Tag Archives: hunting

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.

Two rare Malayan sun bears found in abandoned Cambodian garment factory


By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 22, 2013 9:15 EST

Sun bear Dawy at Phnom Tamao Zoo south of Phnom Penh in 2008. (AFP)


Two rare Malayan sun bears have been rescued in Cambodia after being discovered in an abandoned garment factory, a zoo official said Friday.

The male and female bears were rescued by officials from the Phnom Tamao Zoo and the Wildlife Alliance, who found them in the factory in southern Kandal province last week, according to zoo director Nhek Rattanak Pich.

“The bears were left with no food and no one to care for them after the factory owner fled the country,” the Wildlife Alliance said on its website.

The group said local authorities had called them after the bears were found in purpose-built cages at the factory, which closed without notice in December.

The bears are now being cared for at the zoo, its director said, adding that he did not know why they had been kept at the factory.

The Malayan sun bear is found primarily in Southeast Asia and is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Bears are among many species that have been decimated by wildlife trafficking in Asia, which is fuelled in large part by China’s massive appetite for exotic meats and animal parts for traditional medicine.


Medicine practitioners urged to help reduce bear bile demand


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.


Losing your head again in Sarawak

Text by Wong Siew Te

The magnificent yet unfortunate Sunda clouded leopard mentioned in earlier blog was not unique. Others, many others in fact, wildlife in this part of the world also faced similar fate. Few years ago a friend of mine from Sarawak sent me similar photos- photos of a decapitated sun bear taken in Sarawak. I have seen many photos of dead animals, witnessed many dead animals with my own eyes and I personally dissected many dead animals. In theory I should be able to take it but at that time I can’t. The photos of this decapitated sun bear were so powerful that I nearly cannot take it.



Few years ago I visited an Iban village in central Sarawak. I was lucky to be able to follow a local hunter on his hunting trip. During the few kilometers walk in the forest, the hunter showed me several dozens of snares he set to catch wildlife. Although the target animals were bearded pigs, he proudly told me that everything else that walked in the forest such as pheasants, mouse deer, pangolins, sun bears, were once common wildlife captured by the snares until recently. He emphasized “until recently” because he sensed a sharp decline of local wildlife population in the forest. For example sambar deer was almost locally extinct in the forest. Ironically, the once abundant bearded pigs also became rare now a day. Bearded pigs were by far the most important game animals that contributed the majority of their protein source. Yet, under years of over harvesting and exacerbated by unsustainable logging and habitat degradation, bearded pig populations in many areas have declined significantly. When bearded pigs became rare, the hunting pressure has shifted to other species such as sambar deer, 2 species of barking deer and mouse deer, pangolin, and others, sun bear included. We walk passed a snare where the hunter proudly pointed out that he caught a female sun bear just few days ago. He tried to kill the bear but the bear managed to escape from the snare when fighting for her own life. The female’s cub was sent to a tree by the mother (mother bears often sent their cubs to hide in tree to escape from danger) but unfortunately the cub climb a small tree where it cannot really conceal itself. The cub was shot dead by the hunter, eaten, and its little gallbladder was sent to the closest town to sell for a few hundred ringgits. I asked if he can show me the skull of the bear cub. “The dog cleaned it all up” I was told. That day we arrived at a pig wallow that seems inactive for a while. He pointed out all of the snares that he set around the wallow to catch animals that come to drink water or to wallow. I was speechless when he pointed to the 8th.        

Snare set on animal trail to catch willdife in the forest.

Snare set on animal trail to catch willdife in the forest.

It is truly sad to see this decapitated sun bear and the decapitated clouded leopard. Although both of the two mammal species are totally protected by wildlife protection law in the country, the lack of interest, capacity, and ability to enforce the wildlife laws by the government authority make these laws like never exist. Paper laws so to speak. During my visit to Sarawak I also witness an interesting scene: few billboards erected to educate the public not to kill and to eat game meat. One of them showed all the protected species in Sarawak. The other one was a warning on consuming wild meat. The wording in three languages read:


Under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998, it is an offence to “buy or sell or offer for sale or claim ro be offering for sale, any wild mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian, or any recognizable part or derivative thereof” if that animal has been taken from the wild. This means that all sale of wild boar, deer meat, pigeons, terrapins, frogs or any other meat taken from the wild is an offence.   

