Saturday, 3 April 2021

Letter to the Editor: Biodiversity Loss A Cause For Alarm





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The recent report that a total of 567 plant species out of the 1,600 Peninsular Malaysia plant species assessed in the Malaysia Red List have been classified as threatened should be a cause for alarm.


Malaysia’s tree cover, which stands at approximately 55.3%, obscures the alarming reality of biodiversity loss in Malaysia, but the fact remains that tree cover is not the same as natural forest cover. Most of Malaysia’s tree cover consists of plantations and degraded forest land. Plantations do not have the same biodiversity value and cannot provide the same ecosystem services as natural forests. Intact and biodiverse forests protect watersheds and water quality, are more resistant to fire and drought, regulate climate and weather patterns, and provide habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna.


Biodiversity ensures food security, as a biodiverse ecosystem will provide genetic resources for a variety of food, including those that are resistant to fungi and diseases that may wipe out cultivated strains of crops. Keeping forests intact and biodiverse prevents wild species from crossing into human habitation and spreading both known and new diseases to domestic animals and humans, and thus protect biosecurity. Approximately 50,000 to 70,000 plant species are used by humans for traditional and modern medicine worldwide. Biodiversity loss will limit the discovery of potential new medicines and medical treatments.


Humans rely on the ecosystem services such as the supply of clean air and water provided by healthy and biodiverse ecosystems. The National Water Resources Study 2000-2050 warns that Kedah, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Penang, Perlis, Putrajaya, and Selangor are at risk of water deficits, partly due to the loss of vital water catchment areas, and partly due to poor water management systems and habits.  


The UN FAO reports that only 18.7% of forests in Malaysia is classified as primary forest, the most biologically diverse and carbon-dense ecosystem, and that only 11.6% of the forests in Malaysia is classified as ‘pristine’.


Malaysia is rapidly losing forested areas to agriculture and development, and state governments continue to degazette forest reserves and issue logging permits with impunity. The requirement that states gazette replacement sites for degazetted reserves does nothing to turn the tide of biodiversity loss. States are running out of suitable sites to gazette as replacement forest reserves, and further, the gazettement of secondary forests and degraded land cannot be a substitute for the protection of natural and intact forests.


Google’s global forest map reveals that between 2000 and 2012, Malaysia had the world’s highest deforestation rate at 14.4%. Satellite data from the Carnegie Landsat Analysis System-lite platform shows that over 80% of the rainforests in East Malaysia have already been logged.


Between 2000 and 2009, over 9,000 hectares of Permanent Forest Reserves were degazetted in Malaysia, threatening watersheds and carbon sequesters, and destroying flora and fauna including those classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The degazettement of the Bikam Permanent Forest Reserve in 2013 caused the extinction of the Keruing Paya, a critically endangered hardwood tree, in Peninsular Malaysia.


The best way to mitigate biodiversity loss is by protecting existing forests. One of the main problems why forest conservation is so challenging in Malaysia is that the Federal Constitution gives states jurisdiction over their land, water, and forests. Forestry revenue accrues to the state government and not to the federal government, and as such, forests and extraction-based industries such as logging and mining are a major source of revenue for state governments seeking short-term gain.


Government agencies set up to manage forests see forests not as sensitive ecosystems to be protected, but as resources for socioeconomic development. However, the economic benefits of logging and mining are short-lived and can sustain only 1-2 generations at most. State governments stand to lose more from the loss of forests and the ecosystem services they provide. Droughts, floods, soil erosion, landslides, and health crises such as dengue and malaria outbreaks will all cost the state and federal governments more in the long run. We need to stop relying on commodity crops and extraction-based industries as our primary source of revenue. If we build a knowledge and skills-based economy and stop relying on monoculture crops and extraction-based industries as our country’s primary source of revenue and jobs, we can find better ways of sustaining our economy.


We need to rid ourselves of the mentality that the loss of threatened tree species does not affect us, or that it can be rectified through tree-planting campaigns and gazetting degraded land as replacement forest reserves. Tree-planting campaigns, habitat restoration, the setting up of seed banks, and environmental education for the younger generation, all take time to bear results. And time is a luxury that threatened species do not have. Biodiversity is not merely something that is nice to have, but essential to the survival of humanity and a living planet.







Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Letter to the Editor: End Deforestation Before Embarking On Tree-Planting Campaigns



It is difficult for environmentalists not to respond with scepticism to the Prime Minister’s 100 Million Tree Planting Campaign. While it is heartening to see that the government acknowledges climate change to be a real and imminent threat, the actions of those in power thus far are not consistent with environmental protection, climate mitigation, or biodiversity preservation. 

The PM claims that Malaysia has forest cover of 55.3%, which is wildly inaccurate as it includes plantations, which consist of monoculture crops that rely on large quantities of synthetic herbicides, insecticides, bactericides, and fertilisers in order to thrive. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reported Malaysia’s primary forest cover to be at 18.7% in 2010, and it has decreased since then. Tree cover is not the same as forest cover, and not everything that puts out roots and leaves is automatically beneficial to the environment. Old-growth forests store carbon for centuries, whereas plantations constitute net emitters of carbon due to the disturbance of the soil and degradation of the previous ecosystem. Plantations cannot be classified as forests, and they are in fact a direct threat to forests due to the fact that forests are cleared for agricultural expansion. For the sake of scientific accuracy and for this massive tree-planting campaign to be an actual climate mitigation strategy, this inventory of 100 million trees must necessarily exclude plantation trees. 

While a tree-planting campaign of this magnitude sounds good in theory, the Perikatan Nasional government does not have a credible environmental track record. Just days before the announcement of the 100 Million Tree Planting Campaign, the Kedah government proposed to log 25,000 hectares of the Ulu Muda forest, which is a vital water catchment area and biodiversity hotbed. Further, there are recent reports of logging in the vicinity of the Jerantut Tambahan Forest Reserve and Lesung Permanent Forest Reserve, among other forest reserves. Things in Pakatan Nasional controlled states are not much better, as the Selangor State Government is adamant about proceeding with its plans to degazette and destroy the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve. Based on these precedents, it is difficult to believe that the government is in any way committed to protecting the environment. 

Planting trees make up only a partial solution to the effects of deforestation. A better, less expensive, and less quixotic option would be to end or at least reduce deforestation. Let us remember that mature trees offset far greater amounts of carbon dioxide than young trees. A tree will only begin to be effective in absorbing carbon in its tenth year, so planting trees as a climate mitigation strategy is not going to produce the results we want to see within our lifetimes. Intact forests provide many ecosystem services that newly-planted trees can’t. Researchers from 15 countries published their findings in Nature in 2014 that old trees not only store carbon and prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere, but actively convert carbon dioxide from the air into their trunks, branches, and leaves, a feat that is not replicated by young trees. Currently, the Earth’s forests and soil absorb about 30% of atmospheric carbon emissions. Mature and biodiverse forests store carbon, recycle water, prevent erosion, harbour biodiversity, and improve air and water quality. When trees are cut down, years of a forests’ stored carbon are released back into the atmosphere. When we plant forests, we gain some of the benefits that forests provide, but it takes decades to grow a healthy forest, and humanity is running out of time. 

I can see the appeal of a massive tree-planting campaign to those in power. It creates the appearance that the government is doing something proactive to protect the environment, and also creates public relations opportunities for corporations, particularly those in polluting and destructive sectors such as construction, property development, and oil and gas, to perform a corporate social responsibility exercise to improve their image. Before we embark on this ambitious and expensive campaign, however, it would be good to know what plans the government and its corporate partners have beyond planting trees. Planting millions of trees is the easy part. Tracking these trees and ensuring the young trees’ survival is the challenging part. Mega tree-planting efforts in India, Turkey, and Ethiopia record the number of saplings planted, but are unable to provide accurate and adequate information about the survival rate of these saplings. What makes us think that Malaysia is going to be the exception, given our society’s poor maintenance culture? Tree-planting campaigns are also a cop-out for governments and corporations because it is a way of avoiding having to address more serious environmental issues such as deforestation, pollution, mining, and other destructive activities. 

By all means, we should plant as many new trees as possible, especially native trees that provide food and shelter for native fauna. However, we need to stop pretending that it will solve the environmental problems caused by weak governance, greed, and the prioritising of short-term benefits over environmental integrity. If the PM truly cares about “greening Malaysia” and our trees, as he had claimed, he would start by putting a halt to deforestation and the degazettement of forest reserves. 



