Category Archives: wildlife smuggling

‘Are you a bear killer?’ If you use this medicine, the answer is yes 1st June 2015

Walk into a Chinese medicine hall in Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, and tell the sinseh of your bad bout of flu, and you might be prescribed a bottle of Xiong Dan capsules which can supposedly work miracles for flu, fever, haemorrhoids and “heatiness”. But beware – you will inadvertently help push an endangered species closer to the brink.

The capsules are derived from bear bile, which makes them illegal under wildlife laws. But that has not stopped the capsules, and other folk cures made from bear organs, from being sold in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) shops nationwide, according to wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic.

For three months in 2012, Traffic researchers posed as interested buyers of potions and pills made from bear bile. They went shopping at 365 TCM outlets throughout the country and were offered the illicit products at 175 shops. The actual numbers are likely to be higher as some retailers only sell the products to known buyers.

In their report Hard To Bear: An Assessment Of Trade In Bear Bile And Gall Bladder In Malaysia released on May 29, researchers Lee Siow Ling, Elizabeth A. Burgess and Serene C.L. Chng wrote that banned items such as whole bear gall bladders, bear bile in the form of pills, extract, powder or flakes and dried gall bladder skins can be bought in TCM shops, especially those in Batu Pahat, Johor Baru, Kota Baru, Kuala Lumpur, Kuantan and Ipoh.

Some shops also sold other illegal or protected wildlife products, such as porcupine bezoar (stomach stone), rhino horn and saiga horn.

Most of the processed products were smuggled in from China but unprocessed items such as bear gall bladders were sourced locally. In Sabah and Sarawak, at least 118 Bornean sun bears (classified as a subspecies, Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) would have been killed to supply the gall bladders seen for sale in the shops.

“What is clear is that the trade persists and is continually carried out openly and is widespread throughout Malaysia, despite laws in place prohibiting the trade in bear parts and derivatives,” said Traffic South-East Asia regional director Dr Chris R. Shepherd.

Trapped and killed: At least 300 bears would have been killed to supply the bear gall bladders seen for sale in a 2012 survey of traditional Chinese medicine shops. Photo: BSBCC/Wong Siew Te

Unsustainable tradition

The use of bear parts in TCM can be traced back some 3,000 years. Bear bile is rich in ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA, also known as ursodiol), an active compound effective in treating a variety of ailments. It is a valuable ingredient in TCM and used to treat eye, liver and kidney diseases. The TCM community has identified some 54 herbal alternatives to bear bile and pharmaceutical companies have developed synthetic UDCA using bile from cows or pigs. However, many TCM practitioners reject these synthetic substitutes.

The Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) are the species most threatened by the demand for bear bile. They are among the eight bear species listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means all international trade, including their parts and products, is illegal. Both species are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List.

The latest survey echoes the finds of similar studies done in 1991, 2001 and 2010, which hadalready found bear products for sale. Clearly, the illegal trade has not abated. Of the 131 shops re-visited in the latest survey, 58 were still selling the illicit products.

Some had even been raided by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan). The poor record in prosecution could be a reason for this: from 2000 to 2011, 44 bear gall bladders and two bile products were seized from shops but only one case resulted in a fine of RM1,000.

Under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, anyone dealing with products claiming to contain sun bear parts or derivatives faces a fine of up to RM20,000 and a year in prison. Importers and exporters face fines of RM30,000 to RM100,000 and a jail term of up to three years.

Under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, hunting or possession of the totally protected sun bear carries a fine of up to RM50,000 and a jail term of up to five years. Sun bears are only “protected” under the Sarawak Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998.

Bile is extracted from a bear at a bear farm in Huian, Fujian province. Animal activists oppose such farms as the bears are trapped from the wild and are kept in unhygienic conditions. Photo: Xinhua

Evading tactics

Despite adequate wildlife legislation, there is a long way to go to stamp out the illegal trade in bear parts and products. The researchers said insufficient scrutiny has led to the Health Ministry unwittingly approving imported TCM products containing bear derivatives and a factory that produces pills containing bear bile – all in violation of wildlife laws.

The local companies making Xiong Dan pills must have imported bear bile for the production process. Although this contravenes CITES and the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, these businesses were still granted licences to operate by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority.

The traders knowingly violated the laws. They knew they were handling illegal products, but they also knew how to get round the law. Bear gall bladders were not displayed but stored elsewhere, and only brought out when requested by customers. They kept their stocks small, to minimise fines if caught.

