We must work with other nations to curb wildlife trade
REVELATIONS that Johor has become the main entry point for the illegal trafficking of wildlife from Indonesia to supply neighbouring northern countries can hardly come as a surprise. The flipside of its first-rate infrastructure is that Malaysia has rapidly earned "main transit hub" status for wildlife and other trafficking. The lucrative wildlife trade is moved along our highways, through ports and airports, to countries where the demand is greatest. And though Malaysia is neither a big supply nor demand country, by virtue of being a middleman, we are not absolved of the crime either. International illegal trade, like wildlife, drug or human trafficking, is one with which no country can afford to stand at the sidelines, watching passively as the "goods" pass through. Obviously then, Malaysia's role in combating the international wildlife trade is in law enforcement: cooperating with other countries to track shipments, detecting them when they transit, confiscating the shipments and prosecuting those involved in the crime.
Ultimately though, the best way to cut the trade is in cutting demand. This is by no means easy. Advocates have ignorance, apathy, and entrenched cultural practices to contend with. Laws that censure the clients of wildlife trafficking -- whether it be those seeking traditional medicines, cultural delicacies or exotic pets -- can make a dent in the industry; but nothing is as effective as conservation awareness education leading to voluntary abstention. A good example, albeit still a work in progress, is shark's fin soup. A culturally important dish for the Chinese, it is a status symbol, and often served at weddings and corporate banquets. Every year, 73 million sharks are killed to feed the shark's fin industry; worldwide, shark populations have dropped 90 per cent in the last half-century. Often, the fins are harvested by catching the shark, slicing off the fin from the living and conscious shark, and chucking the shark back into the sea to bleed to death. Yet, attitudes are changing through education. Last year, a survey done in Hong Kong, the world's main consumer hub for fins, found that 78 per cent of respondents considered it "acceptable" to omit shark's fin soup from the menu, even at important events. Every year, more people make the pledge to not eat shark's fin soup during Chinese New Year. This year, three international hotel chains -- Shangri-La, Peninsula, and Berjaya -- no longer serve shark's fin soup. And the Chinese government has announced that it will officially ban shark's fin soup from all official banquets within three years. With the right approach and perseverance, demand can go down.