pages/Bornean-Sun-Bear-Conservation-Centre-Fundraiser-2011/103848556360766

http://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/2011/03/24/launch-bornean-sun-bear-conservation-centre-fundraiser-2011-on-facebook/

I am really sorry that I cannot join you all in facebook because Wai Pak (the project manager of BSBCC) and I are now in ChengDu, China, attending the Asia for Animals Conference 2011. I have no access to facebook because it is banned in China (don’t ask me why :)). I will be giving an oral presentation entitled “The holistic approaches of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre to conserve sun bears in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo” on Monday. I hope the presentation will let more animal lovers in Asia know about our works to conserve sun bears and networking with other animal welfare/conservation NGOs in Asia.

Wai Pak and I attending the Asia for Animals Conference 2011 in ChengDu, China

Wai Pak and I attending the Asia for Animals Conference 2011 in ChengDu, China

Two days ago Wai Pak and I visited the Animal Asia Foundation’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre. The rescue centre is home to 162 moon bears rescued from bear farms across China. I pay my highest respects to Jill Robinson and her team working tirelessly to rescue and to stop bear farming practice in China. It was an eye opening experience for us to see the amount of efforts AAF’s team put in to help these poor moon bears.

Rescued Moon bears in AAF's Moon Bear Rescue Centre

Rescued Moon bears in AAF's Moon Bear Rescue Centre

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Stay tuned for more story from China!

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Thank you everyone for making this fundraiser possible. As I write this blog, we have raised over US$1800 on this fundraiser event. Thank you all volunteers who organize this events, the donors and supporters to help us and sun bears. Our work would not be possible without your helps and kind support!

I thank you again!

Illegal bear bile trade rampant in Asia

http://www.traffic.org/home/2011/5/11/illegal-bear-bile-trade-rampant-in-asia.html

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 11th May 2011—Poaching and illegal trade of bears, driven largely by the demand for bile, used in traditional medicine and folk remedies continues unabated across Asia on a large scale, a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, has found.

report-spread
Bear bile products were found on sale in Traditional Medicine outlets in all but one of the 13 countries/territories surveyed says the report entitled Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia (PDF, 2 MB). The exception is Macao.

Products were most frequently observed in mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Viet Nam, where they were recorded in over half of all outlets surveyed. The most frequently encountered products were whole bear gall bladders and pills—found in half of the outlets surveyed.

Bears are kept for their bile, used in traditional Asian medicine Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFIC Southeast Asia

Bears are kept for their bile, used in traditional Asian medicine Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFIC Southeast Asia

TRAFFIC’s research suggests a complex and robust trade in bear products. Several of the countries/territories surveyed were either producers or consumers of bear bile products, while in some cases they acted as both.

Mainland China was the most commonly reported place of origin for these products across the region.

In Myanmar, internationally sourced gall bladders were reported to come solely from Lao PDR; in Hong Kong, in cases where the source was known, products were reported to have originated in Japan and over half of those offered for sale in the South Korea were from wild sources in Russia.

Domestic trade of bear bile is legal under strict regulation within mainland China and Japan but is illegal in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. Regardless of the legality of trade within countries, international trade is not allowed.

Asiatic Black Bears (predominant in this trade) and Sun Bears are both listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which prohibits international commercial trade in the species, its parts and derivatives.

An analysis of the origin of bear bile products found in these surveys makes it clear that import and export regulations are commonly flouted demonstrating a failure to implement CITES requirements to stop illegal international bear bile trade effectively and protect bears from exploitation.

“Unbridled illegal trade in bear parts and products continues to undermine CITES which should be the world’s most powerful tool to regulate cross-border wildlife trade,” said Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley, lead author of the report and Senior Programme Officer of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

The study found that the vast majority of the bear farms surveyed in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam did not have captive breeding programmes, suggesting they depend on bears captured from the wild.

“The study makes a clear case for authorities to shut down businesses selling illegal bear products and prosecute individuals caught selling, buying, transporting or keeping bears illegally,” said Foley.

“Both the Asiatic Black Bear and the Sun Bear are threatened by poaching and illegal trade. The demand for bile is one of the greatest drivers behind this trade and must be reduced if bear conservation efforts are to succeed,” added Foley.

“Even legal bear bile producers are circumventing domestic and international regulations by exporting products internationally,” said Dr Jill Robinson MBE, Founder and CEO of Animals Asia Foundation, which rescues bears from farms in China and Viet Nam.

“This report, in addition to Animals Asia’s years of research, shows that the bear bile industry is engaging in illegal practices. As pressure mounts on the wild bear population, there are serious questions to be answered on the welfare and pathology of farmed bears, and the risks to human health in those who consume the contaminated bile from such sick and diseased bears,” said Robinson.

ENDS

Notes:
The study’s main findings are:
•    Bear bile products were observed in traditional medicine outlets in 12 out of 13 Asian countries/territories surveyed
•    Bear bile products were available at 50% or more of traditional medicine outlets surveyed in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Viet Nam.
•    China is the most commonly reported source for bear bile products

A short presentation can be viewed at:
http://prezi.com/y_mqfj2c8acx/the-bear-bile-trade-in-asia/

 
For further information:

Kaitlyn Elizabeth-Foley, Senior Programme Officer, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Tel: ++603 7880 3940, [email protected]
Elizabeth John, Senior Communications Officer, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Tel: ++603 7880 3940, [email protected]
Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC. Tel: +44 1223 279068, email: [email protected]

Vote to Ban Bear Farming

( Vote to stop bear farming in China) FW from IFAW

Dear Colleagues,

Below link is to a legislative proposal to ban bear farming submitted to
China’s People’s Congress. We need votes of support to the proposal.