Products were unlabelled or have unclear labelling. Only a few listed Fel Ursi (the pharmaceutical name for bear bile) as an ingredient. Of the 135 shops which claimed not to sell bear products, many still offered Xiong Dan pills supposedly made from herbs but retaining the name (Xiong Dan is Chinese for bear bile). Claiming that a product contains bear bile, regardless of the actual content, is an offence under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Retailers said the products can be easily obtained from Chinese manufacturers and bear bile can be concealed in personal luggage. One retailer goes on tours to China and Russia to buy bear gall bladder and bile. Many offered to pack bear gall bladders to evade detection at airports and advised that x-ray scanners will not detect bear gall bladders in personal luggage. The researchers were told that the gall bladders, if detected, would only be confiscated, with no further repercussions such as fines or jail term.

The retailers said there was little risk from enforcement efforts and made allegations of corruption. One shop owner hid his stocks of bear bile in vials to avoid paying enforcement officers who “come when they need money.” They also argued that bears were not killed when bile is extracted, and that health cures took precedence over the survival of bears.

Role of health agencies

The Traffic report points to the Health Ministry playing a critical role in stopping wildlife-based medicines from making it to market, as it oversees the TCM business. But it first has to tighten its laws and step up enforcement.

The ministry needs a more thorough screening process to weed out products containing protected wildlife and their derivatives, and ensure that they do not pass registration. As many of the TCM products are improperly labelled, the ministry can also take action under the Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act 1956.

Now, only processed products in pharmaceutical dosage forms (such as bear bile pills) are considered to be medicine and can be regulated by the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation 1984. It does not cover wildlife products in raw form (such as gall bladder).

Also, the screening process by the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau (NPCB) does not test for animal derivatives. Perhilitan and NPCB have to determine ways to deal with unregistered medicines that claim to contain bear parts and derivatives. Health and wildlife department officers can also carry out joint raids at TCM premises.

The researchers urged for consistency in legislations. As trade in bear parts and derivatives is banned under wildlife laws, this has to be complemented by similar provisions in the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation 1984.

The Health Ministry should ensure that traditional medicines adhere to wildlife regulations before it issues permits to the importers, wholesalers and manufacturers. It must determine that no wildlife-based raw materials are imported for making medicinal products, before granting Good Manufacturing Practice certification, which is mandatory to obtain a manufacturing licence and product registration.

If its scope is widened, the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Act 2013 can stop the exploitation of wildlife in medicine. Now, it only covers traditional and complementary medicine practitioners, not retailers of TCM products. It is also silent on instances where practitioners prescribe protected animal parts or derivatives. The dispensing activities of TCM retailers are also not legislated now as they are handling over-the-counter products. This is an oversight which needs attention.

Bear gall bladder from China. Photo: Traffic/Lee Siow Ling

Working together

The sheer number of TCM shops, the wide range of products, and the difficulty of confirming the presence of bear in processed products make it daunting for wildlife officers to carry out enforcement. Which is why the researchers concluded that combatting the illegal trade requires collaboration between wildlife and health agencies issues as well as local councils.

“The trade is driven by purported health reasons, so we cannot reduce it without the commitment and close collaboration of the Health Ministry. Key to this is to ensure more scrutiny on the registration of products being sold legally in the country, as well as the import and export of these products.

“Equally important is the role of local councils that govern business registration. If shops are openly and knowingly selling bear parts or products, or any other wildlife parts or products for that matter, their business licences should be revoked. Local councils should pay close attention to this problem and be part of the solution to addressing illegal wildlife trade in the country,” said Shepherd.

Support from the TCM community is needed to reduce the trade in bear products. At the launch of the Traffic report on Friday, the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia says the group does not condone the use of bear bile. “We will inform our members that they should not use bear bile and that continued use will result in severe penalties,” says secretary-general Kerk Ee Chan. “It is not compulsory for use since there are alternatives.”

The federation has 44 member associations representing 80% of the country’s 5,000-plus TCM practitioners and retailers. Committee member Steven Kow says any members found to be selling the illicit products will have to face the disciplinary committee, but he did not elaborate on the action to be taken against them.

Several committee members believe that the processed products on sale do not contain bear bile and the gall bladders, to be from other animals such as snakes. Regardless of whether the products actually contain bear bile, Shepherd says promoting them creates demand that leads to poaching of wild bears.

“Even if the bile is extracted from live bears, the trade is still illegal because of CITES. It is important to point out that there are numerous legal, herbal alternatives and synthetic alternatives to bear bile, and that it is key that TCM practitioners promote these, and discourage people from using bear bile,” said Shepherd.

The public certainly plays a key role; they need to understand that their choices of folk cures can kill endangered species.