Thursday, 17 December 2020

Letter to the Editor: Racist Statements Cowardly, Irresponsible, and Unprofessional





Nary a month goes by in Malaysia without a politician making a racially-charged statement and then attempting to defend or justify it. More exasperating still is how these politicians manage to get away with impunity, and how the Prime Minister and party leaders ignore or downplay the incidents.


Anyone can tell that Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Mohd Nor’s crass and unfunny remarks that MIC Deputy President M Saravanan and DAP’s Deputy Penang Chief Minister II P Ramasamy are “drunk on the toddy of popularity” and “acting drunk on three bottles after consuming only one” were intended to stoke racial hatred, because they are unrelated to the issue at hand. If the MB had no intention of being racist, then the analogy of being drunk on toddy would never have been used. He knew very well that the insult would not have the same effect on people of other ethnicities. His insult was illogical and irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is as follows: Why was the Hindu temple demolished when the Kedah MB had previously given his express assurance to the Unity Minister and MIC leaders that all relevant parties would be consulted and notified before the destruction of any houses of worship? MIC’s, DAP’s, and the local Hindu communities’ assertions were that the demolition was unfair and not done according to due process, and not that they, the MIC and DAP representatives, were popular, teetotallers, or sober, so why was it necessary to invoke the topic of alcohol consumption and toddy?


A leader of calibre would be able to respond to the questions raised, demonstrate knowledge and fairness, and defend his or her decision without having to resort to personal or racial attacks and irrelevant insults. Making a racist statement is a distraction tactic. The MB knew that it would outrage his critics who are of Indian ethnicity, and at the same time it would win him support from certain segments of society who would then see him as a ‘defender of the race and faith.’ However, one cannot defend one’s race and faith by insulting other races and faiths. One can only uplift one’s race, faith, and society through good deeds and by conducting oneself with integrity and competence.


In any civilised society and in the eyes of any person with a sense of fairness and integrity, acts such as corruption, abuse of power, and violations of the human rights of minorities are far bigger crimes and sins than the consumption of alcohol. One is not by default a morally upright person merely because one does not consume alcohol. Not all non-Muslims consume alcohol, not all who consume alcohol become intoxicated, and not all who become intoxicated cause harm to others. Consuming alcohol in a social or celebratory setting is a harmless activity in many cultures around the world. To assume that someone who is not of the same race or faith as you is somehow morally inferior to you is a sign of ignorance and immaturity.


In his address to the nation in March this year, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin vowed to be a “Prime Minister for all Malaysians”. Yet his silence and inaction on the recent statements of the Kedah MB as well as previous incidents, for example, that of Baling MP Abdul Azeez against Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto, show that he has no plans to follow up on his vow.


Each time a politician makes an insulting statement of a racial or religious nature, there will be a short-lived outcry from the public and politicians from other parties. We will then remind the perpetrator that there are over 40 different ethnic groups in Malaysia, that we are a multiracial and multifaith society, that non-Malays also played a role in securing the Independence of the then Malaya from Britain, that non-Malays also play a significant role in nation-building, pay a disproportionately large percentage of taxes, and serve in the civil service and security forces. To dismiss and disrespect the needs and wishes of such a significant percentage of the population is arrogant, dangerous, unfair, and irresponsible. But the cycle of racist verbal abuse resumes each time accountability is demanded of particular politicians. MP Kasthuri Patto was insulted when she asked about the lack of female representation in the Parliamentary Select Committee. M Saravanan and Dr P Ramasamy were insulted when they queried the Kedah MB on the demolition of the temple. Any rational voter can see that these politicians resorted to racially-charged insults when they are not able to show accountability and respond to their political opponents’ queries. The only reason these racist statements were made was to make the persons at the receiving end feel disrespected and unwelcome. The PM and party leaders need to end their silence and complicity in this culture of systemic racism and the use of racist language and hate speech to harass ethnic minorities and political opponents, not merely because politicians and citizens from minority groups deserve better, but because you need to prove to everyone – both those from majority groups and those from minority groups – that you are capable of decency and fair play.