The site is in Chinese. But all you need to do is to click the box with
two hands clapping, on the far left side of the screen under the
proposal text. One computer can only vote once.
http://elianghui.people.com.cn/proposalPostDetail.do?id=82423&boardId=2&view=1

Thank you for your support. Grace.

The Asian Wildlife Trade

At a farm in Vietnam, bile is pumped from a sedated Asiatic black bear, violating national law. Thousands of wild bears have been captured to supply this traditional medicine. At a farm in Vietnam, bile is pumped from a sedated Asiatic black bear, violating national law. Thousands of wild bears have been captured to supply this traditional medicine.

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/01/asian-wildlife/leong-photography

 

This is going to be a long piece to read…  

Below I repost an article published in the January Issue of the National Geographic Magazine, The Asian Wildlife Trade http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/01/asian-wildlife/christy-text. It take me a while to decided to post it here because I think the world need to know about what is happening to wildlife that we all love and care for and how the local  authority treated the people who jeopardized the wildlife that are belongs to no one but the nature itself.

For years, the main character of the article, the infamous wildlife trader and smuggler, Anson Wong, has been operating his illegal wildlife trade under the eyes of the Malaysian Wildlife Department also known as PERHILITAN. Although Anson has been prosecuted in US in 2001. His operation continue until today.

 I felt angry after reading a news few days ago about his latest venture:  

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2010/2/1/nation/5568465&sec=nation,

This is another madness that has to be stop at any cost. Only a hand full of key people is involved in this wildlife smuggling business but it involved thousands of wildlife being exploited each year. The author of this article, Bryan Christy has wrote about the operation and dirty business of Anson Wong  in his book The Lizard King. You can read all the related news about Anson Wong at Bryan’s blogs where he did a great job on monitoring the development of this issue in detailed   http://thelizardkingbook.com/ .

 After you read the articles and the news http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2010/2/1/nation/5568465&sec=nation,

I encourage you to write to the local Malaysian newspapers Star – [email protected] and NST – [email protected] to express your concern over the issue. This wildlife trading simply cannot be continue. Anson’s business must be stop or all the wildlife in these regions will be jeopardized!

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http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/01/asian-wildlife/christy-text

 

The Kingpin

An exposé of the world’s most notorious wildlife dealer, his special government friend, and his ambitious new plan

By Bryan Christy

Photograph by Mark Leong

On September 14, 1998, a thin, bespectacled Malaysian named Wong Keng Liang walked off Japan Airlines Flight 12 at Mexico City International Airport. He was dressed in faded blue jeans, a light-blue jacket, and a T-shirt emblazoned with a white iguana head. George Morrison, lead agent for Special Operations, the elite, five-person undercover unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was there to greet him. Within seconds of his arrest, Anson (the name by which Wong is known to wildlife traffickers and wildlife law enforcement officers around the world) was whisked downstairs in handcuffs by Mexican federales, to be held in the country’s largest prison, the infamous Reclusorio Norte.

To Morrison and his team, Anson Wong was the catch of a lifetime—the world’s most wanted smuggler of endangered species. His arrest, involving authorities in Australia,Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United States, was a hard-won victory, the culmination of a half-decade-long undercover operation still widely considered the most successful international wildlife investigation ever.

For too long in too many countries (including the U.S.), placing the word “wildlife” in front of the word “crime” had diminished its seriousness. U.S. federal prosecutors wanted Anson’s conviction to show the world that wildlife smugglers are criminals. In addition to charging him under the American wildlife-trafficking law known as the Lacey Act, they indicted him for conspiracy, felony smuggling, and money laundering.

For nearly two years Anson fought extradition to the U.S., but eventually he signed plea agreements, admitting to crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 250 years in prison and a $12.5-million fine. On June 7, 2001, U.S. District Judge Martin J. Jenkins sentenced him to 71 months in U.S. federal prison (with credit for 34 months served), fined him $60,000, and banned him from selling animals to anyone in the U.S. for three years after his prison release.

If the judge thought a ban on Anson Wong would work, he was mistaken. Shortly after his arrest, Anson’s wife and business partner, Cheah Bing Shee, established a new company, CBS Wildlife, which exported wildlife to the U.S. while Anson was in prison. His main company, Sungai Rusa Wildlife, continued to ship despite the ban. Now that he’s free, Anson has launched a new wildlife venture, a zoo that promises to be his most audacious enterprise yet.

Numbers Game

It is almost impossible to name an animal or plant species anywhere on the planet that has not been traded—legally or illegally—for its meat, fur, skin, song, or ornamental value, as a pet, or as an ingre­dient in perfume or medicine. Every year China, the U.S., Europe, and Japan purchase billions of dollars’ worth of wildlife from biologically rich parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, emptying out parks and plundering wildlands, often newly accessible along logging roads.

The path to market typically begins when poor hunters or farmers catch animals for local traders, who pass them up the supply chain, though some traffickers—Anson Wong among them—have even dispatched their own poachers, posing as tourists. In Asia, wildlife ends up on the banquet table or in medicine shops; in Western countries, in the living rooms of exotic-animal fanciers. The economics are as easy to understand as an art auction: the rarer the item, the higher the price. Around the globe, nature is dying, and the prices of her rarest works are going up.