The penalty to sell or offer for sale or claim to be offering for sale, any wild mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian, or any recognizable part or derivative thereof for this offence is a fine of RM5,000.

It is also an offence to buy any items, and the penalty for doing so is a fine of RM2000.

Offenders may be charged in Court”

Signboard of protected wildlife in Sarawak

Signboard of protected wildlife in Sarawak



Obviously these billboards send a good message to educate the public not to be an offender of wildlife laws or you will be punish, may be, according to the message. However, what make this scene interesting and ironic at the same time was that they were erected in front of a row of shops and small businesses. Among these shops were two restaurants that were well known to the locals for selling wild meat. In the forest one could argue that the lack of enforcement is probably due to the lack of interest to enforce wildlife laws as well as lacking resources – human resource, to enforce the law. But in this case the police station and the forestry department office were all nearby in town, it is nothing but lack of interest to enforce the wildlife laws. Police and enforcement agencies all prefer an “easy life.” If they can work “less,” they would and love to work less!

Under this attitude, wildlife suffered. Clouded leopard, sun bear, and other wildlife suffered and being decapitated and eaten until they are locally extinct. When they are locally extinct, two phenomena may happen: the price of that particular species raise and poachers has to go further in the remote forest to hunt or other less preferred species are now becoming a target species. Across the world there were many examples showing these two situations.

In the case of decapitated sun bear and clouded leopard, obviously the authority has failed us. They were paid and hired to protect the country’s wildlife yet they failed. Mohandas Gandhi once said, “When the people lead, the leader will follow.” I think it is time for all of us to lead, to act, and to protect our wildlife. We have to realize that we all have the responsibility to ensure their survival and the power to protect them. We can report to the local authorities, conservation NGOs who act like watch dogs with teeth for the authority, or even the local press on the unlawful activities of killing and harming wildlife. We can act to support and help spread the words for organizations that aim to protect wildlife like BSBCC or other wildlife rescue centre so that they can do their work to rescue wildlife. There a lot we can do to help these animals that share the same planet Earth with us. Like I always said, do what you do best to help sun bears and other wildlife. Together we CAN, we DO, and we WILL make a difference!

Rare cub rescued from soldier


Friday, 07 October 2011 12:03
Vincent MacIsaac

After a “tense” meeting with a military commander on Wednesday, an endangered sun bear cub was rescued from a military base in Preah Vihear province before it could be sold for an estimated US$1,000.

The 10-kilogram cub was found at a base near Preah Vihear temple in Choam Khsan district, in the possession of a soldier who was trying to sell it, likely to a bear farm in Vietnam.

A sun bear cub rescued from a military base in Preah Vihear province on Wednesday was likely destined for a bear farm in Vietnam, according to Wildlife Alliance

A sun bear cub rescued from a military base in Preah Vihear province on Wednesday was likely destined for a bear farm in Vietnam, according to Wildlife Alliance

Wildlife Alliance worked with Forestry Administration officials to gain access to the military base after receiving information that a captive bear cub was for sale.

Forestry officials and members of the team “first went to speak to the regional military commander, who then aided the team in raising awareness about the law [among soldiers”, said program manager at Wildlife Alliance Lesley Perlman yesterday.

Wildlife Alliance described the meeting with the unnamed military commander as “tense”, but said that following the meeting the commander helped raise awareness of laws governing endangered species among solidiers.

“As the soldier voluntarily handed over the bear, no charges were filed,” Perlman said.

The bear is being transferred to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre and Perlman said greater effort was needed in Cambodia and regionally to protect endangered species.

“In Cambodia, stronger law enforcement is needed to combat the illegal trade in wildlife on the ground,” she said. Regionally, “both demand and supply side efforts are needed”, she said.