Sunday, 20 September 2020

Letter to the Editor: Captive Breeding of Tigers Is Not Conservation



The proposal by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) to breed the critically endangered Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) at the National Tiger Conservation Centre for release and ‘rewilding’ raises many reasons for concern.

The reason for the decline in the population of Malayan tigers is not that the tigers are not mating or breeding enough. Tigers, like most members of the cat family, are prolific breeders, which explains why the number of tigers in captivity continue to rise worldwide, even as wild tiger populations continue to be decimated.

The Malayan tiger is critically endangered in the wild because of habitat destruction, diminishing prey species, poaching, and the wildlife trade. Human encroachment into tiger habitats, usually for agriculture, also increases the risk of human-wildlife conflict. In such conflicts, tigers often die from being shot or snared by plantation or livestock owners, or from diseases such as canine distemper virus when they come in contact with infected dogs introduced by humans.

Researchers from the University of Exeter found in a 2008 study that most captive-born predators do not survive following release. The chances of carnivores such as tigers and wolves surviving freedom is only 33%, due to their lack of hunting skills and lack of fear of humans, and susceptibility to viruses and diseases.

Conservation organisation Born Free Foundation also points out that wild tigers born in human-controlled environments such as wildlife reserves and zoos are unlikely to be successfully released and will often spend the rest of their lives in captivity. Part of the reason is genetics. There are not enough tigers in breeding programmes to sustain genetic diversity over a long period of time. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums tries to diversify captive gene pools by exchanging breeding animals between zoos, but genetic drift and genetic bottlenecks can still occur. Genetic weaknesses in breeding stocks can result in deadly diseases, as seen in India’s effort to breed the Asiatic lion. Captive breeding programmes should not take too many animals out of the wild for breeding programmes either, as it will remove their genes from circulation in the wild.

It takes over a year for tiger cubs to learn how to stalk, catch, and kill their prey from their mothers. According to conservation charity Flora & Fauna International, captive tigers, whether they have been hand-reared by humans or raised with their mothers, lack the vital exposure from wild and experienced mothers to be predators. There is also the risk that captive-bred wild tigers, even if raised with their mothers and other tigers, will associate humans with food and lose their fear of vehicles. Upon release, they could pose a bigger threat to humans and livestock than wild tigers, as they are less likely to avoid human habitation and farms.

Efforts around the globe to reintroduce captive-bred tigers into the wild has not been met with much success. After over 30 years of expert conservation efforts and successfully breeding over 1,000 Siberian tigers in captivity, China has still not been able to release even one of these tigers into the wild. Kazakhstan has been trying to reintroduce Amur or Siberian tigers into its Balkhash region but the project has not borne any results yet.

India successfully released Bengal tigers in the Panna and Sariska Tiger Reserves as part of its Tiger Reintroduction Project, but researchers unfortunately found that the released tigers were not breeding successfully, presumably due to stress caused by the presence of human activity near the tiger reserves. This strongly indicates that reducing human activity near wildlife habitats is still key to their protection and conservation. Being able to have enough living adult tigers to release into a designated area is not a measure of success. Success can only be said to be achieved when reintroduced tigers are able to survive, thrive, and breed. This means that we need to invest at least as much energy and resources in the protection of wild habitats as in the captive breeding of the Malayan tiger.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s Tigers Alive Initiative has pointed out that “reintroducing tigers is the easier part, protecting the site and prey base is even more complex”. Not only must captive-bred tigers be trained to hunt and survive in the wild, there must also be suitable prey and appropriate breeding partners in the area marked for their reintroduction.

Due to deforestation, habitat destruction, lack of prey species, and poaching, there are not many suitable habitats left in Peninsular Malaysia for tigers to be released into. There is not much use in creating a thriving captive population of tigers if we continue to clear primary rainforests for development and agricultural projects. To maintain a healthy wild tiger population, we need healthy ecosystems.

In addition, professionals in the field of tiger conservation agree that to stop the extinction of wild tigers, there must be comprehensive poaching prevention strategies. This is why the PDRM’s recent announcement of a stricter crackdown on the wildlife trade and firearm possession is such welcome news. The captive breeding of tigers cannot help to restore wild populations unless there is an end to poaching and the trade in tiger parts. There must be stricter law enforcement and harsher penalties for wildlife crimes, and Malaysia must play its part in helping to incapacitate wildlife trafficking networks.

