Friday, 20 November 2009

Borneo: Courts crucial ally in safeguarding wildlife

Published on: Thursday, November 19, 2009 Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu: The judiciary will have to play its role as a crucial ally in the struggle against illegal wildlife trade to help safeguard Borneo’s biodiversity for future generations.

“Apart from being an ally, the courts are perhaps the most important link in the crime-fighting chain,” said Tourism Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun.

Describing the dangers of this illegal trade and about the people that are behind the organisations, Masidi said: “The illegal wildlife trade in the world today is a multibillion dollar business, which has taken on the characteristics of transnational organised crime”.

“It involves an intricate web of collectors, middlemen, smugglers and traders – the same ones sometimes known to traffic people, arms and drugs.

“It is a network that criss-crosses the globe and is ruthless, wily and has deep pockets,” he added.

Masidi also said that in order to take any serious action to put an end to illegal wildlife trade, the government is looking to the courts to urge more severe sentences to be delivered to those who break the laws.

“These are the people who think nothing of killing entire families of wildlife just to get to its young. They will transport large birds and stuff them into small tubes over thousands of kilometres without food or water and they will crush the eggs that they are smuggling just to escape the law.

“Enforcers can investigate, seize and arrest them but whether a smuggler ever pays for his crime is determined by the distinguished magistrates and prosecutors here with us today.

“The impact of illegal wildlife trade may not be as plainly obvious but I assure you that they are just as serious,” said Masidi.

He made these remarks in a speech when launching the Heart of Borneo Network Initiative’s Judiciary Workshop on Wildlife Crime here, Wednesday.

Also present were Sabah Wildlife Department Director, Dr Laurentius Ambu, Chief Technical Officer of WWF-Malaysia (Borneo Programme), Dr Rahimatsah Amat, Malaysia Airports Sdn Bhd Operations Manager, Hasbi Mohd Said and Malaysia Timber Industry Board Regional Chief, Mazree Iman, among others.

The two-day programme, which was organised by the Sabah Wildlife Department and TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) Southeast Asia is a regional judiciary workshop where representatives from Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Courts and Attorney General’s Offices participate in discussions on mutual legal assistance, enforcement and the prosecution of wildlife crimes.

The judiciaries’ participation in this programme reflects their commitment to tackle organised poaching and trafficking of wild animals and plants in Borneo and in the region.

Meanwhile, Masidi also talked about Borneo’s nature today compared to before.

“Borneo used to be covered nearly completely in forests and inhabited by species in an abundance and diversity that very few places in the world could match,” he said.

Towards this end he said Borneo’s nature today is in crisis and that its rainforests are disappearing rapidly, while illegal trade in wildlife is still a widely spread practice.

Masidi went on to say that ecosystems do not stop at border crossings and administrative boundaries.

“Being part of three countries with their own regulations, Borneo’s ecosystems are regarded differently in each nation.

“But it has become clear that the diversity of flora and fauna cannot be sustained if forests are divided into patchwork regions. Conservation requires the maintenance of very large areas of inter-connected forests.

“The answer to this problem is the Heart of Borneo. It is a cross-boundary area encompassing more than a quarter of Borneo’s landmass. Malaysia is committed to this project and is in constant discussion with the two other nations on institutionalising protection and conservation arrangements for our natural resources,” he said.

Laurentius, on the other hand, who also spoke at the launching, called on the public to do their part in helping his department to protect Borneo’s wildlife.

“Support from all levels is really needed to effectively protect our wildlife resources. People who are involved in wildlife crime must realise that their actions are tantamount to robbing our future generations of their rich natural heritage.

“While punishment may be an immediate consequence of their wrongdoings, they must think of the far more severe punishment to be handed to their future generation for the crime the wildlife offenders are committing today.

“They must stop their illegal activities before it is too late, before they leave nothing for the future generations of Sabah but an impoverished heritage,” said Laurentius.