Stopping the pangolin scale trade

A Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) that was recorded from the camera trap survey in Sarawak. Photo: WWF-Malaysia

WWF lauds SFS’ efforts to save scaly-skinned mammals from extinction


KUCHING: Sarawak’s seriousness in tackling the illegal pangolin scale trade has caught the attention of the World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia).

The Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) has come in for praise for its efficient enforcement against and the courts for the heavy penalties on illegal pangolin scale traders.

WWF-Malaysia head of Sarawak Conservation Programme Dr Jason Hon said the penalty amounted to RM27.8 million, which showed the state’s seriousness in valuing wild animals and plants.

“Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that ought to be tackled with concerted and unwavering efforts. This news of successful prosecution with a very heavy penalty shows that Sarawak is serious about tackling wildlife crime,” he said in a statement.

On Jan 14, SFC in its Facebook page had highlighted the Sessions Court’s imposition of a year’s jail on a foreigner and a fine of RM27.8 million for illegal possession of three pangolins and 2,782 pangolin scales in Kuala Baram, Miri.

The foreigner was charged under Section 29(2) of the Wild Life Protection Ordinance, 1998.

Hon, who viewed pangolin trafficking as a serious crime as it harmed its population in the state, urged that the status of pangolins under the Sarawak Wild Life Protection Ordinance be reviewed and listed in the Totally Protected Animal category.

“We believe the relevant agency is already studying this and WWF-Malaysia looks forward to the positive revision of the ordinance to grant better protection for the pangolins.

“A higher penalty could serve as a deterrent factor for future crimes, but this must be done with concerted efforts on the ground to ensure that enforcements are adequate to deter perpetrators,” he said.

He noted there had been a number of operations to catch illicit dealers, and that the public had backed the authority’s efforts by reporting or filing complaints when they came across such incidents.

In January 2020, an individual found guilty of illegal possession of 146 pangolins was fined RM1.4 million.

Two men who pleaded guilty to possessing 4,468 scales in October last year, was fined RM1,000 each and sentenced to one month’s jail.   

Hon cited a few cases in Sabah where the authority hauled in 29.8 metric tonnes of pangolin scales from a raid in February 2019. Another eight tonnes of scales, equivalent to roughly 16,000 pangolins, were confiscated a few months later in December.

“These were only what we managed to apprehend and many have slipped the eyes of the authorities,” he said.

Sarawak must also monitor cases in neighbouring Sabah or Indonesia, as the origin of pangolins might include populations from Sarawak,” he said.

They are found throughout Asia and Africa and come in eight different species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) as critically endangered in South East Asia, which includes Sarawak. Overexploitation from hunting and poaching has been found to have diminished the population over time.

Pangolins have been dubbed the world’s most-trafficked mammals. Many which amounted to millions of scales are taken from the wild and sold as traditional medicines or sold in wild meat markets.

The scales and meat have not been shown to have any therapeutic benefits. The scales are made entirely of keratin, the same substance that makes up our hair and nails.

Pangolin trafficking follows a web of global pathways that span through Africa, Europe, and Asia.

According to a 2017 report, trafficking mostly takes place in Asia, with major incidents involving whole animals. The most prevalent origin countries for large-volume shipments, either as destination or transit points, were identified as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Hon said pangolins from Sarawak were part of this well-organised trafficking route.

“WWF-Malaysia urges SFC to continue its public awareness campaign and to engage with civil society and non-governmental organisations to promote awareness in the state.

“To raise awareness in Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia encourages SFC to continue its public awareness campaign and interact with civil society and non-governmental organisations.

“In Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia implements conservation awareness programmes and has engaged with local communities, the public and school children in disseminating conservation messages,” he said.

“He appealed to the public to cooperate by not consuming or buying any wildlife, and report to the authorities if they came across any cases of illegal wildlife trading.

He also urged the media to convey accurate information on wildlife conservation.

“All wildlife enforcement efforts should be highlighted whenever possible to give a clear message to the public that the authorities are keeping an eye on the illicit wildlife trade and are taking action against it,” he said.

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