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Seizures point to more killings for the ivory bloodbath

Once again Malaysia is in the news for the wrong reasons. This time 254 units worth of ivory costing US$7.2 million have made it into the KLIA, believed to be smuggled in from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The issue of ivory making its way into Malaysia is not something new as in the past ivory has been smuggled into Malaysia, making it a country favoured by smugglers.

It is simply shocking to contemplate the number of elephants who had to die to supply such a huge consignment. The tonnes of ivory that make it to Malaysian shores is alarming due to our entry and exit points which are perfect openings to launder the tusks of freshly-killed elephants.

A new analysis by the trade monitoring centre Traffic points to Malaysia as the world’s paramount ivory transit country, with its ports namely Penang Port, Port Klang and Port of Pasir Gudang serving as major gateways for the flow of tonnes of illicit ivory around the globe. Ivory seizures records from January 2003 to May 2014 linked Malaysia to 66 confiscations worldwide totalling a massive 63,419kg. In Malaysia there were 19 seizures.

The increasing frequency of large-scale ivory seizures points to the growing involvement of organised criminal syndicates operating from bases in various parts of the African continent. These organisations are now the biggest challenge facing regional law enforcement in the fight to end the illegal trade in ivory.

The ivory confiscation marks a tragic milestone that has seen an increasing number of seizures over the years. Instead, stronger measures are urgently required to eliminate the black markets in Asia where the continuing demand for ivory, coupled with the relative ease with which controls are circumvented, does not bode well for the long-term stability of elephant populations.

These are disturbing signs that demand for ivory is on the rise and the future of the elephants in their range countries are seriously at stake.

As part of ongoing investigations, Malaysian law enforcement authorities must engage with African wildlife law enforcement agencies and other relevant institutions to undertake DNA studies so as to better understand the geographic origin of the seized ivory contraband, ivory smuggling routes and poaching hotspots in their countries.

The Malaysian customs needs to follow up on its investigation and co-ordinate with its African counterparts and other international enforcement networks to prosecute the syndicates behind the imports. Since syndicates are coming out with sophisticated methods in air travel, vigilance and collaborative law enforcement efforts with airports is critical in preventing transit trade through the country.

Meanwhile, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is keen to know what our own Scientific Authority under the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry intends to do with the confiscated stockpile. Malaysia should show its country’s commitment to combat ivory trade through the destruction of confiscated stocks.

There should not be a repeat of the incident of the previous stockpile which raised a lot of doubts due to the Wildlife Department’s (Perhilitan) reluctance in requesting an auditing by the trade monitoring centre Traffic. Moreover there have been repeated queries over some of the missing ivory. Repeated requests from foreign and local NGOs drew denials from the Wildlife Department.

Non-government bodies must be allowed to participate in the auditing team if there is nothing to hide.

African elephant bloodbath drowns conservation hopes if there is no concerted efforts from all sides. To this end, SAM urges the government and the ministry to rigorously implement the National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) with their progress independently reviewed. Time is running out and the whole world would hold Malaysia accountable for failure to take tough measures.

SM MOHAMED IDRIS is president, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).