Malaysia’s blood ivory scandal lingers on


Sean Whyte, Malaysiakini

Date Published

So far this year over 24,000 elephants have been ruthlessly slaughtered.

There is a good chance some of the ivory tusks hacked from still warm corpses of these once magnificent animals has ended up in Malaysia.
If you want to believe Perhilitan (frankly I advise against ever doing so) the tusks from at least one thousand elephants killed in previous years are stored safely away out of sight.
It may be out of sight, but it will never be out of the minds of those who are not convinced all the ivory confiscated can now be accounted for.
Has any or all the ivory disappeared? This remains a closely guarded secret.
But why? The ivory does not belong to Malaysians and the public have a right to know.
Put rather more bluntly: There is a strong suspicion some of the ivory has ‘disappeared’ from government warehouses and the government is lying when it says the ivory can all be accounted for.
You would think Perhilitan might want immediately to dispel any suspicion that ivory has gone missing, wouldn’t you? But, they don’t. They consistently ignore all calls for an independent audit.
In the eyes of their critics, of which I am one, this seems to imply they don’t want anyone snooping around and revealing the ivory stocks are not what the government claim them to be.
Instead the minister and his cohorts in Perhilitan and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry (NRE) want us to take their word for it when they say the ivory is all present and correct. Hmmnn. Why would anyone ever trust the NRE and Perhilitan?
Fortunately for Malaysia in CITES (basically a cosy, toothless, UN club policing the wildlife trade – legal and otherwise) it has found people who are very willing to accept whatever they are told by Malaysia (the relevant ivory report is kept highly secret) thus avoiding any need for CITES sanctions. In other words, Malaysia tells CITES officials in Switzerland what they want to hear and that avoids the need for any transparency or real accountability.
Tens of thousands more elephants will be gunned down this year but CITES has managed to keep Malaysia, a flagrant as well as monotonous law-breaker, as a valued member of its ‘club’ and so it goes on. Sickening, isn’t it? Does it make you think of Fifa or the Mafia?
If we stop to think about it, why would Malaysia (China, Vietnam, Laos and countless other countries) enforce their national wildlife laws when CITES does not enforce international law? If international law (CITES Convention) had been enforced 10 years ago it’s possible tens of thousands of elephants and rhinos would not now be dead.
We can and should blame the poachers but arguably in equal proportions with corrupt government officials and a very impotent CITES Convention.
CITES members get invitations to lavish functions all over the world, travel business class, meet old friends and do deals. Doubtless for many it beats working for a living and here’s the thing: It’s all paid for by your taxes.
There you have it. Illegal wildlife traders and complicit government officials getting away with breaking national and international laws with the blessing of the hierarchy of CITES. It’s been this way for as long as anyone can remember.
No change then. Which is precisely how all these criminals and officials would like things to remain. It means vast profits for some and, I suspect, promotion for others.
Elephants and rhinos don’t stand a chance against such official apathy and connivance, do they?
SEAN WHYTE is CEO of Nature Alert.