Handling Confiscated Wildlife
There has been a lot of talk lately about the fate of confiscated wildlife and what concerned authorities should do to help ensure the long-term safety and well-being of such animals. Recent news on the 2,400 Banded Rat Snakes that were confiscated by the state Wildlife and National Parks Department (PERHILITAN) in the Batu Maung Cargo Complex and sold to licensed snake traders highlights the importance of
WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia is of the position that the selling of the said snakes by the state wildlife office to licensed snake traders was not done with the welfare of the animals in mind. The selling to animal traders by the wildlife authorities may be publicly-perceived as an endorsement of illegal animal trapping, smuggling and/or sale, and this is a great concern especially so when it involves partially and/or totally protected species. WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia fear that these 2,400 snakes may now end up being killed for their skins, culinary or medicinal purposes and this would simply be similar to what may have happened to the snakes had they been taken out of the country and not been confiscated.
What could and should have been better was for the Malaysian authorities to send back the snakes to the relevant authorities from where the said snakes originated for possible release back into the environment from which the snakes were originally taken from. That would have been a better solution to the issue, and considering that if
Addressing the issue of what to do with confiscated wildlife is not as simple as releasing them back to the wild. There are a whole range of issues that need to be considered prior to any release attempts. If survivals of these animals are the primary concern, then going beyond that simplistic “feel good factor” of having just released back animals to the wild is crucial.
For example, an assessment needs to be made on the short- and long-term impacts of such an action on the ecology of the release area, on humans living in and around such release sites, and on the concerned species themselves. The species’ natural origins, food source, further threats from humans are just some of the many issues that have to be carefully considered when it comes to releasing confiscated wildlife, especially those seized in large numbers.
To use the 2,400 captured Banded Rat Snakes mentioned above as a relevant example, one possible way forward was to have quickly secured the services of a herpetologist, to at least determine, if at all the entire batch was of one species or multiple species, since there are various kinds of rat snakes. The use of molecular technology could have been applied, noting the cost implications, however, to assist in determining the origins of the animals. As there is more than one rat snake species native to Peninsular Malaysia and the region, it would have been reckless to simply release them in territories with populations that are genetically different from their kind. Banded Rat Snakes are a non-poisonous species found in many parts of South and
The bigger question to be asked in such circumstances is whether our local authorities do have the necessary resources and human expertise to conduct such intensive assessments and studies.
If concerned authorities were to succumb to popular sentiments and haphazardly release captured animals back to the wild without taking into account the above issues, serious environmental repercussions may arise. The crux of the matter is about ensuring the long-term wellbeing of confiscated wildlife without compromising the viability of other life forms and interrupting the delicate balance of nature.
The sad part is that this problem is not exclusive to snakes but also involves a whole gamut of other wildlife. The above situation only highlights the need for environmental organizations, universities, and scientific institutions and even interested members of the public to work closely with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, through its various agencies, to pool resources and expertise in coming up with workable guidelines in the proper management of confiscated wildlife. We need not start from scratch. There is a body of information that exists on how to manage the release of captive animals and we should be able to follow all the international guidelines and adapt them to our local conditions.
More often than not, large quantities of confiscated wildlife result from heavy demand for exotic meat and animal parts. Thus, the public also has a crucial role to play in putting a stop to such illegal trade by simply boycotting products (including food items and medicinal products) made of endangered animal parts. Members of the public need also be educated and imbued with the necessary commitment to combat illegal wildlife trade by reporting immediately to the relevant authorities if and when they learn of any illegal wildlife trade going on. More stringent laws also need to be put in place. This is some of the things that we need to help lessen the occurrence of confiscated wildlife and ultimately, the many other problems that come along with it.
WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC
Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma
Executive Director/CEO WWF-Malaysia
Dr Mark Auliya