Report illegal wildlife trade to Wildlife Crime Hotline: 019-356 4194

ALSO READTraffic counts 300 bears killed to supply Malaysian shops

Traffic counts 300 bears killed to supply Malaysian shops, 1st June 2015

Sun bear Natalie at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok, Sabah. Photo: BSBCC/Chiew Lin May

The wide availability of traditional Chinese medicines shows that Malaysians continue to trust the efficacy of folk remedies; never mind that endangered wildlife are slaughtered to make some of these cures.

The Traffic report Hard To Bear: An Assessment Of Trade In Bear Bile And Gall Bladder In Malaysia revealed that shops selling bear-based products were mostly in Perak (27), Johor (26), Kuala Lumpur (21), Sarawak (17) and Penang (16), Selangor (14) and Pahang (13).

Xiong Dan pills, clear gelatine capsules filled with bear bile extract or powder, were the most common items for sale in traditional Chinese medicine shops. Most were said to be manufactured in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor, using imported ingredients. They were typically sold in bottles with no labels or listed ingredients. Many retailers claimed that selling bear bile in capsule form allowed them to evade detection of illegal sales. Prices ranged from 40 sen to RM96 per pill.

Whole bear gall bladders were predominantly sold in Sarawak, Kuala Lumpur, Perak and Sabah. The survey found 293 gall bladders and five gall bladder skins for sale – that’s almost 300 bears slaughtered!

Small, longish and black gall bladders were said to be from local bears while the larger, roundish, black or dark brown ones were imported, mostly from China, with small amounts from Indonesia, India, Thailand, Russia, Vietnam and Nepal.

The bladders were sold whole or in portions. Most were supposedly from decades-old stockpiles. Shops offering freshly acquired gall bladders are mostly found in Sabah and Sarawak.

Nearly 60% of the gall bladders was sourced locally, mostly from indigenous people. This means at least 178 sun bears were hunted. In fact, shops in Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak had only gall bladders from local bears. Prices ranged from RM30 to RM240 each, but can go up to over RM3,000.

Vials of bear bile flakes originating from Jilin, China.

Bear bile flakes sold in vials were found only in Peninsular Malaysia. The researcher counted some 104 vials, amounting to 726g of bear bile flakes during the survey. Prices ranged from RM4.80 to RM48 per gram. The information leaflet in each box was in multiple languages, including Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean, hinting at the wide Asian market for the product.

Shops in Peninsular Malaysia also offered raw liquid bile (RM57 per gram) and powdered bile (between RM3 and RM256 per gram). Other processed products containing bear bile are Tieh Ta Wan (a ball-shaped pill used for sports-related injuries), ointments, medicinal plasters and vials of powder used to treat mouth ulcers or sore throat.

Made in China

China is the main source of most bear bile products. These would either be extracted from a killed bear or from bear bile extraction facilities located in China. Product labels showed that bear farms in the city of Yanji in Jilin province, were the main suppliers of bile in vials. Another less common source was bear farms in Sichuan province.

Nevertheless, these products are still illegal as there are no captive breeding facilities registered with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, from which legal products can be imported.

Some retailers suggested herbal options in place of bear bile but many recommended other animal parts or animal-derived products. The most widely recommended was Pian Tze Huang, with ingredients of musk, ox gallstone, snake gall and ginseng.

Another popular alternative was porcupine bezoar, an undigested mass of food in the gastrointestinal system of the animal. The substance is believed to treat diabetes, dengue fever, typhoid, epilepsy and hepatitis. However, it is feared that the growing demand for porcupine bezoar (also known as porcupine date) will put another protected species at risk.

ALSO READ: ‘Are you a bear killer?’ If you use this medicine, the answer is yes

‘Unbearable trade ends now’

The Star Online, 30th May 2015


KUALA LUMPUR: Bear parts are no longer welcome in Malaysia’s traditional medicine shops.

A leading Chinese medicine group is warning its 4,000-plus members not to stock the illegal items after a survey showed that dozens of shops were still stocking them.

“We do not condone the use of bear bile, gall bladders or derivative products,” said Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia secretary-general Kerk Ee Chan.

“The continued usage of bear bile, parts and products will result in severe criminal penalties,” he told reporters here.

Kerk said this after a 2012 survey by wildlife trade watchdog Traffic Southeast Asia showed that 175 of 365 shops in Malaysia were still selling the stuff.

In its May 2015 “Hard to Bear” report, it said 51% of the shops were in peninsular Malaysia. Many sold whole bear gall bladders, bile pills and more.

