Known for its breathtaking landscape, strong cultural history and diverse flora and fauna, Malaysia is a uniquely appreciable piece of the world. Sadly, Malaysia also has a history of deforestation, exploitation and species extinction. Particularly unfortunate has been Malaysia’s track record for illegal poaching and wildlife trading. But as much harm has been done in Malaysia’s past, there is a powerful will to protect its present and ensure its future.
Weevil Beatle by jijiwong @flickr
Because of this, the Wildlife Protection Act of 2010 was passed. Vastly improving Malaysia’s ability to protect its plants and animals, the act is one of history’s most important wildlife regulations.
The reasons for this are many, and they have everything to do with the past, present and future of Malaysia’s environment. The most important reasons are as follows:
- Malaysian Wildlife Needs Conserving
Malaysia is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. According to the National Biodiversity Index, it’s ranked twelfth in the world for country richness in diversity of both animals and plants. Malaysia is also home to the Taman Negara, the world’s oldest forest – estimated to be more than 130 million years of age – and countless other natural treasures.
Ironically, Malaysia also has the fastest-accelerating rate of deforestation in the world. In a headlong rush for economic development, the country’s tropical forests are being devoured, leaving its splendid array of native species with nowhere to live. Add to this the threats of illegal poaching, air pollution, water pollution and urban development, and you have a place where nature needs all the protection it can get.
Only weeks ago, the Sumatran Rhinoceros was pronounced extinct in Malaysia due to habitat destruction. The Malayan Tiger is critically endangered, as is the Malayan Tapir, the Sumatran orangutan, the tiny Mouse Deer (about 30cm tall and weighing 5-8 kilograms) and many more.
Malayan Tapir by Valerie @flickr
But before 2010, the penalties for offenses – including the poaching and illegal wildlife trading that are such big business in Malaysia – against Malaysian wildlife were “nothing more than a slap on the wrist,” according to World Wildlife Fund coordinator Preetha Sankar (in a famous 2010 quote to the Associated Press).
The wildlife laws predating 2010 were quite old, which touches on another reason the Wildlife Conservation Act is important:
- The Wildlife Conservation Act Updated a 30-Year-Old Piece of Legislation
Before 2010, Malaysia’s plants and animals were relying for protection on a law passed in 1972. That law, the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972, was put forward at a time when the idea of wildlife conservation was in many ways still developing.
Under the 1972 act, Malaysia built a reputation as a hub for illegal wildlife trading. Surrounded by rare and exotic species, patrolled by officers that could be easily bribed, and facing fines that didn’t so much as put a dent in the profits they could make, poachers and animal traders were taking Malaysia for all it was worth.
Even if traders were caught, they often continued operating.
Just before the Wildlife Conservation Act was passed, 369 Radiated Tortoises, 47 Tomato Frogs and several chameleons were seized by customs officers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport – but the officers couldn’t (or didn’t) detain or arrest the smuggler.
Tomato Frog by Francesco Veronesi @flickr
In another unfortunate story, infamous wildlife trading kingpin Anson Wong was allowed to operate a reptile business – a front for his illegal trading ring – even after being arrested in Mexico and serving 71 months in prison for smuggling, conspiracy, money-laundering and wildlife offenses. Once he got back to Malaysia, he was allowed to continue business as usual.
This was partly because the law didn’t authorize Malaysia’s wildlife enforcement division, called Perhilitan, to arrest traffickers and poachers unless they were caught red-handed – but it was also due to a lack of staff and funding.
Now, things are a little different:
- Passage of the Act saw Stronger Enforcement
When the Wildlife Conservation Act was passed, Perhilitan was given more manpower.
Perhilitan doubled its wildlife conservation staff in 2010, reinforced vigilance at 13 checkpoints on suspected trafficking routes, and established an integrated enforcement task force combining the Malaysian military, police, customs and airport security.
Along with the capacity boost came additional authority. In late 2010 the infamous Anson Wong was making his way through Kuala Lumpur International Airport when his travel pack broke open on the conveyor belt, releasing 95 boa constrictors he was attempting to smuggle into Indonesia. Not only was Wong detained and arrested, his original six-month sentence was increased to five years after a successful appeal by Perhilitan for more severe punishment.
And jail time isn’t the only punishment wildlife criminals now face for breaking the law:
- Penalties for Wildlife Offenses now Actually Discourage Poachers
Poachers and smugglers of endangered species in Malaysia now face tens of thousands of dollars in fines and mandatory jail time. Under the Wildlife Conservation Act, people who illegally hunt or possess certain protected wildlife can be punished by a fine of up to 500,000 ringgit ($155,000) and mandatory imprisonment of up to five years.
The list of protected species is far longer than it used to be, and regulations cover hunting, fishing, capturing wildlife, and – an especially important addition – animal cruelty.
It’s also easier to arrest offenders now. For example, suspects caught with snares and other hunting equipment are now presumed to be using them illegally unless proven otherwise.