Sun bears are sold as pets or used in Chinese traditional medicine, which highly values their paws and gall bladder bile.

A rapid response team working in Cambodia confiscates about 10 live Malayan sun and Asiatic Black bears a year, Perlman said

Owls poached for exotic meat market


Tuesday September 13, 2011

[email protected]

A black hole of information surrounds the illegal trade in owls.

ARE our owls being poached for the dinner table? It would appear so, judging from huge seizures of dead birds in recent years by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).

In November 2008, a raid in Muar, Johor, unveiled a mountain of 917 plucked owls, along with a stash of pythons, mouse deer, pangolins and various other protected species.

Two months later, in January 2009, 319 more owl carcasses were uncovered alongside 2,330 live clouded monitor lizards and a chopped up Malayan sun bear in a car repair shop in Kuantan, Pahang.


Main course: A collared scops owl. — Pic by Puan Chong Leong

The show wasn’t over. There were two more seizures in Johor that year: one yielded 37 owls in Yong Peng in July and another yielded 246 owls in Endau, in September.

Altogether, the period of 2008 to 2009 saw the biggest seizure of owls ever recorded in the country, a total of 1,519 carcasses. The seizures caught wildlife officials by surprise. There have been no indicators of local demand for owl consumption, and until those reports surfaced, large-scale trading of owls in Malaysia had completely escaped the radar.

“Local restaurants have been known to offer bear, fruit bats, deer, monitor lizards, turtles … it’s a long list, but we haven’t seen owls on offer,” says Traffic South-East Asia deputy regional director Chris Shepherd.

“We weren’t even looking at owls. We really hadn’t heard of people harvesting owl at all in Malaysia, and suddenly there was almost a thousand of them seized (in the Muar case).”


Magnificent: A brown wood owl. In Malaysia, owls are poorly studied and it is feared that they are being hunted for the exotic meat trade. — Pic by Chris Shepherd

Shepherd brings up the question of whether trade could have previously gone undetected.

Both Traffic and Perhilitan suspect the owls, along with the other wildlife confiscated, were due for export, probably to China which, despite local and international laws, has a thriving trade in endangered wildlife.

Malaysia is both an attractive supply and transit country, and many of the species found including pangolins and bear parts for example, are popular in the meat and traditional medicine markets of China, especially in Guangzhou.

There, an increasingly affluent population is fuelling demand for endangered wildlife traditionally regarded as culinary delicacies.


An immature barred eagle owl. — Pic by Puan Chong Leong

There are news reports of owls being among the many wildlife items served in restaurants in Guangzhou.

“It really does warrant further investigation,” says Shepherd, adding that funding limits what conservationists can do, and therefore, hardly any work has been conducted to investigate the extent of owl consumption in China’s meat markets.

Many unknowns

After the flurry of seizures however, it seems the trail has run cold. A black hole of information surrounds the issue of poaching of wild owls.

Some of the culprits in the illegal trade have been penalised, however.

In the Muar case, one man was fined RM21,000 under four charges for cruelty to wildlife and illegal possession of 10 species, some protected, some totally protected and one immature protected animal.


Wildlife ecologist Puan Chong Leong will embark on a study on owl ecology. In front of him is a stuffed specimen of a collared scops owl from 1979, part of the Museum of Zoology’s collection at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Similar charges were laid upon one man in the Yong Peng case, who was fined RM6,000, another in the Endau case, who was fined RM5,000, and yet another in the Kuantan case, who was fined RM3,000 for each charge, plus a one-month jail sentence to run concurrently.

Pahang Perhilitan director Khairiah Shariff was surprised with the first seizure as no one had heard of owl poaching before. Until now, she still has no idea where the birds came from and whether the trade has been going on, undetected.

The man arrested in Kuantan was 33, a sub-contractor and possibly a bystander. Like all the other men arrested, he would not reveal who “owned” the animals. The man arrested in the Muar case revealed that he had been collecting wildlife from locals and orang asli in Segamat and the Pahang border for the past five or six years prior to his arrest.

