One dead tiger, one month jail
On February 7 2013, a wildlife trafficker linked to Malaysia’s largest ever seizure of tiger parts was finally sentenced after a year-long trial. The day after, the world also learnt just what little value Malaysia places on the loss of an endangered species. Mohd Nor Shahrizam, caught red-handed with eight tiger skins, 22 whole tiger skulls and bones, and nine African elephant tusks, was handed down a sentence of 60 months, of which he will serve only 24, because his sentences will run concurrently. So it’s 24 months, for 22 tigers. A little over a month in prison for each tiger that Malaysia has lost forever. It's a featherweight sentence by any calculation, but one that delivered disappointment like the blow of a sledgehammer to all those in enforcement and conservation who have toiled to keep this species from the brink.
Just 500 tigers left in the wild and four per cent gone with a single seizure, and we still fail to treat the crime with the severity it deserves. There are no more of the tired, old excuses to hide behind either. The law that was once weak is now among the strongest in the region and with that, the failures of the past should not haunt tigers any longer. Failures like the 2007 case of a Kelantanese man fined a measly RM7,000 for possession of a quartered tiger and the acquittal of four Perak men last year, who reportedly admitted to killing a tiger in 2010. Yet here we are again.
One much-improved clause under the Wildlife Conservation Act (WCA) 2010, which involves the keeping of tigers or their parts, carries a minimum fine of RM100,000 and mandatory imprisonment – not one or the other. Yet Mohd Nor Shahrizam, found guilty on two charges under this clause, was not fined. Not even the minimum RM200,000 he should have been slapped with in this case. The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) calls for the mandatory fines to be imposed. If this is any indication of how the much-lauded Green Court will impact conservation – no one can blame us for being sceptical.
MYCAT wants to see authorities dig deeper and look further into the case. Where do mid-level traders like Mohd Nor Shahrizam fit within the vast criminal network that traffics wild tigers? Where did the tigers come from, who procured them, and where were they headed? Wildlife crime is organised crime. Those behind it operate with impunity because it is usually the front-runners or middlemen that get caught, rarely the kingpins. Will Malaysia ever join the ranks of countries like India, Nepal, and Indonesia, who have taken down some of their countries’ biggest wildlife smuggling rings?
Finally, MYCAT wants to see the country take this matter far more seriously than it does now and fight a lot harder to ensure protection and justice for the final 500, if not for any love of its iconic wildlife, then at least for its own global image. In the case of the 14 dead Pygmy Elephants in Sabah, Malaysia invited international condemnation for its failure to protect the rare animals – 5,000 websites with stories slamming the country, and counting. Malaysia does not have as many wild tigers, and if it continues to treat the few left as badly as the 22 in this case, it will have no one to blame for the fury that is bound to come its way.
We are always proud of our labels. And if we are not careful, Malaysia’s proud label of being one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world will be relabelled to ‘a formerly great forested land with mighty iconic animals’ or ‘an industrial agriculture landscape with fragmented and empty forests’.
For further information, please contact:
Wong Pui May, Coordinator, MYCAT Secretariat’s Office
Tel: 03.7880.3940 (O), 017.682.1006 (M); Email: firstname.lastname@example.org