The resources allocated for this ambitious project to breed the Malayan tiger in captivity should instead be redirected to conserving and protecting wild habitats and the remaining wild tigers, and to the prevention of poaching and wildlife trafficking.


Saturday, 5 September 2020

Letter to the Editor: End Speciesism: For the Animals, Planet, and Human Health





If there are any lessons the recent Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, it is that deforestation, the exploitation and consumption of wildlife, and intensive animal agriculture all increase the risk of zoonotic diseases and threaten human health and well-being.


Human society is aware of this link between animal exploitation and disease outbreaks, which is the reason why China announced a ban on wildlife trade in an effort to contain the Covid-19 outbreak. In the US and elsewhere, the sales of plant-based meat alternatives increased by over 200% during the coronavirus lockdown (Sources: US Food Navigator, the Financial Times, Bloomberg). In the Netherlands, the mink fur industry went into an early shutdown after minks were found to have contracted coronavirus and transmitted the virus back to humans, and there are now calls to shut down mink farms in Spain and the USA as well.


It would be premature to celebrate these as victories. Humans have short memories, and human desires and appetites are often alarmingly disconnected from what the human intellect knows to be beneficial to human health, social justice, and animal and environmental well-being.


Humans in general rarely question their relationship with non-human animals and the natural world, and this is attributable to speciesism, that is, the assumption of human superiority and an inherent ‘right’ to use, exploit, and consume animals. In spite of the fact that scientific evidence and historical data strongly indicate that 6 out of 10 known infections and 3 out 4 emerging infectious diseases originate from animals, there is still widespread resistance against ending animal agriculture and the breeding of animals for the pet, sport hunting, entertainment, and fur industries, with supporters of these industries arguing that it would put too many people out of work and cause economic loss. We know from the study of human history and civilisations that human society is resilient and adaptable, and that industries and occupations that become obsolete have died out in the past without causing significant or lasting damage.


Racism is what makes Western society believe that China ought to be pilloried for its wildlife trade and live animal wet markets, but that it is perfectly alright to confine calves in small solitary enclosures and induce iron deficiency to produce veal, and to confine and force-feed ducks and geese and induce liver disease to produce foie gras. Speciesism is what makes human society understand that animal agriculture puts a huge strain on the Planet’s resources, that animals in farms and laboratories suffer in ways that is never considered acceptable for even the worst of humans to suffer, and that humans can live healthy and productive lives without eating or exploiting animals, and yet still choose to eat meat and maintain the status quo. Speciesism is also the reason why people throw birthday parties for their dogs and cats and raise funds for tapirs and pandas, but think nothing of paying someone else to deplete our oceans and commit deforestation so that one can eat fish and steak, because the lives of certain species are valued over that of others. Humans know that in order to prevent pandemics and environmental disasters, we need to stop exploiting and interfering with animals and the natural world, yet our speciesist bias means that we are unwilling to give up the pleasure that comes with eating and confining animals, destroying wildlife habitats, and using animals for clothing, entertainment, and sport. Humans’ sense of dominion and desire to maintain the appearance of being the “master species” means that we continue to normalise violence and cruelty to animals and trivialise their pain and suffering.


To move forward into a cleaner, healthier, greener, and kinder future, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our relationship with other species. For too long, we have relied on the appeal-to-tradition fallacy that “humans have always eaten meat” as a justification to continue doing so. Just because something has always been done does not make it moral. We can agree that no amount of normalisation can make slavery, domestic violence, or human trafficking moral acts, so we are also capable of making the connection that just because we have always eaten and exploited animals, it does not make these acts moral, justifiable, or even essential to human health and survival. Further, it is true that humans have always eaten meat, but it is also true that pandemics in the past have also been linked to the consumption and exploitation of animals. The 1918 Spanish Flu arose from the farming and consumption of pigs. Rabies in South America was transmitted by vampire bats to cattle who then transmitted it to humans. The Nipah Virus became an outbreak because virus-infected fruit bats transmitted their virus to farmed pigs. Scientists believe that HIV has its origins in the hunting of primates in central African forests, while Ebola has been associated with hunting in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. Where there is the consumption of meat and the destruction of the natural world, there will be disease outbreaks.