These are believed to have been taken from Asiatic black bears found in East Asia and sun bears from South-East Asia, including Malaysia.

The sun bear is Malaysia’s only bear. Their numbers are not known, but experts say they are threatened by poachers, logging and development.

Some 13,000 black bears are said to be in East Asian bear farms, where they are caged from youth and later killed for their parts.

Malaysians are one of the region’s highest users of bear parts for medicine, despite being a signatory to a global treaty outlawing black and sun bear organ trade.

Several laws here ban the sale and illegal hunting of bears, many with hefty fines of up to hundreds of thousands of ringgit.

Kerk said he did not know how the shops here got bear part supplies but pledged to find out if any were the group’s members.

“If any of them are (our) members, we will act on them,” he said, adding that they would be reminded of the law.

It is not known how much bears are part of the estimated US$19bil (RM69bil) global illegal wildlife trade each year, though it is believed that they are a large part of the international traditional Chinese medicine trade.

Traffic Southeast Asia regional director Dr Chris Shepherd said it was possible that thousands of bears were killed each year, though little information was available.

He said the survey was also handed over to the Government.

Dr Shepherd added that “there’s room for improvement” in terms of law enforcement.

Hundreds of traditional medicine shops selling products made from endangered bears

The Star Online, 29th May 2015

A sun bear at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. The sun bear is Malaysia’s only species of bear, and is facing threats from poachers, logging, plantations and urban development. Photo by CHAN TAK KONG/The Star, April 2014.

KUALA LUMPUR: Roughly half of over 300 Malaysian traditional medicine shops surveyed in 2012 were found selling illegal items made from endangered bears.

Wildlife monitoring group Traffic found that some 175 of 365 shops surveyed here were selling medicine made from bear gall bladder or bile.

“The rate was highest in Peninsular Malaysia, where 51% of the shops surveyed were found to sell bear products (or 148 shops),” the report named “Hard to Bear” said.

Products sold in these shops were found in many forms including whole bear gall bladders, bear bile pills, bile extract and many more.

Some of these are likely to have been sourced from Asiatic black bears found across East Asia and sun bears found in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia.

Bear gall bladders reportedly sourced from ‘domestic’ bears within Malaysia, found at an unknown traditional medicine shop. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

Prices, Traffic found, ranged from RM0.40 a pill to RM3,360 for a whole gall bladder weighing 38g.

While many of these items appear to have been imported, some gall bladders were supposedly sourced from Malaysia.

“Nearly 60% of all bear gall bladders observed for retail were claimed to have been sourced from local bears,” the report said.

Some shop owners admitted to Traffic that main sources of bear bladders included native Orang Asli and aborigines from Sabah and Sarawak.

Poachers, the group said, may have also been involved in the killing of bears here, though TRAFFIC said it did not have numbers of how many were hunted.

It is not known how many bears are being killed every year for their body parts, though the number may be anywhere from the hundreds to thousands.

Xiongdan (bear bile) pills up for sale at an unknown traditional medicine shop in Malaysia. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

The report added that more than 13,000 bears were likely held in bear farms across China, Laos, Myanmar, South Korea and Vietnam.

According to Malaysian law, the sun bear is a “totally protected” species in the Peninsular and Sabah. It enjoys a lesser “protected” status in Sarawak.

Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which makes trade of the Asiatic black bear and sun bear illegal.


Illegal trade in bear bile is widespread in Malaysia

The Sundaily, 29th May 2015
By Vathani Panirchellvum

KUALA LUMPUR: A new Traffic study has found that the illegal trade in bear bile and gall bladder for traditional medicine is open and widespread across Malaysia and poses a serious threat to wild bears.

The wildlife trade monitoring network’s survey of 365 traditional medicine shops across Malaysia found that 175 (48%) claimed to be selling bear gall bladders and medicinal products containing bear bile, according to the study “Hard to Bear: An Assessment of Trade in Bear Bile and Gall Bladder in Malaysia” which was released to the media today.

Every state in Malaysia had bear gall bladder and bear bile products for sale and the rate was highest in Peninsular Malaysia, where 51% (148 shops) of the total shops surveyed were found to sell bear products, compared with 42% in Sabah and 35% in Sarawak.

Nearly 60% of 298 bear gall bladders observed for sale were claimed to be from wild Sun Bears killed locally through either opportunistic or deliberate poaching.

The report says pills containing bear bile could be purchased individually, with prices ranging from RM 0.40 up to RM96 per pill, and in numerous shops in Peninsular Malaysia, retailers demanded higher prices for pills allegedly comprising pure bear bile.