But even though harsher penalties and stronger enforcement have made it easier to protect endangered species in Malaysia and put criminals behind bars, there is still progress to be made:
- The Wildlife Conservation Act Still Has Unused Potential
As harsh as penalties may be, poachers are still operating, and they’re very hard to catch. In order to truly protect the endangered species in Malaysia, Perhilitan needs more officers and better organizational oversight to impede bribing.
It was also recently reported that every zoo in Malaysia is out of line with Wildlife Conservation Act regulations. The conditions animals are kept in are described as “nightmarish,” and no zoos have yet been called to task for their violations.
On the bright side, some branches of wildlife enforcement are using their abilities better than ever. A new government operation using social media to make wildlife arrests has resulted in a number of important convictions. The project is still developing, but is already showing considerable promise.
Malaysia is not without wildlife offenses, and still struggles mightily with environmental issues, but awareness and support for nature conservation is on the rise. If Perhilitan continues to improve its enforcement tactics, government continues to announce protections and public support remains strong, the Wildlife Enforcement Act will lead Malaysia and its animal residents to a brighter future.
Tags: endangered species in Malaysia, Malaysian wildlife, Wildlife Conservation Act
The environment of Malaysia refers to the biotas and geologies that constitute the natural environment of this Southeast Asian nation. Malaysia's ecology is megadiverse, with a biodiverse range of flora and fauna found in various ecoregions throughout the country. Tropical rainforests encompass between 59% to 70% of Malaysia's total land area, of which 11.6% is pristine. Malaysia has the world's fifth largest mangrove area, which totals over a half a million hectares (over 1.2 million acres).
Human intervention poses a significant threat to the natural environment of this country. Agriculture, forestry and urbanisation contribute to the destruction of forests, mangroves and other thriving ecosystems in the country. Ecosystems and landscapes are dramatically altered by human development, including the construction of roads and damming of rivers. Geographical phenomena, such as landslides and flooding in the Klang Valley, along with haze, stem from widespread deforestation. Subtle climate change occurs as a direct result of air pollution and the greenhouse effect, which in turn is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. Low-lying areas near the coastline of Sabah and Sarawak are under threat from current sea level rise.
The environment is the subject of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment at the federal level. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks is responsible for the preservation of flora and fauna in Malaysia. Several environmental organisations have been established to raise awareness regarding the environmental issues in Malaysia.
Malaysia is home to 15500 species of higher plants, 746 birds, 379 reptiles, 198 amphibians, and 368 species of fish. There are also 286 species of mammals in Malaysia, of which 27 are endemic and 51 are threatened. Some of these mammals are found in both Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. The former has 193 species of mammals, while the latter has 215. Among the mammals that are native to Malaysia include the Asian elephant, the Indochinese tiger, the leopard cat and the pot-bellied pig. Endangered species include the orangutan, the tiger, the Asian elephant, the Malayan tapir, the Sumatran rhinoceros and the Singapore roundleaf horseshoe bat. The tropical moist broadleaf forests of Peninsular Malaysia consist of 450 species of birds and over 6000 different species of trees, of which 1000 are vascular plants that occur naturally in karsts. The rainforests of East Malaysia are denser, with over 400 species of tall dipterocarps and semihardwoods.
The national flower of Malaysia is the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, an evergreen that was introduced into the Malay peninsula in the 12th century. The rafflesia is also widely found in the country.
Ecoregions and land use
There are various ecoregions in Malaysia with varying degrees of prevalence. Major forests account for 45% of all ecoregions in the country, interrupted woods represent 33%, major wetlands constitute 3%, grass and shrubs make up 2% while other coastal aquatic regions form 8% of the country's land area, with crops and settlements taking up the remaining space. Malaysia has many national parks, although most of them are de factostate parks. The Taman Negara National Park in central Peninsular Malaysia is 130 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainforests in the world.
About 41% of the land area is classified as "low human disturbance", 19% is categorised as "medium human disturbance" and 40% falls under the "high human disturbance" category. 2.7% of the land is totally protected, 1.77% is partially protected and 4.47% is totally or partially protected.
Main article: Climate of Malaysia
Malaysia lies along the 1st parallel north to the 7th parallel northcircles of latitude, roughly equal to Roraima (Brazil), the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. According to the Köppen climate classification system, Malaysia has a tropical rainforest climate due to its proximity to the equator. The country is hot and humid all year round, with an average temperature of 27 °C (80.6 °F) and almost no variability in the yearly temperature.
The country experiences two monsoon seasons, the Northeast Monsoon and the Southwest Monsoon. The Northeast Monsoon brings heavy rainfall to the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and western Sarawak, while the Southwest Monsoon signifies dryer conditions throughout the country except Sabah. During the Southwest Monsoon, most states experience minimal rainfall due to the stable atmospheric conditions in the region and the Sumatran mountain range, which brings about the rain shadow effect. Sabah experiences more rainfall because of the tail effect of typhoons in the Philippines.
The urban heat island effect is caused by overdevelopment and general human activities in the cities of Malaysia.