We need to question not only animal agriculture and meat consumption, but also the frequency and volume of meat consumption. As incomes and standards of living rise in Malaysia, our meat consumption also rises. Between 1981 and 2015, consumption of beef in Malaysia rose from 23,000 metric tons to 250,000 metric tons. Between 1996 and 2015, consumption of poultry rose from 666,000 metric tons to 1.59 million metric tons. Even if meat consumption was not a moral issue for people who lived 2-3 generations ago, it is imperative for us to ask ourselves now if it is necessary, appropriate, moral, and harmless for us to continue to consume so much resources and inflict so much suffering, pain, and death. The more meat we eat, the more intensive and cruel the animal agriculture industry has to become in order to be efficient and profitable.


The technology already exists for us to consume meat that does not cause animal suffering or harm our health or the environment. ‘Clean meat’, grown from harvested stem cells, is now reaching the scale of production in which it will soon be as affordable as animal-based meat. Producing meat in laboratories would require less water, land, and grains than livestock farming, and would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-based meat alternatives have already been in the Malaysian market for many years, and most of these products have obtained halal certification and can be safely enjoyed by everyone. Further, thanks to advances in technology, much of the world including Malaysia has access to a wide variety of fruits, grains, and vegetables, which can meet human dietary needs inexpensively. Considering that we can get all the dietary nutrients and calories that we need from non-animal sources, what’s stopping us from making the transition?


There is a growing population of vegans and animal rights advocates who hold the strong moral view that there can be no justification for harming animals. But even holding the moderate view that we should kill fewer animals for food, and choose products and services that do not harm or exploit animals, will reduce the number of animals who suffer great pain and misery and who are killed to satisfy human appetites.


Evolution has equipped all of us – humans and non-human animals alike – with an instinct to survive, thrive, procreate, and avoid pain and misery. This provides us with a scientific foundation to argue that reducing the pain, suffering, and misery of others – not only humans – is the moral, appropriate, rational, and prosocial thing to do. If we can live happy, healthy, and productive lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we?


August 29 is observed as the World Day for the End of Speciesism. It is a day for us to reflect on, and challenge, our long-held beliefs about the superiority of humans and how to relate to and regard non-human species. SPCA Selangor, which has long been seen as an organisation working to protect and improve the welfare of companion animals such as cats and dogs, have since expanded its work to include advocating for improvements to farm animal welfare and for a plant-based lifestyle and ethics. On this day of observance, we would like to encourage everyone to change how we view and treat other species, take measures to reduce the suffering of other species, reduce the consumption of meat and animal products even if one cannot make the full transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet, support higher welfare standards for farm animals that remain in the animal agriculture system until the system can be reformed or abolished, question traditions and practices that exploit or harm animals, and choose products, services, and practices that cause the least harm to others possible.








Saturday, 22 August 2020

Letter to the Editor: Crackdown on Wildlife Trade Sorely Needed and Appreciated





It is with relief, hope, and gratitude that environmentalists received the welcome news that Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador has directed that all District Police Chiefs will have to report on wildlife trade in their jurisdictions within a month (19 Aug 2020). This is consistent with the IGP’s earlier pledge in October 2019 to crack down hard on wildlife crimes and push for harsher penalties for those convicted of wildlife crimes.


We further commend the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM)’s decision to revoke the firearm licenses of licence holders who are found to have engaged in the hunting of wildlife, and hope that PDRM will continue to investigate licence holders, and revoke licenses and confiscate firearms where necessary. This is not only an important move to curtail wildlife hunting and to prevent the killing of wildlife in situations where the wild animal does not pose an actual and immediate threat to human lives and safety, but also to preserve national security and reduce firearm-related accidents, injuries, and deaths.