While no one knows exactly how large the illegal wildlife trade is, this much is certain: It’s extraordinarily lucrative. Profit margins are the kind drug kingpins would kill for. Smugglers evade detection by hiding illegal wildlife in legal shipments, they bribe wildlife and customs officials, and they alter trade documents. Few are ever caught, and penalties are usually no more severe than a parking ticket. Wildlife trafficking may very well be the world’s most profitable form of illegal trade, bar none.

Smugglers also exploit a loophole in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). With 175 countries as members, CITES is the world’s primary treaty to protect wildlife, categorized into three groups according to how endan­gered a species is perceived to be. Appendix I animals, such as tigers and orangutans, are considered so close to extinction that their commercial trade is banned. Species in Appendix II are less vulnerable and may be traded under a permit system. Those in Appendix III are protected by the national legislation of the country that added them to the list. The CITES treaty has one gaping exception: Specimens bred in captivity do not receive the same protection as their wild counterparts. CITES, after all, applies to wild life.

Proponents of captive breeding argue that it takes pressure off wild populations, decreases crime, satisfies international demand that will never go away, and puts money in the pockets of those willing to commit to “farming” wildlife. But these benefits only hold in countries with enforcement policies strong enough to deter rule breakers. In practice, smugglers establish fake breeding facilities, then claim that animals and plants poached from the wild are captive bred. Fake captive breeding is just one of the techniques Anson Wong used in running a secret front operation for one of the world’s largest wildlife-smuggling syndicates.

Now the world’s most notorious convicted reptile trafficker is about to move in a new direction, with potentially shattering consequences for one of the most revered, charismatic—and endangered—animals on the planet: the tiger.

Operation Chameleon

Special Operations began its hunt for Anson Wong in the fall of 1993. Ops prided itself on tackling large-scale commercial traffickers. The group’s work on exotic-bird trafficking had resulted in the breakup of smuggling operations around the world—involving dozens of convictions in U.S. courts—and had contributed to passage of the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992, which banned the import of many vulnerable bird species. Overnight, imports of macaws, African gray parrots, and other psittacines had dropped from hundreds of thousands a year to hundreds.

By the 1990s illegal reptiles were pouring into the U.S. Prices were skyrocketing—$20,000 or more for a rare tortoise or a Komodo dragon. Reptiles smuggle well: They’re small (at least as babies), durable, and with cold-blooded metabolisms, can go for long periods without food or water. Valuable and portable, reptiles were the diamonds of wildlife trafficking.

Informants had been raising Anson Wong’s name for years, and Ops suspected he was the global kingpin of the illegal reptile trade. Anson was already wanted in the U.S. for smuggling rare reptiles to a Florida dealer in the late 1980s. He was said to be acutely aware of his status as an outlaw. There would be no “stinging” Anson Wong, no tricking him with a onetime transaction in a hotel room or catching him personally bringing reptiles through an airport. To get him, Ops would have to come up with something clever.

Special Agent Morrison—six foot five, a lifelong hunter, the son of a lawyer—was given the lead. He and his boss, Special Agent Rick Leach, leased a unit in a business complex outside San Francisco, not far from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the nuclear weapons facility. They filled their new wholesale enterprise, called Pac Rim, with the only saleable merchandise they had, a truckload of seashells and corals left over from previous investigations: fluted clamshells, spiraling Trochidae shells, hard corals, the sort of white and pink junk sold by aquarium supply stores and beachside tourist shops. They advertised their confidence items in magazines, and when legitimate orders came in, the seasoned crime fighters boxed and labeled seashell orders themselves.

As a complement to Pac Rim, Ops opened a retail business called Silver State Exotics outside Reno, Nevada. The combination gave the agents a circle of economic life—they could import animals in wholesale quantities through Pac Rim and retail what they didn’t need for evidence through Silver State Exotics, giving Pac Rim the appearance of a thriving global operation (and an income).

On October 19, 1995, Morrison sent a fax to Anson’s company, Sungai Rusa Wildlife, explaining that he was a wholesaler of shells and corals interested in expanding into reptiles and amphib­ians. Anson replied with a one-page price list offering low-end frogs and toads for under five dollars and house geckos for 30 cents (items known in the pet industry as trash animals), listed by their Latin names. In one case Anson used his own name for a subspecies: ansoni. Two animals on the list stood out—the Fly River turtle (also known as the pig-nosed turtle) and the frilled lizard, protected throughout their ranges in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Australia. So in his first contact with Morrison, a complete stranger, Anson had offered a taste of illegal wildlife.

Soon Anson was soliciting Morrison with the planet’s scarcest, most valuable Appendix I reptiles: Komodo dragons from Indonesia, tuatara from New Zealand, Chinese alligators, and Madagascan plowshare tortoises, rarest of the rare. Using a corrupt employee in the Fed­Ex facility in Phoenix, Arizona, Anson express mailed protected species—including a Southeast Asian false gharial and Madagascan radiated tortoises, both Appendix I—to fake “drop” addresses. He flew Komodos directly to Morrison from Malaysia, hidden in suitcases wheeled by his American mule, James Burroughs. He sent Madagascan radiated tortoises, their legs taped inside their shells, bundled in black socks and packed at the bottom of legal reptile shipments.

