KUALA LUMPUR: Five of the 10 animals and plants most threatened by the illegal wildlife trade are in Malaysia.
The tiger, Asian rhinoceros, elephant and orang utan are included in the top 10 list released by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International, together with a red and pink jewel-like coral species, Corallium borneense. All are found in Malaysia.
“Malaysia’s global position in providing habitat to some of the most charismatic and endangered flagship mammal species, such as the tiger, Asian elephant and orang utan has to be recognised and emphasised,” said WWF-Malaysia’s National Programme Director Dr Arun Venkataraman.
The list was released ahead of the annual Conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to be held from June 3 to June 15 in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Representatives from 171 countries are expected to attend. The tiger and Asian rhino have been threatened for decades because of poaching and illegal trade.
Others, particularly marine species, are on the list because their populations have declined drastically in recent years.
According to WWF-Malaysia, tigers are at risk because of a loss of habitat and forest conversion. And an old threat has re-emerged which could sound the death knell for the species ‚Äî the reopening of tiger farms in China.
The population of Asian rhinos has been devastated by the trade of their highly prized horns. An upsurge in poaching has put the last remaining populations at risk, said Venkataraman.
“The Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is already extinct in Malaysia,” he said, adding that WWF-Malaysia was working with government agencies and the corporate sector to protect the near-extinct Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatranus), the only rhino species remaining in Malaysia, and the one most threatened by poaching.
The poaching of elephants and illegal international trade in ivory is stimulated by rampant ivory sales in some countries, particularly in East Asia.
In Sabah, government agencies are working with WWF-Malaysia to reduce the threat to the Bornean pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) through AREAS (Asian Rhino Elephant Action Strategy) and the Heart of Borneo programme, which aims to connect fragmented lowland forests using corridors, said Venkataraman.
Wild populations of great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees and orang utan) are declining because of a combination of the illegal trade in live animals (usually for pets), poaching for meat, disease and habitat disturbance, fragmentation and destruction.
This includes Malaysia’s only great ape, the Bornean orang utan (Pongo pygmaeus).
Red and pink coral (Corallium spp.) is the most valuable of all the precious corals. Pink coral has been extracted for over 5,000 years and used for jewellery and decoration. Over-harvesting and the destruction of entire colonies by bottom trawlers and dredges have led to dramatic population decline.
“At least one species, Corallium borneense, is found in Malaysian waters. Malaysia also imports coral from Taiwan and Japan, which is made into jewellery and then re-exported to the United States,” Venkataraman said.
Other species on the list are the Porbeagle (Lamna nasus), a powerful, medium-sized shark highly valued for its meat and fins; the Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias), a smaller, slender white-spotted shark also known as rock salmon, used in fish and chips in the United Kingdom and eaten smoked as a delicacy called Schillerlocken in Germany.
The saw fish (Pristidae spp.), whose distinctive saw-like snouts are sold as souvenirs and ceremonial weapons while other body parts are used for traditional medicines; is also on the list, as well as the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), for which there is significant international demand, both for adults whose meat is highly valued and live juvenile eels (shipped from Europe to Asia) for rearing in aqua-culture.
The Bigleaf Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), a highly valuable South and Central American rainforest timber species, is also endangered because of illegal logging.