Wildlife has been exploited and traded illegally worldwide. Various animals have been subjected to cruelty and have been hunted for their fur, skin, claws, scales, teeth etc. Poaching is against the law and it constantly degrades the enormous plentitude of our animal species.
Poaching of animals
The Wildlife Conservation Act provides punishments for violators against indiscriminate acts against animals. However, culprits are not deterred by this. Hence, additional strict sanctions should be introduced for necessary actions with regard to this offense.
The act should be amended to include a mandatory minimum jail term for those found guilty of poaching, including those who keep the carcasses of wild animals.
Recent reports showed that many poachers are using more brutal techniques to catch protected animals, including laying wire snares that could inflict a slow but painful death on the animals.
A group of foreign poachers detained in Kuala Lipis, Pahang targeted all types of wildlife, gaining lucrative returns in the black market.
A Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) source said the group, which had been active for several years, used premises within a location to kill and harvest the animals before selling them to middlemen.
Although the Wildlife Conservation Act, which was passed in 2010 to replace the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, some quarters claimed that it is not deterrent enough. Amendments were proposed for the full prosecution of poachers under the law.
A Malaysian conservationist stated, it will provide harsher punishment, including a minimum period of imprisonment, as there’s no such provision now.
“We must also be more proactive in curbing the trade of endangered animals through more effective national and international legislation and enforcement.”
Law enforcement agencies can strengthen their cooperation against poaching syndicates. They must use technology, including drones, remote sensing and camera trapping, to prevent poaching and smuggling.
Greater public awareness, better law enforcement and stronger political will are needed to not only prevent illegal wildlife trade, but also to avoid over-exploitation of natural resources.
Protecting wildlife also requires collaboration from non-governmental organisations, the government, corporate stakeholders and communities.
Wildlife trafficking is worth an estimated $24 billion globally, with the greatest demand being for souvenirs of African animals like elephants and rhinoceroses.
In Australia, the evidence for market of reptiles is more lucrative than ever before, estimating thousands of dollars in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
A former convicted animal smuggler says Australians would be horrified if they knew how many animals are dying in black market trade while being smuggled to numerous collectors in Europe and Asia.
Over the last two years, 25-year-old Niall Cooke has been convicted of more than forty charges, including possessing and transporting protected animals such as crocodiles, lizards and snakes.
Some of the animals Cooke and his associates collected had died while squeezed into boxes that were intercepted at post offices. Some animals such as small snakes were even snuck into socks and other garments.
Niall Cooke says he has now turned his life around, and wants Australians to know just how organised and lucrative the black market for Australian wildlife is, relative to the penalties for getting caught.
"What people need to realise is there's so much money to be made with this, probably even more than running guns or drugs," he said.
Australian Border Force WA boss Rod O'Donnell says more and more Australian reptiles are being smuggled overseas, in increasingly sophisticated networks.
"We're seeing growth in people collecting on behalf of a more organised criminal entity to then sell and make profits overseas, and that's a disturbing development."
In the last month alone, authorities had intercepted 269 animals, including one of the biggest smuggling intercept in the state's history, which resulted in 220 reptiles and mammals being seized from a car stopped for speeding.
Niall Cooke says social media sites are fuelling the trade in rare and sought-after species. Internet transactions through Instagram and Facebook are common. One of the biggest prices was around $80-100,000 a pair of lace monitor lizards found on east Australia.
Cooke also mentioned the intense number customers who are herpetologists - a person who studies about snakes and reptile enthusiasts who would pay anything for such unique wildlife.
"You go on there and you know the people who are selling Australia wildlife, and you go onto their page and you just see all types of illegal animals advertised."
'It's like a candy store' for smugglers
Mr Cooke says he described himself as having operated at "the bottom of the pyramid", with reptile dealers in New South Wales and Victoria issuing him with a shopping list of obscure Western Australia reptiles that were fetching big bucks overseas. He never attempted to smuggle them outside the country.
"The people collecting just drive around like normal people, but go off the bush tracks and find all these lizards and put them in bags and drive off. They then meet the person responsible for shipment or mail who then organizes the sending overseas.”
Cook added that smugglers often have a list of animals they've been looking for especially valuable rare ones.
"Some people just come over here and pretend like it's a candy store and they just take and take and take, and take whatever animals they can find."
As a wildlife officer with the WA Parks and Wildlife Service, Matt Swan is on the frontline of efforts to stamp out the trade.
"People go out, they smash the habitat to pieces, take an animal from the wild and stuff them in horrific containment conditions. Over the years he's seen lizards stuffed in socks so thick they can't breathe, animals shoved into teddy bears and cut-out books, and reptiles crushed and dehydrated in tightly-packed packages that were battered during postal deliveries.
"As much as the poacher or whoever it is claims that they love reptiles and they care for reptiles, the fact is they go out and put this animal in horrendous conditions in order to make money," he said.