Morrison marveled at Anson’s dexterity. He could broker turtles out of Peru without ever touching them. He contracted out poaching hits on a wildlife sanctuary in New Zealand. He owned a wildlife business in Vietnam. And he boasted an ability to enforce his deals using Chinese muscle.

Significantly, he exploited the CITES captive-breeding exception, claiming that wild animals he exported were captive bred. Under one ruse, Anson shipped large numbers of Indian star tortoises through Dubai, claiming they’d been bred in captivity there. When investigators checked on the facility, they found a flower shop.

Anson assured Morrison that they had nothing to fear from Malaysian authorities. Wildlife smuggling in Malaysia is policed both by customs and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, or Perhilitan. Referring to his American courier, Anson told Morrison, “I have the second man of the customs bring him out of the airport and drive him to my office.”

In one instance Anson offered Morrison 20 Timor pythons for $15,000. Morrison said he was interested but worried that the snakes would lack CITES paperwork. “They’ll definitely be coming with papers,” Anson said. “I will have a fall guy and he will get arrested. Plus the goods will be confiscated, and the goods will be sold to me by the department.”

Then Anson offered Morrison horns of Sumatran and Javanese rhinoceroses, both forbidden Appendix I animals. He talked openly about getting shahtoosh, the “king of wool,” from the Tibetan antelope. He had access to extraordinary birds, including the Rothschild’s mynah, whose wild population was estimated to number fewer than 150. He bragged about his Spix’s macaws, a bird now believed to be extinct in the wild, claiming he’d recently sold three. The black market rate for a Spix’s macaw was $100,000. His expanding list of astonishing illegal rarities included panda skins and snow leopard pelts.

Perceiving Anson Wong as only a reptile smug­gler had been a terrible mistake, allowing him to maneuver freely across the globe. Reptiles were repulsive, repulsive was invisible, invisible was money. If Anson could deliver on his offers, cheap, legal reptiles shipped to pet stores around the world were a front for a vast, illegal wildlife-smuggling empire.

“I can get anything here from anywhere,” he wrote Morrison. “It only depends on how much certain people get paid. Tell me what you want, I will weigh the risks, and tell you how much it’ll set you back.

“Nothing can be done to me,” he boasted. “I could sell a panda—and, nothing. As long as I’m here, I’m safe.”

Finally, after five years and half a million dollars’ worth of illegal trade, Morrison was ready to breach Fortress Malaysia, as he called Anson’s base. He proposed that Anson partner with him in a new venture, a kind of Endangered Species, Inc., specializing in the rarest animals on the planet. “Top dollar, hard-to-find things,” Anson responded. “I’ve put myself in that position where people will offer me things first before they go elsewhere.” He was in.

Morrison suggested they start out by smuggling bear bile, an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Anson agreed that there was high demand for bear bile in China and South Korea, and he said he had a client willing to pay up to a hundred dollars an ounce for the liquid. “Please remember,” he wrote Morrison, “I am not selling direct—too dangerous.” Instead, he would use a middleman.

Morrison said he too had a partner, who could arrange for the bile from Canada, but she wouldn’t work with Anson until she met him in person. Anson was reluctant. Because of the outstanding warrant on him, he couldn’t enter U.S. territory, he told Morrison, and he was leery of Canada.

“We can meet anywhere here in Asia,” Anson wrote. Argentina, South Africa, Peru, France, and England were all OK too. “No New Zealand,” he stipulated, “or Australia.”

They settled on Mexico.

The Malaysian Phoenix

With Anson Wong’s arrest that September day in 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accom­plished its mission, but it may have lost a war. “We focused everything on one climax,” George Morrison told me. Exhausted, he left full-time undercover work. Rick Leach, the group’s supervisor, retired, and soon Special Operations had all but shut its doors.

Five years later, on November 10, 2003, Anson went free. Reporters flocked to Malaysia. They parked in front of his headquarters on Penang, a tiny island off the west coast, and tried to take his photograph. He refused to speak to the press.

At the time, Malaysia was embroiled in a smuggling scandal involving western lowland gorillas, a critically endangered species. Traffickers had used Nigeria’s University of Ibadan Zoological Gardens as a front to smuggle four infants, snatched from the forest in Cameroon, to Malay­sia’s Taiping Zoo. The Taiping Four incident had sparked international outrage. In the midst of this commotion, Anson sat down at his computer and typed a one-line message on Vorras.net, a commercial message board frequented by international wildlife traders: “we need Nigerian primates. pls quote CnF Malaysia.”

Anson was back in business.

In truth he had never really stopped. Dur­ing his imprisonment, Cheah Bing Shee continued to run the operation. Now Anson began to frequent Internet message boards, seeking reptiles from India, Madagascar, and Sudan; insects from Mozambique; and “10 tons a month” of sheep horns. He has offered to sell an array of wildlife, including Malaysian reptiles, mynah birds, parrots, and half a million dollars’ worth of wild agarwood, prized for its aromatic qualities. To a request for dead birds and mammals, he replied, “We have always specimens.”

Since his release he’s had only one brush with the law. On March 16, 2006, Manny Esguerra, an alert Thai Airways cargo employee stationed in Manila, questioned a shipment of reptiles en route from the Philippines to Sungai Rusa Wildlife in Malaysia. The consignment lacked export permits, in violation of Philippine law. Esguerra, as required by his airline, telephoned the intended recipient, which confirmed the shipment. Esguerra referred the case to Philippine authorities. Then the Philippine supplier named in the shipping records evaporated. The seized reptiles themselves vanished before authorities had a chance to investigate further, turning up later at a remote Philippine rescue center. Local news articles presented the case as a success, but no one was arrested. The only identifiable person who could be connected to the illegal shipment was safe in Fortress Malaysia—Anson Wong.