Barn owls formed the bulk of the seizures, making up 796 of the 917 birds confiscated in Muar. The species is commonly distributed throughout plantations across the peninsula. Other species seized included 95 spotted wood owls, 14 buffy fish owls, eight barred eagle owls, and four brown wood owls.

Could these have been taken from any of the millions of hectares of oil palm estate throughout Malaysia where, thanks to the building of nest boxes by planters to encourage the birds to breed and act as biological pest control agents, barn owls have grown in numbers?

One article published earlier this year in The Planter, a publication by the Incorporated Society of Planters, raised the possibility that barn owls might be taken directly from nest boxes or caught in nets set up across forest clearings.

However, officials at two big oil palm plantation companies, Kulim (Malaysia) Berhad and Sime Darby Plantation, say no anomalies in the number of barn owls present on their estates have been reported.

“It’s hard to say who are catching the owls,” says Shepherd. “It could be people who are working in the plantations themselves, or people employed by wildlife dealers to go after the birds. If you ask that about pangolins, or freshwater turtles or cobra, then yes they are.”

Shepherd explains how wildlife plunder generally happens all over the region: “In a rural area, there will be agents there willing to buy wild animals from you. But is this the situation with owls? We don’t know.”

It is difficult to say whether people should be worried about Malaysia’s owls, seeing little is known of them. However, Shepherd thinks if the trade is like what was seen in 2008 and 2009, and continues undetected, it can have a serious impact on wild owl populations.

“Owls are top predators, so they play a really important role. Generally they require a large territory and the habitat requirements for some species are a lot more specialised than others. And as for any species that occurs in low densities, wiping them out is much easier than those which occur in higher densities.”

Resources to investigate the trade in wild meat is now channelled to higher priority species, such as tigers and bears. So the trade in owls remain ignored.

“Very few people know about Malaysia’s owls and because of that, even fewer would care, and that should change. A lot of countries have an owl trust, or research and monitoring groups, but we don’t have that. Although there’s a growing interest in bird watching and bird conservation, it hasn’t gotten to the point where it is of benefit to the owls yet.”

Over two years have passed since the 2008 and 2009 seizures, and questions still remain. Is it still happening? Exactly how big is the industry, and was that just the tip of an iceberg? Unfortunately, it looks like we are unlikely to be receiving answers any time soon.

Related Story:
Scoping the owl

Illegal poaching in forest reserves raises concern

Original posting at http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/Malaysia/Story/A1Story20110828-296610.html

The Star/Asia News Network
Sunday, Aug 28, 2011

Above: A camera-trip image showing a three-footed Malayan sun bear, which could have been caught in one of the snares (inset) found by WWF-Malaysia.

By Lee Yen Mun

PETALING JAYA – Poachers are getting more cunning and efficient, and many quarters are questioning whether the enforcement authorities are able to catch up with them.

Animal rights groups and wildlife enforcement agencies have expressed concern that illegal poaching will increase at the Belum-Temengor forest reserve.

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic regional director Dr William Schaedla, who said poachers in the country were getting increasingly “efficient”, blames the availability of access roads through protected areas of the forest for facilitating the illegal hunting.

Dr Schaedla said poachers had become more brazen, judging by the latest discovery of 12 fresh snares by the WWF-Malaysia monitoring team near the East West Highway.

The shocking find was made in the first three weeks of this month alone.

“Based on the evidence gathered, poaching activities are becoming more regular because of the absence of patrols.

“We are worried that more wild animals will end up in the cooking pot during the holidays,” Dr Schaedla said when contacted yesterday.

A camera image produced by WWF-Malaysia showed a three-footed Malayan sun bear, which the organisation believes lost a limb while trying to free itself from a trap.

The Malayan sun bear, easily identified by the distinct crescent patch on the animal’s chest, is an endangered species.

WWF-Malaysia and Dr Schaedla have raised questions over the ability of enforcement personnel in keeping pace with the criminals.