"This type of practice should never be tolerated."
Debate on international trade
Some animal experts believe that export laws should be relaxed to allow common species like shingleback lizards to be sold overseas.
It's something Niall Cooke supports, arguing that deregulation would reduce demand and remove the motivation for dealers to package and post reptiles in cruel conditions.
"If they opened up some international trade it would pretty much stop this smuggling because they could legally pay for a license to bring some animals from Australia," he said.
"It would reduce smuggling to the point where animals won't be dying in the post, they won't be stuffed into these small tight containers and shipped overseas where they can all end up dead."
WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson has been quick to shut down the idea.
"I'm happy to have a conversation with anybody who's involved in looking after these animals … but somebody who continued to break the law and continues to put these animals at risk, they shouldn't be involved in this industry in the first place.
His focus is the formulation and amendment of new wildlife laws, that will massively increase the penalties for poaching and smuggling animals.
"The penalties will increase from about $10,000 up to about $500,000 for an individual who does this," Mr Dawson said.
"And it will increase to up to $2.5 million for a body corporate who gets caught trying to poach or send one of these animals overseas.
These desired efforts would substantially help alleviate the endless illegal trade of wildlife and stop the smuggling business of these animals at risk.
The Federal Government's also dismissed deregulation.
Niall Cooke now works as a tour guide showing tourists the wildlife he once smuggled.
Special Protection against animal cruelty
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or SPCA is a non-profit animal welfare organization that envisions a world free of wildlife scrutiny and abuse much like PETA and other animal welfare groups.
While a lot of attention is given to the plight of big game in the illegal wildlife trade, local animal advocates would like people to know more about what is happening to all the animals in the country, and what they can do to help them.
According to the Louis Trichardt SPCA in South Africa, an animal’s welfare should be considered in terms of the five factors, namely freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress.
Wildlife crime is a big business that is run by international networks through which wildlife and animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms.
Senior inspector Lawrence Khodobo of the local SPCA pointed the newspaper in the direction of the National Council of SPCAs (NCSPCA) which is dedicated to the wellbeing and conservation of all our animals.
Kotie Geldenhuys, who wrote the report on Animal Smuggling and Illegal Trade for the NCSPCA, said that the primary motivating factor for wildlife traders was money, and it ranged from small-scale, local income generation to major profit-oriented business. “The illegal wildlife trade is usually driven by a demand for rare, protected species, which need to be smuggled in secret to get them out of the country … For every animal that makes it out of their own habitat, survival rate is at its lowest, this also means that far higher numbers of animals are removed from the ecosystem to make up for losses,” said Geldenhuys.
Khodobo said that any wild animal or bird found, whether injured or a baby animal or fledgling bird, must be taken to the SPCA. “All the wild animals received by our society go to an NCSPCA-accredited rehabilitation centre,” said Khodobo, adding that they have two of these centres in Limpopo.
What the NCSPCA would like people to know is that wildlife is protected by law, and that people cannot just go out and catch any wild animal for any purpose that they have in mind. This is against the law. “Anyone intending to catch an indigenous animal in the open must be in possession of a permit from Nature Conservation in their respective province, and anyone failing to do so may face legal consequences. There is a good chance that an endangered species of field mouse or frog could be caught,” said the NCSPCA. “So, people must not think that ‘lesser’ creatures are fair game for them to catch and use as they will.
“In South Africa, an indigenous snake may not be kept in captivity without a permit – and the majority of provinces have adopted the policy not to issue permits for the domestic pet trade,” said the NCSPCA.
“Concerns are threefold: pet reptiles can be harmful to human health, the illegal trade results to inhumane treatment of reptiles and it harms the environment and the populations of other wildlife,” the NCSPCA added.
The NCSPCA said that the smuggling of and illegal trading in wildlife are nothing new, and one is often amazed to discover what people have managed to smuggle including how they were able to do it. “However, wild animals are not the only animals to be smuggled - even domestic animals are smuggled across South African borders.”
The NCSPCA is involved in enforcing the law relating to both wild and domestic animals. Continuing this action threatens the survival of endangered species and exemplifies the ignorance of individuals who participate in this unscrupulous acts. Being able to notify the public with regards to the trade of animals is concerning everyone not just law enforcers.
Exploitation of animals involves disadvantaged communities where corruption transgress to transnational crime. There is an extensive legal and illegal trade of wildlife anywhere and it is driven by high profit margins including plants as well as their parts or products.
The NCSPCA wants the general public to be aware of what is happening to their wildlife heritage and to act appropriately, both in their treatment of animals and in reporting illegal or cruel activities without hesitation.
Transnational animal trade and smuggling are not limited to wild animals. People are often willing to breed and sell domesticated animals to any willing buyer and readily give pets away ‘free to a good home’. This results in an easy and constant source of untraceable pets. These animals cross our borders to whatever fate awaits them,” said the NCSPCA.