by Selvi Gopal
The Independent Internet Edition
July 4, 2002
The southern Malaysian state of Johor is a shopping haven for one
of the country's closest neighbours, Singapore. Singaporeans drive
up the causeway that links both the countries every weekend to shop
for everything from diapers to petrol.
With the Malaysian Ringgit valued at almost half of the Singaporean
dollar, Johor is a shopper's paradise for the residents of the tiny
Up north, the situation is slightly different. Here, people from
Thailand cross the border into Malaysia. While most of them do so
legally, there are others who sneak into the country illegally to
shop for something different-wildlife.
For years, the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks
has been aware of the illegal manner in which the Thais come to
poach on local wildlife. The situation has become worse over the
years and recently, the Wildlife Department raised the alarm saying
that the Thai poachers were posing a danger not only to animals
but also to wildlife rangers.
At the same time, the Chief Minister of Terengaanu, one of Malaysia's
northern border states, has suggested that the army be called in
to deal with Thai poachers as they are now using automatic assault
weapons to both discourage local rangers and cull their prey.
The Wildlife Department also believes that Thai poachers are working
for foreign syndicates who are willing to pay dollars for ivory
from elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns and also for parts of Malayan
tigers, sun bears, leopards, snakes and other animals.
Most of the endangered animals culled in Malaysia often end up
in shops in Thailand and other neighbouring countries as traditional
medicines or exotic meats. Wildlife rangers believe that Thai hunters
sneak into the country through the adjoining forests in the north
of peninsular Malaysia, and move all the way down south to Johor
to pick the prey of choice.
Thai poachers cross the border fully equipped for spending weeks
in the forest trailing their prey. They set up camps and carve messages
on trees to inform others in their group who may be following other
trails, of their sightings. It is these markings which have led
rangers to believe that poaching by Thai hunters is on the increase.
However, local forest rangers are ill-equipped to deal with the
situation as they carry firearms only occasionally. The Malaysian
Wildlife Department is also short staffed and has no sophisticated
equipment nor weapons to deal with poachers, who seem to have the
The recent demand by the Terengaanu state government to call in
the army is only the most recent in a series of such demands made
over the years. However, no action has ever been taken on these
Friends of the Environment (SAM), a non-governmental organisation
(NGO), believes that the way to curb poaching by foreigners is not
by using the armed forces but by giving priority to the needs of
the Department of Wildlife in the country.
It believes that the enforcement division of the Department has
to be strengthened with adequate manpower and high tech equipment.
Malaysia's oldest environmental group, the Malaysian Nature Society
(MNS), adds that besides beefing up enforcement, the government
also has to seriously consider researching and monitoring of local
flora and fauna.
According to Stella Melkion, a science officer with MNS, the government's
environmental agencies are unable to provide a clear picture of
how many of the country's endangered species have been lost to poachers.
This is because they do not know how many of these animals were
in the wild in the first place. "We know that Thai poachers
are posing the biggest threat to our endangered wildlife but what
we cannot say is how many animal species have been lost over the
years and how many still exist in the wild," says Melkion.
"The authorities don't have any statistics so we don't know
if the situation is under control or how many animals are on the
brink of extinction," she adds.
Making the situation even more difficult is the fact that it is
not easy to conduct effective research about the wildlife population
as the local rainforest-the oldest in the world-is often dense and
unbearably humid. General estimates put the number of wildlife animals
at 500 Malayan tigers, 150 Sumatran rhinoceros and about 3,500 Asian
Malaysia is blessed with a rich bio-diversity, but it needs to
get serious to protect its flora and fauna-still an unknown treasure
so far. -NewsNetwork/WFS