KOTA KINABALU: Recent reports that Sabah is becoming an important hub for illegal African wildlife trade is inaccurate, said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga.
According to him, the two cases which saw the Malaysian Customs Department in Sabah’s Sepanggar Bay port seize 13,000kg of pangolin scales in July and 3,000kg of ivory in August only showed the enforcement agencies here were more efficient than in other ports.
“The vessels that carried the seized cargo had landed, unloaded and loaded in other ports outside of Malaysia before dropping anchor in Kota Kinabalu.
“The pangolin scales and ivory were only detected here and not in other ports which the vessels had passed through.
“This means other transit ports before Sabah could not detect the smuggling. It proves our enforcement agencies here are much more efficient,” he said to FMT.
Furthermore, Tuuga said since the customs and other relevant agencies here are now more aware of the situation, it is highly unlikely that Sabah would become the port of choice, as alleged in a report.
Tuuga was commenting on a report by the Maritime Executive, a news journal for the world’s marine shipping industry, which stated that Sabah is emerging as an important transit point for illegal wildlife commodities from Africa.
The report said traffickers are giving the Borneon state prominence to complement other hubs for wildlife trade in Asia, such as Cambodia and the “Golden Triangle”, a mountainous area overlapping Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
The report was based on the two attempted smuggling cases which happened this year in Sabah.
Tuuga said since the enforcement agencies here are more vigilant against wildlife smugging, it was unlikely smugglers would risk using the same route.
On the other hand, he said it was possible these smugglers would observe how the monitoring is done and continue their smuggling attempts if they find any weakness or loophole in the system.
“In the meantime, the Wildlife Department will continue to work hand in hand with other enforcement agencies in Sabah to enforce control over illegal hunting in the state.
“I believe if such activies can be contained, illegal wildlife trade from Sabah can also be stopped because smuggling will only happen if the volume to be smuggled out is big enough and profitable to the smugglers,” he said.
Tuuga also said the department is paying serious attention to the increasing poaching of pangolins as it is the main species in Sabah being hunted on a large scale by smugglers.
He said this was based on the department’s past arrest records.
“We do not have an estimate of the pangolin population in Sabah but it is believed the species will become extinct soon if this large-scale hunting is not contained,” he added.
He said the department had prosecuted at least 20 pangolin-related cases over the last 15 years, including a case where two men were found with a container full of frozen pangolins.
Pangolins are said to be the world’s most poached animal as their meat and scales are thought to have medicinal benefits.
Its scales are also listed as prohibited goods under the Third Schedule of the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008 unless a permit has been obtained.