KUALA LUMPUR: More endangered animals are ending up on the menu every year, as the domestic demand for “exotic” wildlife cuisine spikes.
The demand for endangered Malaysian animals from abroad is also high as they are aggressively hunted for decorative purposes or for their alleged medicinal properties, widely appreciated by those practising traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Despite extensive laws to protect the wildlife from being sold, consumed or kept as pets, conservationists have noted the existence of many eateries serving exotic dishes.
Among popular dishes are of wild boar, sun bear, python, labi-labi (freshwater softshell turtle), pangolin, tiger, leopard, serow, civet, flying fox and tortoise.
The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has suggested that these animals were poached from protected areas and forest reserves.
The department recorded 66 wildlife products, parts and derivatives seizure cases in 2011.
There were 54 seizures in 2012, 39 in 2013, 49 in 2014 and 14 cases, as of July this year. Of the number, 29 involved poaching .
Selangor topped the list with 82 cases, followed by Negri Sembilan (27), Kuala Lumpur (26) and Pahang (26).
These are areas where the demand for exotic food in restaurants and pharmacopoeia products are greatest.
“The products seized include animal parts, ivory, wildlife skin products and TCM with bear bile, its gall bladder, powder and skin as ingredients.
“They are also exported as luxury or decorative items, trophies, ornamental, handicraft or collectible items, or used in religious practices,” Perhilitan enforcement director Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim told the New Straits Times.
Perhilitan’s statistics showed that from 2011 to August this year, 46 cases involved restaurants in the peninsula offering exotic cuisine, while 30 cases involved TCM.
The number of cases involving restaurants increased from six in 2011 to 13 as of August this year, while TCM increased from only two cases to 11 last year.
Kadir said although it was not a
huge number, the wildlife poaching
business could run into billions
each year in the international market.
Pangolin meat, for example, can fetch up to US$300 (RM1,307.54) per kilogramme.
He said illegal wildlife traders were usually active when the demand was on the rise, including during winter in China and Vietnam, where exotic meat was believed to help increase body heat.
In Malaysia, he said, there were two categories of local wildlife meat sellers, namely restaurants with valid Perhilitan trade licence and eateries without licences.
“Restaurants with licences are allowed to sell only protected wildlife species meat obtained from legal sources, legal hunters or traders.
“On the other hand, restaurants selling illegal wildlife meat normally obtain them from various sources, such as poachers and locals, and they only sell the exotic dishes to known or frequent customers.”
Kadir said most exotic meat consumers would gain information on the traders or restaurants offering such cuisine from friends, family, the local community, the Internet, and social media.
He said there might also be a peak hunting time during an emerging fashion trend using the skins of wildlife animals.
“A public figure associating him or herself with the particular product and becoming a trendsetter of wildlife-related fashion further worsens the situation.
“The success of movies, such as Rio, Harry Potter and Ninja Turtle, also pose a threat to the environment and create trends of exotic pet trade.”
Some traders, he said, used Malaysia as a transit hub where animals and wild meat were smuggled into the country from India, Indonesia, Thailand and the African continent, before heading for Vietnam and China.
“Some of them do it discreetly by getting animals from illegal hunters. Some smuggle through false declaration via airports and ports, while others conduct their business in the open through online advertising and trade.
“Perhilitan’s Intelligence Unit is working with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission in monitoring websites, Facebook, Instagram and Mudah.my to curb illegal wildlife trade through the Internet.”
Kadir said wildlife poaching and exotic meat sale were not at a critical level in the country for now, thanks to regular enforcement.
“Those selling wildlife meat illegally and those who consume them will be investigated. DNA analysis will be carried out on the wildlife meat to determine if it is from the wild,” he said.
Sabah Wildlife director William Baya said wildlife was mostly hunted for meat and normally sold at weekly markets and at stalls along major roads in the state.
The frequently consumed animals in Sabah, he said, included wild boar, sambar deer, barking deer, mousedeer, civet, python, water monitor, porcupine, pangolin, macaque and leaf monkey.
“Apart from getting the meat from illegal hunters, illegal wildlife traders normally hunt for animals in the forest themselves and sell the meat at weekly markets or to roadside stall operators.
“The traders are active in areas with the least number of enforcement personnel, or far away from the nearest wildlife department’s office.
“Lahad Datu and Tawau are districts to have poaching problems.
“These districts have big forests popular among hunters,” he said.
In Sarawak, the demand is great for wildlife parts or derivatives, such as the phallus, where a crocodile penis, for example, could cost up to RM250 each.
However, the hunting of wild animals for food is a culture of Sarawak natives. Hence, it’s permissible for them to possess the meat of animals (not exceeding 5kg) listed under the “restricted” category.
According to WWF-Malaysia, Malaysia is recognised as one of
12 megadiverse countries with many of its species occurring in unusually high densities (for example, it is estimated that there are 1,500 species of terrestrial vertebrates alone).
Many of these species are, however, threatened (for example, 14 per cent of Malaysia’s mammals are listed by The World Conservation Union as endangered).