“The fact that so many traders revealed that gall bladders were sourced locally for trade, points to a potentially significant impact on wild bear populations throughout Malaysia,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for Traffic in Southeast Asia.

Staff in more than half of the shops surveyed admitted to knowing that trade in bear parts and products was illegal under the country’s Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 which carries stiff penalties.

According to the survey, the vast majority of shops selling bear products claimed to have ongoing supplies of at least some of the items, though there are no known captive bear breeding facilities in Malaysia.

“Domestic and international trade is prohibited, yet parts and products continue to be locally sourced or imported from elsewhere. With health being the foremost motivation for (this) continued illegal trade, this study has paved the way for a platform for engagement with key players from the health sector to influence change,” he added.

Traffic is engaging with the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia and the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau of the Ministry of Health to drive home the urgent need to end the illegal trade in bear products.

The Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia has issued a call to its 43 member associations to stop using parts or products of protected wildlife in their practice and retail outlets.

One Green Planet, 2nd January 2014

By Kristina Pepelko 

The sun bear is one of the smallest bear species in the world and also the least known, as their presence is rather hard to document in the wild due to their elusive nature. As a result, their population numbers remain unknown.

Yet, what is no secret is that these animals, like so many others in the world, are under increased threat because of human activity.

Deforestationpoaching, and the demand for traditional Asian medicine such as bear bile and “exotic” foods like bear paw soup have placed sun bears in danger and they are currently listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.

According to the IUCN, in just the last 30 years, the sun bear population has dropped off by nearly 30 percent in Southeast Asia, where they now only have the Borneo Rainforest to call home.

Thankfully, there are organizations working to help these little bear like Animals AsiaFree the Bears Fund, and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).

As we reported back in early December 2013, the BSBCC recently launched a new campaign called Survival of the Sun Bears to raise awareness about the important role these bears play in the Borneo rainforest ecosystem as well as the threats they face today in hopes to prevent their future extinction.

The BSBCC, located in Sabah, Malaysia, is the world’s only sun bear conservation center and is home to 28 rescued bears.

Just this past month, one of the BSBCC’s residents, a five-year-old male sun bear named Kudat, finally took his first steps in the forest.

Kudat came into BSBCC’s care back in July 2010 after he and a female sun bear named Panda were rescued from a private mini zoo called Victory Mini Zoo in Kampung Perapat, Kudat, Malaysia.

According to BSBCC’s CEO and founder, Wong Siew Te, the two bears were held illegally in a small concrete floor cage and put on display for the public day in and day out without any enrichment. Upon their rescue, they were discovered to be overweight due to improper feeding (they were fed one chicken daily) and Kudat already had a few bald patches present on his fur.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Soon after Kudat and Panda’s rescue, they were transported to the BSBCC to finally receive the care and kindness they deserved.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Here, they spent time with other rescued bears, exploring one of the BSBCC’s bear houses…

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre


…and playing with enrichment toys that staff offered them to help them develop more natural sun bear behavior.


Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Then, two years later, after receiving electric fence training, Kudat took his first steps out into the BSBCC’s new forest enclosure!

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

He was hesitant to go outdoors at first, sniffing the air near the entrance to his indoor enclosure and pacing around. But, after nearly seven days of training sessions with food laid out on a ramp, he took his first official step out on Dec. 11, 2013.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

In the days after, Kudat began exploring the beautiful forest around him, getting reacquainted with the sounds and smells of a place he once called home during his pre-zoo years.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

The BSBCC writes that he was very curious about his new environment, marveling at all the tall, climbable trees around him.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

In no time, he remembered how to be wild sun bear again — digging at dead wood in search of insects like termites and beetles, and exploring and roaming the forest in peace.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Today, Kudat is enjoying his new home and his second chance at freedom like never before, reminding us that this is the life that sun bears and other animals truly deserve.


To learn more about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and bears like Kudat, visit the organization’s website and Facebook, and be sure to check out the BSBCC’s Survival of the Sun Bears campaign, and spread the word!

Lead image source: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre


In China, you don’t have to look far to find illegal ivory

The Independent, 3rd January 2014

The country accounts for 70 per cent of global ivory demand, but awareness is growing

Shopkeepers hunch over takeaway boxes at Beijing’s Dongfangbobao Market as sporadic lunchtime visitors wander between displays of jade, gold, bronze and bone curios. The market’s sleepy air belies its past as a dependable source of illegal ivory. Enquiries for “elephant teeth,” as it is known in Chinese, are now met with dismissive waves.