What initially drew my attention to Anson was an offhand comment by Mike Van Nostrand, owner of Strictly Reptiles in South Florida, among the world’s largest reptile import-export wholesalers and one of Anson’s biggest customers. I was writing a book about Van Nostrand’s past as a reptile smuggler. “Two weeks after he got out,” Van Nostrand told me in the summer of 2004, “Anson offered me something he really shouldn’t have.” It was a Gray’s monitor, a fruit-eating Philippine lizard thought to have been extinct until the late 1970s and one of the animals Anson had gone to prison for smuggling. Van Nostrand, who had done jail time himself for smuggling reptiles and wanted to avoid a repeat, was shocked. “Boy, you never quit,” he replied.

In September 2006 I rented an apartment in South Florida and went to work for Strictly Reptiles. I spent three months in the warehouse sweeping floors, cleaning snake cages, and unpacking reptile shipments—including ones from Anson—working toward a single question for Van Nostrand: “Would you introduce me?” Employees repeatedly accused me of being a federal agent. They photographed me. They wrote down my license plate number. I was threatened with a baseball bat and had a .357 aimed at my head. But eventually Van Nostrand and I became friends. A few days before my lease ran out, I asked my question. “Sure,” he answered. “Anson’ll talk to you. He loves to talk about himself.”

Inside the Fortress

Situated in the trendy Pulau Tikus (“rat island”) section of Penang, Sungai Rusa Wildlife might easily be mistaken for a hair salon. No wider than a family garage and unidentified, it’s one of dozens of units along a quiet strip of retail shops offering tummy reduction, skin care, and spa treatments. When I walked in on March 2, 2007, a black BMW and a windowless delivery van bearing the address of Anson’s Penang-based reptile farm were parked out front. Next door was Xie Design, an interior furnishings business Anson’s wife operates.

Anson shook my hand with that significant extra squeeze some men give you just before the release. He led me past stacks of live tarantulas in deli cups, scattered paperwork, and shipping boxes to his private office, a cramped, windowless room. Although he’d advertised his company on the Web as doing “U.S. $50 million to U.S. $100 million” in annual sales, the fanciest item in the room was the cell phone on his desk.

After I sat down, Anson pointed to three sets of photographs laminated in plastic and taped to his office door. “My wife put those up to remind me to ask myself if it was worth it,” he said. “Beautiful, huh?”

They were evidence photos of Indian star tortoises he’d smuggled, each page stamped by the Northern District of California federal court. They may have been a reminder to Anson from his wife, but they were also a warning to every person who stepped through his door: I, Anson Wong, have run the toughest legal gantlet in the world, and I am here.

He was deceptively boyish-looking. He wore large, round glasses and had a ponytail, which was flecked with gray. At 49, his face was without stress. He had the cultured air of a successful artist, a sculptor maybe, and he spoke with a pleasant British curl to his perfect English. Behind his head was a map of the world. Behind me slept a reticulated python, the world’s longest python.

Anson said he’d started in the wildlife trade in the 1980s, with a company called Exotic Skins and Alives. Back then, he said, Malaysia gave legal protection only to indigenous wildlife, so he traded freely in endangered species from around the world. Anson smiled. “Anything,” he said.

I said I was writing a book about his U.S. customer Mike Van Nostrand, who had also played a cat-and-mouse game with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “You’re the main guy in Asia,” I said. “Mike told me that if it wasn’t for Anson Wong, there would be no reptile industry in the United States.”

Anson named a rival trader in Indonesia and another in Madagascar. Then he laughed and shook his head. “Well, I guess there aren’t that many of us.”

Wildlife is an integral part of every Asian economy, I said, and I’m interested in the line between man and nature.

“Ahhh,” he said. Anson raised his arms and put his fists together. “Always in conflict.”

Future Shock

“I’m building another zoo,” he said, pointing to a 30-page document on his desk titled “Anson Wong, Flora and Fauna Village.” “The plans were approved yesterday.” I began thumbing through the architectural drawings.

Anson’s partners were his wife and Michael Ooi, an internationally renowned orchid dealer. (Michael’s brother Gino operates Malaysia’s largest rare bird facility, Penang Bird Park.) For years the Wongs and Michael Ooi had run a zoo on Penang called Bukit Jambul Orchid, Hibiscus and Reptile Garden.

Zoos make good cover. Smugglers in control of a zoo can move endangered species with CITES paperwork, and a zoo can use its breeding program to explain the appearance of a new animal. CITES generally doesn’t monitor what happens to an animal after a zoo imports it: A gorilla can be sold domestically, or if it dies (or is killed), can be cut up for meat, or parts, or even stuffed. Anson’s portion of the zoo was called Bukit Jambul Reptile Sanctuary, and it had enabled him to host nature lovers and wildlife experts from around the world while he secretly smuggled rare animals through his other company.

Anson told me his new zoo would far surpass Bukit Jambul. He would still display reptiles, and he would charge visitors next to nothing to get in, but this time he expected to make a lot of money. He had a new focus: big cats. “I love tigers,” he said.

“Captive breeding,” Anson smiled, “that is the future.”

