Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Uproar over sale of protected snakes (Malaysiakini)

Uproar over sale of protected snakes

Fauwaz Abdul Aziz
Mar 21, 07 3:56pm

Animal rights activists are up in arms over the reported sale of some 2,400 protected snakes to licensed traders by - of all agencies - a state wildlife department.

The banded rat snakes, prized for their meat and skin and worth an estimated RM240,000, were seized at the Batu Maung air cargo complex on March 6 by the Penang Wildlife and National Parks Department.

The reptiles - which are partially protected under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972 as well as the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) - are believed to have been smuggled in from Thailand en route to Hong Kong.

(Partial protection allows for trade of the animals concerned, but under strictly controlled provisions.)

While having headed off the illicit trade, however, the department may have breached its own regulations when it auctioned the snakes two days later to traders, said the groups.

“They are not allowed to sell off protected species as if they are mere merchandise,” lawyer N Surendran citing the Wildlife Act.

“Nowhere does the Act authorise the department to sell off wildlife.”

He was speaking to reporters this morning after filing a police report at the Brickfields station in Kuala Lumpur on behalf of the organisations.

Surendran said the groups believe the snakes have since been sold to local and foreign restaurants.

Echoing his statement, treasurer of the pro-tem Malaysian Animal Rights and Welfare Society Abdul Karim Stuart Russell said the department has in effect encouraged trade in the protected species.

“It should not have happened, really. After the snakes were caught, they should have been dealt with in a more professional way,” he said.

This would include either letting them go in the appropriate manner and location in the wild, or returning them to Thailand for disposal by the relevant authorities, he said.

Surendran further said it was ironic that the state wildlife department - tasked with protecting wildlife - may have abetted in committing cruelty to the snakes in view of the known methods by which snakes are gutted alive in restaurants that buy them.

He also cited Section 92 of the Wildlife Act, which renders illegal ‘any act of cruelty to wildlife’.

Recounting the ‘efficient’ manner in which the snakes were auctioned two days after being seized, Surendran said the groups want the police to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the decision to sell the snakes as well as the sale itself.

Selangor chapter chairperson Christine Chin of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals urged the police to be impartial in their investigations.

‘Sale allowed’

When contacted, Penang Wildlife Department director Hasnan Yusop denied any breach of regulations, saying the auctioning of partially protected wildlife is provided for under Schedule II of the Wildlife Act as well as Cites’ Appendix II.

“Perhaps the groups are just not fully informed of the provisions, as everything was done according to procedure,” said Hasnan.

He also the authorities ensure that wildlife species auctioned off to licensed traders do not undergo cruel treatment in the process of preparation in restaurants. This batch of snakes was sold only for the meat, not the skins.

“Nowadays, the slaughter of snakes in restaurants occurs (just like) the slaughter of chickens. There’s no difference,” said Hasnan.

He explained that the snakes could not be returned to Thailand as it was only suspected that the snakes originated from there.

The department, meanwhile, had to dispose of the snakes as soon as possible to prevent them from dying in the containers in which they were kept, especially since “several had died already”.

“Releasing them into the wild in Malaysia would not have been the right step because the habitat is not suitable. Even in places where they are found, such as in northern region of Malaysia, their numbers are very small,” he added.

“If they died in our possession, then the groups would be blaming for being cruel.”

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