“Even simple actions like regular patrolling and setting up a multi-agency task force at Belum-Temengor have apparently stalled,” Dr Schaedla claimed.

WWF-Malaysia and Traffic South-East Asia have lodged reports of its findings with the Perak Wildlife and the National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

Perak Perhilitan chief Shabrina Mohd Shariff said there were many entry routes into the forest area, including the Royal Belum and Temengor forest reserves.

She, however, refuted the claims of animal rights groups that her department’s officers had slackened in their patrolling efforts.

The department, she said, deployed a team of four to patrol East West Highway entry points every day from 8am to 5pm.

“We know our presence is important in deterring poachers. However, the Royal Belum Forest Reserve is under the jurisdiction of the state government and not the department,” Shabrina said.

“Following the report by the animal rights group, the state Perhilitan sent a nine-man team to survey the location of the snares.

“We found the camping site of a group believed to be that of illegal immigrants from Thailand numbering four to six persons,” she said.

The discovery of the snares came less than a month after Traffic and WWF-Malaysia released a public documentary featuring the severity of illegal wildlife trade in the area.

Under the New Wildlife Conservation Act, any person who sets up or uses any snare for the purpose of hunting is liable to a fine of up to RM100,000 (S$40,500) and two years’ jail.

From jungle to suitcase, Southeast Asia’s wildlife faces a bleak future

Repost from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/from-jungle-to-suitcase-southeast-asias-wildlife-faces-a-bleak-future/story-e6frg6z6-1226108592780

From jungle to suitcase, Southeast Asia’s wildlife faces a bleak future

  • Sian Powell
  • From: The Australian
  • August 06, 2011 12:00AM
Rescued panther

A panther seized from luggage at Bangkok airport. Picture: AFP/Ho/Freeland Foundation Source: AFP

FOUR leopard cubs, a sunbear cub, a marmoset and a baby gibbon: just some of the menagerie found in suitcases at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport.

Hundreds of protected Indian and Burmese star tortoises, again found in baggage at the airport. A bear farm in Laos, where bear bile was routinely extracted for human health tonics, finally closed down by the authorities. Unregistered leopards found at a rural Thai tiger zoo long suspected of trafficking big cats. A truck in northeastern Thailand found to be carrying five boxes of monitor lizards, 17 boxes of pythons and 84 boxes of rat snakes. Two Vietnamese men arrested for killing 15 langurs in a national park.

These events of only the past few months represent a tiny slice of the vast Asian wildlife trade in poaching, smuggling and dealing in protected species and their organs, flesh, bones, skin and scales. The trade is huge, feeding a rapacious appetite for traditional medicines made from endangered species, as well as a hunger for ivory ornaments, wild meat and exotic pets.

Late last year, in an unguarded moment, a Vietnamese government official estimated that between 4000 and 4500 tonnes of wildlife were smuggled through Vietnam each year. Washington-based research and advocacy group Global Financial Integrity, using information provided by conservation groups Traffic and WWF, earlier this year said the illegal trade in wildlife generated up to $US10 billion ($9.3bn) annually. This pushes it into the top rank of illicit global markets, after counterfeiting and illegal trafficking in drugs, humans and oil.

Small scaly pangolins, which are eaten and used in traditional medicines, were until fairly recently heavily traded to China from Mekong nations, such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Now, wildlife experts say, pangolins have become difficult to find in the Mekong region and the tiny frozen carcasses are more commonly sent from south Sumatra in Indonesia, Malaysia and The Philippines. Thailand, though, remains a hub for the illicit trade, with networks funnelling live and dead animals and animal parts to eager purchasers.

Last year, an Interpol probe, Operation Tram, zeroed in on traditional medicines that used ingredients from protected species. Australian seizures during the operation included hippopotamus penises and more than 100 boxes of bear bile. Two-thirds of illegal wildlife and wildlife product seizures in Australia (of a total 4014 seizures last year) are traditional medicines containing ingredients from endangered species.

Justin Gosling, a criminal intelligence officer with Interpol’s environmental crime program, says wildlife crime must become a priority.

