PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia– Wildlife trafficking prosecutions have dropped by more than 80% since the Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 came into force, boasted Natural Resources & Environment minister Seri Douglas Uggah Embas to Joseph Sipalan of the Malaysia Star on March 15, 2012.
“I’m very happy to note that the Act has had an effect. We’ve learned from the previous Act that one main ingredient is deterrent penalties,” Embas said, noting that only 464 wildlife trafficking cases were recorded in 2011, down from an average of 3,500 cases a year in 2007-2010.
But Anson Wong, 54, the first prominent trafficker convicted under the 2010 law, walked free on February 22, 2012 after the Malay Court of Appeal cut his jail sentence from five years to 17 months and 15 days. Wong was identified by Bryan Christy in his 2008 exposé book The Lizard King as “the most important person in the international reptile business.”
Convicted on September 6, 2010 of illegally exporting snakes, one month to the day after his travel bag spilled 95 boa constrictors at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Wong was initially sentenced to six months in jail. After the prosecution appealed, the High Court on November 6, 2010 increased Wong’s jail term to five years.
“According to media reports the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence on the grounds that it had erroneously relied on facts which were not in the charges and failed to consider that Wong had pleaded guilty,” Sahabat Alam Malaysia president S.M. Mohd Idris told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Wong could hardly be considered a first time offender,” Idris said, “when in 2001 he was convicted in the U.S. for smuggling endangered species and was sentenced to serve 71 months in prison.
“Despite assurances that further investigations were underway,” Idris added, “no business contacts or associates of Anson Wong were ever identified or charged. A police report lodged by a lady who was arrested at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for smuggling of tortoises from her country to Malaysia revealed that Wong’s tentacles had spread as far as Madagascar, even while he was serving his jail sentence. The early release of this notorious smuggler reminds us that traffickers still run the show in Asia,” Idris concluded.
William Schaedia, South-East Asia regional director for the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, urged the Malaysian Natural Resources & Environment ministry to refuse to restore Wong’s permits to possess and trade in wildlife. Wong formerly operated in the name of the now defunct Bukit Jambul Reptile Sanctuary.
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