Say no to wild pets

ABOUT a year ago Traffic released a first-ever systematic study of Peninsular Malaysia's online wildlife marketplace. Just half an hour's daily monitoring over five months of 14 Facebook groups in Peninsular Malaysia revealed a thriving illegal trade in a host of iconic and threatened animals.

The study found over 300 apparently wild, live animals ranging from Sun Bears to Binturong had been offered for sale, with some of the pages hawking these animals boasting thousands of members.

It all came as a surprise at the time because Peninsular Malaysia wasn't home to the open wildlife markets common in some other Southeast Asian countries.

But one year on, a sweep of seven illegal online traders and the rescue of 49 wild animals has turned that initial shock to utter dismay. From the looks of last week's enforcement action, it's clear that illicit online wildlife trade has taken root and become an insidious norm.

All the animals seized in last week's raids were protected or totally protected species and quite a number were juvenile – two major points raised by Traffic's 2016 report, and this points to a disturbing disregard for the law among netizen traffickers and buyers of poached and smuggled wildlife.

It also speaks volume of how disconnected the Malaysian public is from nature. There seems little concern for how wild pets may have been sourced – if adults were killed to acquire juveniles or if they were stolen from another country, stuffed into suitcases and smuggled, dozens dying along the way.

There is even less understanding of the dangers armed poachers in our jungles pose to national security or the risk zoonotic diseases spreading through illegal and irresponsible wild pet ownership.

Perhaps saddest is the absence of any national pride in preserving Malaysia's wild heritage.

While Traffic is very encouraged to see that Perhilitan has scaled up its enforcement efforts, this growing and pervasive online threat is not one the department should have to fight alone.

What are social media and e-commerce sites doing to raise awareness or stem the problem? What are postal, express mail, transport and logistics services doing to ensure their businesses aren't being misused to ferry wildlife traded online?

What are government agencies and ministries that oversee these sectors doing to support enforcement agencies battling the menace? Are health and quarantine services prepared to deal with a growing population of wild animals living in homes? Are we being too lenient with those who violate wildlife laws and are we failing to use available legal tools as the deterrents they are meant to be?

As conservation organisations like Traffic continue to monitor the trade and provide vital information to enforcement agencies at the frontlines, we urge every Malaysian to do their part.

We ask every parent to discourage their child from buying wild animals as pets and every adult to just say no when offered a protected wild animal. We would like to see schools teach students the wonder of Malaysia's wildlife and for every citizen to report illegal wildlife trade they may witness.

We ask the private sector not to ignore the problem or the role they play in perpetuating it. And we ask this for the wild.

Elizabeth John
Senior Communications Officer
Traffic in Southeast Asia

(Traffic is a wildlife trade monitoring network.)