“Until five years ago, wildlife crime was not considered a big deal by enforcement agencies,” Gosling says. “Drugs and terrorism are seen as more important, but environmental crime is a far greater danger to communities.”

Police need to track the traders, arrest them, seize their mobile phones, retrieve all the numbers and arrest more people in the network, he believes. But corruption is rife, and the wildlife trade is widely seen by the criminal classes as low risk and a good earner.

Gosling says police across the region need to refocus their efforts on the wholesalers, rather than the poachers or transporters, who often escape prosecution and, even if convicted, are given lenient penalties. “Meanwhile, the big guys are still sitting in their luxury apartments,” he says.

Environment laws are regularly flouted across Asia. In Vietnam, it’s illegal to sell bears, to transport bears, to hunt bears and to extract bear bile. Yet bear bile tourism to Vietnam continues to flourish. Many people believe the bile, particularly that from wild bears, can cure numerous ailments.

A recent report by the wildlife trade monitoring organisation Traffic found the bile of up to 3000 bears held by 750 Vietnamese bear farms was regularly extracted for tourists and other consumers. Bears are kept in farms for years on end, their bile extracted via a catheter or a permanent fistula or they are simply knocked out and their bile is removed. It is then imbibed by coachloads of tourists in search of a pick-me-up.

Bears are strong animals, Gosling says, otherwise the practice would kill them more quickly. In any case, the bear bile trade is one of the longest lasting cruelties in the repertoire of traditional medicine. And although the bears are kept on farms, that doesn’t mean they form a self-sustaining population. The Traffic report found only four of the 34 bear farms visited by the researchers had captive breeding programs.

Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director for Southeast Asia at Traffic, fears Asian wildlife has a bleak future.

He is overseeing a training session for Suvarnabhumi airport staff to learn how to recognise smuggled ivory. The lessons are bearing fruit: there have been several ivory seizures at the airport in recent months.

The illegal wildlife trade, Shepherd says, is thriving. “It’s not a pretty picture,” he says, citing tigers as an example. “They’re being absolutely hammered. We’ve lost so many tigers over the past couple of years. Anywhere there are tigers, there are people trying to kill them. Here in Southeast Asia, it’s the meat and bones. It’s something rare, something illegal; it’s impressive if you eat it. It’s worth a lot of money.”

The trade is pervasive. Thai tiger farms have been nabbed illegally selling surplus cubs; tiger-bone glue, made from bones that have been boiled, dried and ground into a powder, is a popular medicine in Vietnam; Chinese tiger farms reportedly serve “king meat” and tiger-bone wine in on-site restaurants. Gosling says Vietnam, China, Thailand and probably Burma and Laos have tiger farms or tiger parks that foster the trade in body parts.

Shepherd says it is too easy to trap animals. “Snaring animals is cheap, it’s the cost of the price of wire,” he adds. “It’s a brake cable for a snare. Dealers will often tell customers the birds or animals are captive-bred. But they’re very often not. It’s expensive to keep and breed animals in captivity; it’s much easier to catch them.”

Like Gosling, Shepherd thinks the key to putting a dent in the rampant trade is enforcement.

“I think people just don’t care. But they would care if they were in jail for five or 10 years and had time to think about it. Sure, I think we should keep educating the consumers, encouraging acceptable substitutes. But if you don’t treat it as a crime, it’s not going to change.”

In more central city markets, such as those in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, the illegal wildlife trade has been pushed underground. But the flourishing border markets, which Shepherd monitors, are notorious for their large and varied wildlife trade.

“It’s a free-for-all,” Shepherd says bleakly. “The last time I was in Mong La [a town on the China-Burma border], they brought a bear cub out. They killed it and took its gall bladder out. I took photos.”

Meanwhile, in Thailand, police colonel Kiattipong Khasam-Ang says he believes nearly all tiger parks in Thailand illegally sell cubs. Each cub fetches about 400,000 baht, or $12,500, depending on weight. Last year undercover police pretended to be from Thailand’s anti-government red-shirt movement and negotiated the purchase of a cub. Its blood, the undercover officers told the traders, would be used for a ritual. The traders were arrested, the cub saved. Recently environmental crime division officers announced they had arrested another Thai man in connection with the case.