Air Pollution Index
Main article: Air Pollution Index § Malaysia
The Air Pollution Index (API) is used by the government to describe the air quality in Malaysia. The API value is calculated based on average concentrations of air pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and fine dust (PM10). The air pollutant with the highest concentration is the pollutant that will determine the value of the API. Fine dust is typically the dominant pollutant.
The API is reported on a scale starting from 0. A score of 0 to 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 is moderate, 101 to 200 is unhealthy, 201 to 300 is very unhealthy and anything higher than 300 is hazardous. A state of emergency is declared in the reporting area if the API exceeds 500, which occurred in Port Klang in 2005. Non-essential government services are suspended, and all ports and schools in the affected area are closed. Private sector commercial and industrial activities in the reporting area might be prohibited.
Environmental law and conservation
The Environmental Quality Act of 1974 and other environmental laws are administered by the Division of Environment. Clean-air legislation was adopted in 1978, limiting industrial and automobile emissions. However, air pollution remains a problem in Malaysian cities.
The National Forestry Act of 1984 was enacted for sustainable forest management, but the act has not been enforced.
Treaties and international agreements
Malaysia is a party to the following international environmental agreements:
- Convention on Biological Diversity,
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,
- United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification,
- Endangered Species,
- Hazardous Wastes,
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,
- Marine Life Conservation,
- Nuclear Test Ban,
- Ozone Layer Protection,
- Ship Pollution,
- Tropical Timber 83,
- Tropical Timber 94,
Malaysia signed but did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of several non-governmental organisations devoted to the preservation and conservation of the environment in Malaysia:
Main article: Environmental issues in Malaysia
There are a number of environmental issues faced by Malaysia, such as deforestation and pollution. According to a study by Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies in 2008, about 30% of Malaysian coastline is subject to varying degrees of erosion. According to the United Nations, Malaysia's deforestation rate is the highest among tropical nations. The country's annual deforestation rate increased 86% between 1999–2000 and 2000–2005. Malaysia lost an average of 140,200 hectares of its forests or 0.65% of its total forest area every year since 2000, whereas in the 1990s, the country lost an average of 78,500 hectares, or 0.35 percent of its forests annually.
Widespread urbanisation, agricultural fires and forest conversion for oil palm plantations and other forms of agriculture are the main causes of Malaysia's high deforestation rate. Logging is responsible for forest degradation in the country, and local timber companies have been accused by environmental organisations of failing to practice sustainable forest management.
Mining in peninsular Malaysia has left a mark on the environment. Deforestation, pollution of rivers, and siltation have resulted in losses of agriculture, and road projects have opened new areas to colonisation.
Air pollution from industrial and vehicular emissions is a major issue in the urban areas of Malaysia. Malaysia is ranked 42nd in the world in terms of vehicle ownership per capita, with 273 Malaysians having vehicles out of every 1000. Public transportation has been introduced in the form of bus networks and railway systems as mitigation, but utilisation rates are low.
Water pollution occurs due to the discharge of untreated sewage; the west coast of the Peninsular Malaysia is the most heavily populated area. 40% of the rivers in Malaysia are heavily polluted. The country has 580 cubic km of water, of which 76% is used for farming and 13% is used for industrial activity. Cities in Malaysia produce an average of 1.5 million tons of solid waste per year.
In 2000, Malaysia was ranked fourth in the world in terms of per capita greenhouse gas emissions after taking into account land use change with 37.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita.
Periodic fires, which usually coincide with the events of el Niño, burn thousands of hectares of forests across Malaysia, especially in Malaysian Borneo. The haze originating from these fires and the fires in Kalimantan, Indonesia typically have adverse health effects on the populace, besides causing air pollution. In particular, the 1997 Southeast Asian haze, the 2005 Malaysian haze and the 2006 Southeast Asian haze were caused by slash and burn activities in neighbouring Indonesia.
On June 23, 2013, the air pollutant index (API) in Muar, Johor has spiked to 746 as of 7.00am, which is more than twice the standard hazardous levels according to the Department of Environment website on Sunday. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has agreed to declare emergency status in Muar and Ledang with immediate effect after the API readings reached more than 750. He stated that the haze is due to the open-burning in Indonesia and he offered cloud seeding for them. However the Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya has identified eight companies with Malaysian links that are being investigated for burning in Riau and Jambi, that has led to the haze that is choking neighbouring countries Malaysia and Singapore. All schools in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur are also called to close for a day due to the haze situation worsening as of 5pm. The highest API ever recorded in Malaysia was in Sarawak in 1997 with a reading of 860. The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel was flayed by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng for prioritising the pandas more than Malaysians, a RM25 million exhibition centre will be completed by November and two pandas will be transported from China. The minister also announced that he would be meeting his Indonesian counterpart this Wednesday to discuss about solutions to overcome the haze problem. Palini under fire for wrong prioritiesHaze: Air quality in Johor the worst in years, haze-related health complaints increase