I looked up with an adrenaline jolt. Tigers are all but extinct in the wild, with only about 4,000 left. Now Anson Wong was planning to make tigers his specialty.

There’s a valuable black market for tigers. Tibetans wear tiger-skin robes; wealthy collectors display their heads; exotic restaurants sell their meat; their penis is said to be an aphrodisiac; and Chinese covet their bones for health cures, including tiger-bone wine, the “chicken soup” of Chinese medicine. Experts have put the black market value of a dead, adult male tiger at $10,000 or more. In some Asian countries, tourist attractions called tiger parks secretly operate as front operations for tiger farming—butchering captive tigers for their parts and offering a potential market for wild-tiger poachers too. (Keeping an adult tiger costs $5,000 a year in food alone, but a bullet costs only a dollar.)

Anson has a dark history with big cats. During Operation Chameleon he had asked Morrison’s help to have tigers he was raising mounted for sale as trophies. He has offered to smuggle a cougar out of the U.S., and he wanted to sell Morrison an Appendix I marbled cat. After his prison release, tiger cubs he owned were found on display at a Kuala Lumpur pet store. Anson was practiced at circumventing Malaysian prohibitions on keeping tigers and other endangered species by securing “special permits”—licenses granted on the recommendation of Perhilitan, the wildlife department, to private individuals, theme parks, and zoos.

He glanced at my shoulder bag. “George Morrison recorded everything,” he said, and stood up. He rapped his knuckles against his wall calendar. “I’m busy,” he said, indicating forthcoming commitments: Taipei, Hong Kong, Thailand.

“I’m here this weekend,” I offered.

“Weekends are for family,” he replied. “We’ll talk, but not this trip.”

He walked me to the door. “When you’re done with your book, we should talk about my story,” he said.

That’s when I made a mistake. I told him I’d written an article exposing a questionable agreement between the U.S. government and a British coin dealer to sell the world’s most valuable—and stolen—coin and split the profit. Normally, telling an ex-felon you’d given the government a black eye was a sure bet to improve your rela­tionship. But momentarily I’d forgotten the prem­ise for Operation Chameleon: Anson and his government were friends.

Anson stared at me. “So, you’re a journalist,” he said, stiffening.

Apparently, he had mistaken me for a biographer. I started to reply, but he interrupted. “Journalists who uncover what people want left alone can get killed,” he said, his voice very calm.

Kecik-kecik Cili Padi

One day in late December 2007, Anson’s black Mercedes-Benz pulled into Penang International Airport and picked up two of Malaysia’s top wildlife enforcement officials, Perhilitan’s law enforcement division director, Sivananthan Elagupillay, and his boss, Deputy Director General Misliah Mohamad Basir. The officers had flown in from Kuala Lumpur for a press conference launching Flora and Fauna Village, now a joint venture between Penang’s forestry department and Anson Wong and Michael Ooi’s enterprise. It would be a five-acre zoo carved out of the Teluk Bahang Forest Reserve, and to help finance it, the Penang state government was contributing 700,000 ringgit (U.S. $200,000). A photograph in Malaysia’s newspaper The Star showed government officials inspecting the zoo’s new tiger den.

“The price will be very affordable as our aim of setting the village is also to help conserve the endangered species,” Ooi told reporters.

Anson had long boasted his government influ­ence. Now he had the open support of both the Penang government and Malaysia’s wildlife department. Misliah’s presence was ironic. During Operation Chameleon Misliah had been the wildlife official in charge on Penang. She signed his CITES permits. Within four years of Anson’s arrest, she was promoted to director of Perhilitan’s law enforcement division, and by 2007 she’d been given the department’s number two job.

I wondered what Misliah thought of the man who had smuggled so much endangered wildlife right under her nose.

“He is my good friend,” Misliah giggled, sitting behind her desk in her spacious office at Perhilitan headquarters. She was a plump little woman, hardly more than a round head wrapped in a Muslim’s white tudung scarf. She was swaddled in a sky blue shawl over a baju kurung, a long blouse and sarong, and wore petite brown sandals. Her voice was honestly the sweetest I’d ever heard.

I’d been warned that Misliah had two prejudices: She disliked Americans, and she thought all Americans were obsessed with Anson Wong.

“You know,” I said, “I’m an American. And when it comes to Malaysia and wildlife, all we ever hear about in the U.S. is one story.”

“What is that?” she asked pleasantly.

I smiled. “Anson Wong.”

Misliah giggled. She had joined Perhilitan in the early 1980s, about the same time Anson started in the reptile business, and had been posted to Penang for much of her career. “I spent more than ten years inspecting his shipments,” she said. I tried to picture Misliah, crowbar in hand, prying open Anson’s wooden shipping crates, reaching into boxes crammed with biting Tokay geckos, venomous mangrove snakes, and other discouragingly aggressive animals Anson called cover species, because he put them on top of illegal animal shipments.

She hadn’t known much about reptiles when she started, she said, but now she did. “Everything I know about them I learned from opening Anson’s boxes.” Misliah turned to look at her bookshelves. Though she hadn’t seen him much since her move to Kuala Lumpur, she still borrowed Anson’s books on bird identification from time to time. When her officers can’t identify an animal, she tells her people to call Anson. “He’s better than anyone in the department at identifying wildlife, so why not go to him,” she said. “He’s the most knowledgeable in the country.”

I noticed that Misliah rarely blinks.

“He is very smart,” she continued, explaining that Anson does all his deals over the phone. “In Malaysia you must catch someone with the animals. Not like the U.S. with the Lacey Act,” she said contemptuously.