The protected wildlife trade is worth a lot of money, he says, and the main criminal figures could be difficult to pin down.

“We have some names of Mr Bigs in Thailand,” Kiattipong adds. “One owns a tiger farm; she knows she is being investigated. Our work is ongoing.”

In recent years Chinese medicine has become a substantial field in Australia and degrees in Chinese medicine have even been introduced in some Australian universities. All practitioners have to be registered and Lin Tzi Chiang, president of the Federation of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Societies of Australia, says close to $200 million worth of traditional Chinese medicine and ingredients are imported into Australia each year. But, he says, threatened species form no part of those medicines.

Even so, each year Australian Customs officers seize thousands of bottles and packages of traditional medicines made from threatened species ingredients – meat, blood, skin, bile, and bone – as well as protected plant species. And these ingredients mostly come from Asia.

In Vietnam, environmentalists worry about the silence of the northern forests. A few years ago, Indonesian traders sent 25 tonnes of freshwater turtles to China each week, to be sold as food with medicinal properties. Now, conservationists say, there are too few remaining turtles to make the poaching worthwhile.

Police general Misakawan Buara, who commands a force of 470 staff at the Royal Thai Police division of natural resources and environment crime, has a fair idea who some of the big illegal wildlife traders are in Thailand, but he won’t name names.

“I cannot tell you, I don’t have proof. It’s very hard to catch people like that. I suspect [them], but maybe I will lose [in court].” He knows trading and poaching has reached alarming levels across the nation. “If we keep going like this, some time soon in Thailand there will be no animals.”







On Borrowed Time

‘On Borrowed Time’, launched in conjunction with World Tiger Day 2011, trains a spotlight on the poaching crisis in Belum-Temengor and calls for the problem to be put on the national agenda. These forests in northern Perak are of critical importance for the conservation of tigers and other endangered species, yet research and monitoring by WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia since 2008 have documented decimation of the wildlife by relentless illegal hunting, with little standing in poachers’ way.

Filmed by award-winning Malaysian documentary makers Novista for WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/_Xv6aLd15yM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Orang Asli lured into trapping rich pickings


Bear parts seized from an Orang Asli village headman’s house in Pahang recently

Bear parts seized from an Orang Asli village headman’s house in Pahang recently

Note: Orang asli = aborigines
MIDDLEMEN are using the Orang Asli to hunt endangered animals.As the Orang Asli are allowed to hunt certain animals for their own consumption, the middlemen pay them to trap and kill wildlife that is in demand in the market.

Pahang Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director Khairiah Mohd Shariff says the Orang Asli are targeting leopards and bears.
She says the syndicates rely on the Orang Asli to trap the animals as they realise that these people are familiar with the routes used by the animals as well as their resting places.

“Our investigations reveal that the Orang Asli will capture the endangered clouded monitor lizards usually found in oil palm plantations and hand them over to middlemen. The lizards are usually destined for cooking pots in exotic meat restaurants overseas.

“The demand for the wildlife has spurred the Orang Asli to hunt for the animals as they have come to realise the high value of certain animals.”
Khairiah says the syndicates are using the Orang Asli to shield their activities from the authorities.

She says Perhilitan officers have, on numerous occasions, spotted Orang Asli selling the Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (burung serindit) along the Kuantan-Segamat Highway but nowadays, the Orang Asli have become bolder and are keeping wildlife organs in their homes.

In a recent seizure, the department found chunks of leopard, bear and deer meat as well as slaughtered mousedeer in a refrigerator at an Orang Asli village headman’s house.
Several days later, the department rescued 41 endangered clouded monitor lizards from a nearby Orang Asli settlement. Both seizures took place in Pahang.

Read more: Orang Asli lured into trapping rich pickings http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/12midd/Article/#ixzz1NtwzOono