Antique dealer Ren Wenzhuo produces an intricately carved pendant from a glass display case before retrieving three more trinkets from a locked safe, each costing between 6,000 and 7,000 RMB (£607-708). But these small pieces, one of which allegedly dates from the 18th century, are of little concern to Chinese authorities. It is newly smuggled items that directly contribute to the decimation of Africa’s elephant population.

“We used to sell new ivory here but not any more,” says Ren. “Haven’t you seen the news? Ivory is like tiger skins; it harms animals.”

Dongfangbobao appears to be one of the latest targets of a reported government crackdown on illegal ivory marked by awareness campaigns in state-owned media, tougher sentences for unlicensed dealers and contraband seizures.

But the capital’s ivory shoppers need not look far for the coveted “white gold.”

Just over a mile north at Beijing Curio City, customers can find celestial scenes, imperial ships, and herds of water buffaloes carved from full-length elephant tusks. Accreditation certificates hang on the walls and each piece comes with a registration number.

By legitimising the sale of ivory sourced from natural elephant deaths, culls and police seizures, the registration system was introduced in 2004 to cut prices and profits in the black market. It has had the reverse effect. The wholesale price of ivory has tripled over the last nine years.

Legal retailers regularly use their businesses as a cover for unlawful sales. An investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 2011 found that almost 60 percent of authorised sellers and carving factories were involved in some form of laundering. Vendors regularly discourage customers from taking products’ identity cards and reuse them with illicit items.

Conservationists believe that the very existence of a licensed trade only serves to fuel demand in China, where ivory carving is considered a traditional art form. Revered as a status symbol by the country’s growing middle classes, ivory is also seen as a lucrative bet for investors facing diminishing returns on equity and real estate.

While the international ban in 1989 is widely credited with curtailing trade in the West, China is now the largest ivory market in the world and accounts for an estimated 70 per cent of global demand.

Its continued popularity may stem from a lack of knowledge about the scale and environmental impact of the trade, according to WildAid, the wildlife protection group behind a new awareness campaign. The organisation is using high-profile figures to highlight poaching and the quantity of illegal products in the Chinese market.

Fronting the campaign is former NBA basketball player and Olympic flag bearer Yao Ming, whose public influence in the recent campaign against shark fin soup has been widely lauded.

The drive appears to have yielded remarkable results. During this year’s Spring Festival, when shark fin soup is commonly eaten, the Chinese Commerce Ministry reported a 70 per cent drop in consumption compared with the previous year.

This success sets an encouraging precedent for ivory campaigners, according to WildAid’s chief representative in China, May Mei.

“Things move so quickly in China and as we are seeing with shark fin, it is possible to make a completely desirable product quickly unfashionable,” she says.

Mei also credits a government ban on the soup at official banquets with the turnaround in demand.

“If the government takes a strong stance on ivory, such as announcing no further legal imports or announcing a ban [on] officials giving ivory as gifts, the impact will be enormous,” she argues.

There have been promising signs from Chinese authorities. In the first conviction of its kind, a court in Fujian Province sentenced a licensed dealer found importing and selling illegal products to 15 years in prison in May.

Moves to curb illegal sales on unregulated online marketplaces have also seen the government ban all online wildlife trade and monitor key search terms. Conservation groups are working with search engine giant Baidu to purge illegal wildlife listings and shut down forums that facilitate black-market trade.

But with as many as 100 African elephants killed a day, attempts to tame this vast and elusive industry remain frustratingly, and perhaps fatally, slow. Although Illegal ivory is shrinking from view in markets like Dongfangbobao, its place in Chinese consumers’ eyes continues to pose the single greatest threat to the species’ survival.

Malaysia’s worst animal cruelty scandals of 2013

The Star Online, 26 December 2013


Baby Joe the elephant stayed beside his mother, who was brutally slaughtered, for many days before being found by rescuers.

Animals falling victim to violence, abuse and neglect continue to make headlines in Malaysia. We look back at six of the 2013’s worst animal scandals.


Although Malaysians would rather forget the horrifying photos and reports of cruelty against animals that have become commonplace in our social media feeds, it’d be heartless to ignore the reality of what’s happening.

From the poisoning of endangered elephants to the inhumane killing of unwanted strays, the evidence is clear that Malaysians need to step up efforts to protect the well-being of our animal friends, lest we see more of these sickening cases of unchecked cruelty.

Warning: Some of the videos and pictures are very upsetting – we advise viewer discretion.