The Lacey Act makes it a federal crime to violate wildlife laws, even those of a foreign country, and a wildlife smuggler doesn’t have to be caught in possession of an animal to face felony prosecution. Misliah considers Anson’s conviction under the Lacey Act illegitimate and has publicly accused the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of framing him.

“They said he had Komodos, but he never handles animals himself—he has runners everywhere,” Misliah said. “When he was in prison, Anson wrote me letters. He bribed his way. They treated him like a king!” She explained that his business had gone down while he was in prison and his wife was in charge. “But,” she said, “now it is going up.”

Malaysia’s second highest wildlife law enforcement officer speaks of her country’s most notorious illegal trafficker like a doting aunt.

“People say, ‘How can you give him his license?’?” A smile wreathed Misliah’s face. “He was a very bad boy, but if we don’t give him a license, he would just do it anyway.” This way, she said, they could keep their eye on him.

To this day Misliah vouches for Anson. “Anson Wong has carried out his business legally and complying [sic] the needs and requirements under the domestic law. He and his business in peninsular Malaysia have been monitored closely by this department,” her office asserted in a written statement to the press in 2008.

She was also in favor of legalized tiger and bear-bile farming. “Why not?” she asked me.

Misliah Mohamad Basir, so inconspicuous, seemingly so benign, is one of the most powerful wildlife decision-makers on the planet. On her watch Malaysia has become a global trafficking hub.

I kept coming back to how delightful she seemed in person. “Isn’t Misliah the sweetest little woman you ever met?” I asked a senior Perhilitan officer.

The officer studied me for a moment, then smiled. “In Perhilitan we have a saying about her: Kecik-kecik cili padi.”

A park ranger standing nearby nodded.

“The smallest chilies are always the hottest.”

Sheriff Wanted

Misliah had mentioned an adversary named Chris Shepherd, an intrepid investigator who has drawn attention to black market wildlife operations throughout Southeast Asia. “He says we’re just a transit country,” Misliah told me, with obvious disdain. “He says we do nothing to stop smuggling.”

Shepherd, a Canadian, works for TRAFFIC, the trade-monitoring arm of the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Based in Cambridge, England, with offices around the world, TRAFFIC’s investigators monitor crime and pass what they learn to host country law enforcement agencies. Shepherd is the lead investigator in the Southeast Asia headquarters, in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Over the past decade he’s published a mountain of reports covering illegal trade in bear parts, elephants, civets, Indonesia’s laughing thrushes, the Indian star tortoise, the serow, the Roti Island snake-necked turtle, the Sumatran tiger, and more. He is widely considered among the region’s best investigators, and his reports benefit conservationists and law enforcement around the world.

When I visited Shepherd and asked if he would show me his Anson Wong file, he looked at me blankly. He opened a file cabinet and removed a thin folder from a half-empty drawer. After scanning a few pages, he shook his head.

Not one NGO investigator I met in Southeast Asia, Shepherd included, had ever laid eyes on Anson Wong. Time and again I found experts eager to take me to see atrocities: bear cubs in Vietnam dipped in boiling water to intensify the “life force” in bear-paw soup, orangutans chained in the backyards of Indonesian generals, endangered birds openly for sale in Asian markets. But when I asked what connections could be made between a scene and a criminal organization, no one had a single example of a syndicate being mapped out the way one would expect to see on any low-budget cop show.

“Their brains all work like a camera,” George Morrison told me. NGOs, their donors, and the media tend to focus on wildlife crimes they can see, while multinational criminal syndicates operate hidden behind thickets of corporate records, CITES permits, and trade data.

NGO staff have many demands on their time: fund-raising and species reports, press interviews, market surveys, donor meetings, and bill paying. NGOs are not police. They have no enforcement authority, their employees depend for their visas on the wildlife officials they might investigate, and if NGOs push too hard, they invite trouble. In 2008, TRAFFIC issued a report on the Sumatran trade in tiger parts and urged Indonesia to increase its enforcement. In response, Indonesia froze TRAFFIC’s activities, a move tantamount to expulsion. Tonny Soehartono, the Ministry of Forestry official responsible for Indonesia’s action, explained his reasoning: “TRAFFIC attacked my country.”

TRAFFIC itself has just three investigators covering Southeast Asia and only a hundred staff worldwide. The CITES secretariat employs only one—that’s right, one—enforcement officer. Interpol likewise employs one person to manage its wildlife-crime program. Other countries have useful tools, such as wiretap authority, but they don’t have the long reach of the Lacey Act, and now U.S. Special Operations has dwindled to three or fewer agents.

At a U.S. congressional committee hearing on the links between national security and wildlife trafficking, I met a woman with a Ph.D. in veterinary science who had helped prepare some of the informational material. “I want to go work undercover in Southeast Asia,” she told me. I was impressed: a bright young professional eager to take on the undercover agent’s life. “I have some vacation time coming up,” she said, “and I’m going to do it.”

Is there any other area of law enforcement where a private citizen could even imagine doing undercover work on her vacation?

Misliah dislikes Shepherd because his criticisms appear in the news, but cases do well in the press only if they involve iconic animals that garner catchy names like Taiping Four or Bangkok Six (smuggled orangutans). They don’t do well if they’re the simple fish called humphead wrasse, or the 14 tons of turtles, monitor lizards, and pangolins found floating in a deserted boat off the coast of China.