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Pygmy elephants poisoned in Sabah
A baby elephant caressing its lifeless mother: That was the heart-tugging image that caused an international scandal in January when 14 pygmy elephants – 10 females and four males aged between four and 20 years – were found dead in Sabah’s Gunung Rare Forest Reserve. When news broke out that the endangered pachyderms had succumbed to poisoning, allegedly by workers in oil palm plantations bordering the reserve, it hit home hard.

How much of our natural fauna are we willing to sacrifice for profit? Despite rewards posted for information on the culprits, it’s doubtful we’ll ever know what really happened. Our only consolation is that Baby Joe, who had stayed beside his mother’s carcass for days before being found, is doing well.

The carcass of the poisoned sun bear during the postmortem examination.

Sun bear and stallion poisoned in Malacca
Barely a month after the elephant poisoning in Sabah, a 14-year-old female Malayan sun bear and Arabian stallion at Malacca Zoo and Night Safari fell victim to poisoning by an elderly businessman from Johor. CCTV footage from the Feb 17 incident showed the man in the zoo feeding the animals fruit that had been laced with toxin.

It could’ve been worse: poisoned fruits were also found in the chimpanzee and orang utan enclosures. What drove the man to poison these beautiful creatures? Apparently, it was out of resentment due to the fact he had previously owned a zoo that was shut down. His confiscated animals had been moved to Malacca Zoo where some later died due to mishandling.

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Stray dogs violently killed  
In late September, a gruesome video showing dogcatchers dragging and eventually strangling a stray dog was uploaded by Malaysian Independent Animal Rescue (MIAR) activist Puspa Rani to her YouTube account. Even though there had been other videos showing similar acts of council-related abuse of strays all over the country, this one touched a nerve and went viral, clocking up to more than 100,000 hits to date.

MIAR claims that the dogcatchers – in this instance, hired by the Kajang Municipal Council (MPKj) – disregard all the recommended protocols for the humane handling of strays. MPKj, on the other hand, denies any wrongdoing, claiming that MIAR’s allegations are baseless.

Despite the finger-pointing and denials, the video – almost seven minutes of pure torture – speaks for itself.

The photo of the kitten in a jar that caused an uproar on Facebook.


Kitten sealed in a jar by Johor youths
Two Malaysian youths from Johor Baru caused a Facebook uproar in September when they posted photos of themselves posing with a kitten they had put inside a sealed jar. The photos caused such serious consternation among cat lovers that Mark Soh, founder of the Malaysian Crime Awareness Campaign Facebook page, lodged a report to the Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (SPCA) against the offending duo.


Even after Ai Knowl claimed that the kitten is still alive and apologised for what he calls a silly joke, netizens were not satisfied. One of them said, “I cannot accept your ‘sorry’. It’s a wonder if he doesn’t get death threats.”


Until now, the duo have not been charged with anything.

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Australians upset over mistreatment of goats
The ethical treatment of animals can sometimes be a touchy issue, especially across national and cultural boundaries. In May, animal rights group Animals Australia highlighted the issue of how Malaysians mistreat live Australian wild goats that had been exported to our country with a hidden camera footage.

In the video, a goat is seen being roughly handled, tied up and stuffed into a sack and put into the boot of a car.

Though Malaysians may find it hard to accept the fact that some of our cultural practices may be perceived as cruel, perhaps it’s high time we take another look at how we really treat animals in our daily lives.

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Return of Anson Wong AKA “Lizard King”  
In November, Al Jazeera reported that Anson Wong AKA the “Lizard King” is back in business. Notorious for being one of the world’s worst wildlife traffickers, Wong was last arrested in 2010 at KL International Airport when he attempted to smuggle 95 boa constrictors to Indonesia.

Although he was sentenced to five years in jail, he was freed in 2012 despite overwhelming protest from the public.

Wong’s licenses for legitimate wildlife trading has since been revoked but the Al Jazeera video report entitled “Return Of The Lizard King” claims that he and his wife have resumed their illicit business from their base in Penang.

Both Wong and the Malaysian authorities have yet to respond to the allegations made in the video report, but we know that old habits die hard, and while the Lizard King lives on, the real victims – exotic lizards, snakes and tortoises – continue to suffer ignominious ends.


Poaching Gone Wild

The Star Online, 13th December 2013


Bull elephant killed for tusks

Illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia may be rampant, but we should work to plug gaps in enforcement rather than concede defeat.HUSKS being sawed off, tigers being skinned, bears kept in captivity to harvest bile, and endangered animals being eating by humans.

Wildlife poaching and trade is becoming a huge problem in Malaysia.

I spoke to the Southeast Asia regional director of wildlife protection NGO Traffic Dr Chris Shepherd and he told me that Malaysia plays an important role in the global wildlife trade.