One cause for hope may be a new regional organization—the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN). Established four years ago, ASEAN-WEN brings together customs agents, wildlife officers, prosecutors, and police from each of its ten member countries. Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. are also involved, with much of ASEAN-WEN’s funding provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It’s a testament to ASEAN-WEN’s potential that Anson Wong subscribes to its newsletter.

Last August Misliah responded to allegations of a corrupt relationship between her department and Anson Wong: “As far as Malaysia is concerned, he abides by local laws and has the necessary licenses,” she said. “What he does outside the country is not our concern.”

Ursa Freedom Project: from Crush Cages to Freedom

smafi_bliss.jpg 

NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

March 14, 2009 

Contacts: Jeanette McDermott ~ [email protected]

                   Camila Aguilar ~ [email protected] 

Ursa Freedom Project: from Crush Cages to Freedom 

An online community joins hands and hearts to liberate 9,000 to 14,000 bears fromcrush cages and end the practice of draining their bile to make commercial products.The Ursa Freedom Project gathers all who affirm the right to liberty and deplore thetorture of any living being. 

Moon Bears and six other species of bear are poached from the wild and bred incaptivity for the sole purpose of draining their bile for commercial products. Locked intiny crush cages on bile farms in China and Vietnam, the bears are unable to move inthese wretched conditions. Bear farmers often knock out the bears’ teeth, rip their clawsout and cut off their paws to prevent being hurt by the bears when they approach thecages to milk them for their bile. The bears live in this abject torture daily – until theydie. Freeing the bears is no small task. It will take the belief and coming together of agreat many to liberate farmed bears and dismantle the bile farm industry. rev_logoenh_360_ursa_major_angledstrokes.jpg

Ursa Freedom Project begins on March 20 (Vernal Equinox). Worldwide, people willgather for a variety of events from the Equinox to Summer Solstice to engage in doingwhat they love. All the while, they will be in action to stop bear bile farming. Many ideasfor community involvement are contributed by members at the Ursa Freedom Project .The campaign includes two money bombs where small individual contributions combineinto a large sum during the specified 24-hour time period. 

“The most famous money bomb was dropped into the Ron Paul campaign in the U.S.on December 16, 2007, which raised $6.03 million in just 24 hours. Nickels and dimesamounted to millions of dollars. We want to set a new world record for money bombswith the Ursa Freedom Project,” said Jeanette McDermott, campaign co-creator anddirector. 

After writing an article about bear farming for her social network, “ecopaparazzi”,Jeanette was haunted by stories and images of the tortured bears. She spoke with herfriend, Camila Aguilar, about waking up from a nightmare unable to move or breathe.Together they spontaneously combusted the vision of a worldwide campaign. To raiseawareness around the long ignored industrial abuses of the Asiatic Black Bear, alsocalled the Moon Bear, Camila offered her activist experiences, graphic and writing skills.Launching the action network, Jeanette brings her enormous energy and networkingand media gifts to attract people to join this visionary cause. 

Money raised through the Ursa Freedom Project benefits Animals Asia Foundation, anon-profit organization with bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam for medical care,rehabilitation and room and board for the rescued bears. As bears are freed from bilefarms Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) sees to it that bear farmers are compensated fortheir loss of income. AAF gives farmers enough money and encouragement to start amore progressive job, while giving the bears they have farmed a new lease on life. 

The Ursa Freedom Project inspires engagement through fun, education, art andcommunity involvement. Community events currently planned are Benefit for the Bearsconcerts in London, Australia, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and in Argentina,online and offline art sales and auctions, money bomb drops, fashion shows as well asmany events planned by individuals. “Through local activities and a positive spirit, we aim to awaken global awareness forthe plight of the bile bears. Our commitment is to move the hearts of the Chinese peoplefor the sake of humane treatment of an endangered species. We believe a globalresponse to this endeavor can bring about the necessary change,” said Camila Aguilar,co-creator of Ursa Freedom Project. 

Connected Links

http://ursafreedomproject.blogspot.com

http://endbearbilefarming.blogspot.com/

http://www.animalsasia.org/

http://www.animalsasia.org/blog/

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End bear farming! Here are what you can help to end them.

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Last month I posted an article about one of the cruelest practice we human invented to treat the moon bears and small portion of sun bear in China and Vietnam. Many readers have show their concerns and offer helps to end this practice. While being so far away from China and Vietnam, all of us can do our part to end this practice that should never even begun in the first place.

Jeannette McDermott has launch Ursa Freedom Project. This project is a global campaign to liberate 9,000 bears from crush cages on bile farms in China. The intent is to move the bears from these torturous prisons to the country club at Animals Asia. Together we can do it!

So how can you help? You can help us by getting involve on whatever level you are able — for some it will be simply uploading a poster to an internet site; for others it will be organizing a music concert for an audience of 1,000 people. And everything in between. So it will be different for every person. But we are asking that each person do at least one thing to promote the Ursa Freedom Project so the information spreads far and wide across the globe. We will not only raise sufficient fund to help these bears on the ground, but also raise awareness to end this practice. This practice has to end! There is no second options. The more people who know about Ursa Freedom Project, the more we can help.The first thing for you to do is join the new Action Network and get the html codes for the poster, badge or banner, and then upload as many of these images that you like onto your blog, website, facebook, msn chat room, anything you can think of to help us spread the news.

Just click here to start: http://ursafreedomproject.ning.com/

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