Malaysia is not only a source of exotic wildlife to be sold off in the black market, but we are also a consumer of illegal wildlife items, and transit point for several poachers around the world.


The pangolins declared as crabs being imported from Sabah and are believed to be exported to foreign market where demands of exotic meals are high.

“Tigers are being poached all over Malaysia. Malaysia is also a source for pangolins, freshwater turtles and many more, for both the domestic market and export. Sambar deers are also being poached in a serious way which is mostly used for local consumption at the local restaurants,” said Shepherd.

The illegal slaughter of these animals have already caused banteng (wild cattle) and rhinos to be extinct in Peninsular Malaysia.

“Tigers are dwindling, and that’s sad because Malaysia really has a chance to keep its tigers. We will lose them if we don’t change,” said Shepherd.

Shepherd says that there is no excuse for the senseless drop in our wildlife population.

“The only reason it happened was because there wasn’t enough effort to protect them. The habitat is still there,” he said.

“There’s enough habitat to have over a thousand tigers for example, they’re just getting emptied out,” said Shepherd.

It is estimated that less than 500 tigers can be found in the wild in Malaysia.

“Everything is in decline. It’s very depressing that we’re losing so much wildlife so fast. Even though people know about this, the most depressing thing is that so little is being done,” said Shepherd.

The worse thing is that these illegal items harvested by poachers are relatively easy to find in Malaysia.

“Malaysia is one of the top five countries in the world for availability of illegal bear bile medicine.

“And it’s in the “group of eight” countries known for illegal ivory smuggling. It’s also a major consumer and transit point for illegal tortoises from India and Madagascar,” said Shepherd.

Smuggled ivory


This business is not only responsible for the dwindling amounts of wildlife in Malaysia, but these poachers are earning millions out of the illegal trade.

“Anson Wong is just one of them. There are other dealers that is of the same scale as Anson Wong operating in Malaysia, and the authorities really need to do something about this because these guys are operating in huge volumes and big money,” said Shepherd.

He says that the authorities are aware of the issue, but corruption and complacency is a problem.

“There’s no way that dealers can operate on such a large scale without the authorities becoming aware of it. But being aware about it and doing something about it are different things,” said Shepherd.

He says that illegal wildlife trade has to become a priority for the government.

“The authorities have to be going after the big dealers in Malaysia and putting them out of business. They are completely plundering Malaysia’s forests and they think that they are untouchable. This has to change,” said Shepherd.

A 17-year-old black rhino, who was killed and dehorned by poachers.

He says that authorities should be catching the big players and putting them in jail and slapping them with a huge fine (and not just a slap on the wrist).

“The wildlife trade is worth billions, if someone is earning millions of dollars of wildlife what good is it going to do fining them a thousand dollars?”

“Malaysia has really good laws actually, some of the best laws. But they are not always being enforced as well as they should be. We have the tools to tackle wildlife trade but if you don’t use them they are useless,” said Shepherd.

Trapped and injured female tiger.

Everyone has to see that wildlife poaching is get worse year by year, with species being wiped out because of the trade.

“We have already seen the results of this kind of activities in other countries. Cambodia has no more tigers. Thailand has no more rhinos.

Vietnam lost its last rhino two years ago when it was shot,” said Shepherd.

Poaching and illegal traders are a even bigger threat to many species than habitat loss. So let’s learn from the mistakes of other countries and take action!

It is our concern that that poachers are killing protected animals in our jungles. It is concern that poachers are driving our wildlife to extinction for their own gain!

We can’t be sitting down thinking that somebody else is doing something or that it isn’t our problem. Stand up and take action!

“The public has to keep speaking up, the public has to stop eating at restaurants selling illegal wild meat.”

“The public has to stop going to shops that sell illegal medicines. If a shop sells bear bile, don’t go there. Don’t buy anything there.

Don’t even buy your bread there. Report it. It shouldn’t be just the NGOs making noise,” said Shepherd.

Everyone is going to lose at the end of the day if nothing is done.

Smuggled tiger skin

Shepherd says that it’s not too late for Malaysia to turnaround and save our wildlife.

“Malaysia is unique in that there still is a good chance to keep its wildlife. There is still a lot of wildlife here and there are still many species still in good population numbers. Whereas other countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, it is already too late for many species,” says Shepherd.

So let’s take a stand for our animals. Report shops selling illegal products from the trade. Urge for better wildlife enforcement and penalties. Speak up before it’s too late!
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.



Amaran pada pemburu haram

Berita Harian, 12th December 2013

By Mohd Izham Unnip Abdullah