Our IGP’s commitment to protecting Malaysia’s wildlife is applauded, as is the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Peninsular Malaysia’s (Perhilitan) recent operations which resulted in the arrest of poachers and the timely rescue of live animals and recovery of wildlife parts and products. The public is, however, understandably concerned that many such operations succeed in the arrests only of rural and indigenous hunters and couriers and other bit-players in wildlife crime networks, while the kingpins who fuel demand and create supply in the wildlife trade manage to avoid detection and arrest. This is why recommendations such as a shoot-on-sight policy will not work – not merely because it goes against human rights and the due process of law and may lead to abuse of power and extrajudicial killings, but because it unfairly targets the pawns in wildlife trade, and may even delay or hinder the discovery and arrest of wildlife kingpins. What we need is for our enforcement agencies to work together with INTERPOL, conservation groups such as TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and MYCAT, and governmental and intergovernmental agencies to gather incriminating evidence against these ringleaders and masterminds and bring them to justice. Without the incapacitation of these wildlife trade syndicates and their leaders, there can be no effective and lasting justice for, or protection of, wildlife.


Malaysia’s wildlife species have been declining rapidly due to poaching, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and human-wildlife conflict. Hardly a week goes by without another news report of elephant or tapir deaths due to traffic accidents or poisoning, or tiger deaths due to poaching or as revenge for eating livestock. For years, concerned members of the public and conservation NGOs have been alerting the police and Perhilitan to the presence of pet stores, traditional medicine shops, restaurants, and online traders selling wildlife and wildlife parts, only to experience frustration and dismay when these reports did not result in arrests or consequences. Conservationists have long urged for swift and decisive action to be taken against wildlife offenders and for harsher penalties to be meted out, but progress has been slow and inconsistent. It is an open secret that VIPs and people in positions of power and influence are often involved in wildlife crimes and often get away unpunished. The ‘soft approach’ to tackling wildlife crimes has not worked. Too much resources and manpower have already been poured into education and awareness programmes, yet at the end of the day when all the posters have been painted and the prizes given out and the mascots have done song-and-dance routines in schools and shopping malls, the wildlife trade has not only continued unabated but flourished, because the financial rewards are significant, and the penalties lenient and derisory. The time for diplomacy and coercion is over, and the time for concrete action is long overdue. For too long, wildlife and environmental crimes have been perceived as being victimless, or less serious than crimes against fellow humans or property, which explains why the penalties are frequently inadequate. Today, we know this is not true. The wildlife trade is a lucrative one, and it finances and is linked to human trafficking, the drug trade, organised crime, governmental corruption, and terrorist activity. The punishment for wildlife offences must therefore be commensurate with their gravity and the damage and harm they cause to the environment, biodiversity, and human society.


There are amendments being proposed to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 to increase the minimum penalty for wildlife poaching to a minimum fine of RM1 million and 15 years’ imprisonment. I believe I speak for all right-thinking and responsible Malaysians when I urge all Members of Parliament to vote in favour of these harsher penalties. Any MP who votes against these proposed harsher penalties should be investigated for any possible links with the wildlife trade industry, as it is inconceivable that there could be any good reason to oppose such a proposal. A vote for a harsher sentence is therefore a vote against corruption, cruelty, and the sheer idiocy of unscientific practices such as the consumption of wild animals for their ostensible medicinal value. A vote for a harsher sentence is not only a vote for the continued survival of wild and endangered species, but a vote for a safer, better, and healthier country and planet.





Friday, 17 July 2020

Letter to the Editor: Make A Stand Against Racism and Sexism


It is correct, proper, and just that the honourable Speaker of the House Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun demanded that Baling MP Abdul Azeez retract his racist and sexist comments made on 13 July against Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto. The decision should have been made more swiftly and decisively to prove Parliament’s unambiguous stand against racially and sexually derogatory language and conduct, and commitment to upholding a certain standard of decency and fair play. 

The purpose and intent of the doctrine of parliamentary privilege is to protect the freedom of parliamentarians to discuss sensitive or controversial issues that may affect laws or the running of a country. It is not intended to protect offensive and persecutory language designed to harass or intimidate political opponents and stymie actual debate and discussion. 

An elected representative who is a repeat offender should therefore face harsher sanctions than a mere retraction of the last offensive statement made. 

Abdul Azeez’s conditional apology is not an apology but an attempt to deflect blame and paint himself as a victim. His claim that he could not possibly be racist or be discriminatory against someone of dark complexion because he is himself of dark complexion cannot be accepted as sincere or truthful. Racism and colour discrimination can be internalised even by those from ethnic minorities or of dark complexion, just as misogyny can be internalised by women through years of social conditioning. 

His claim that he did not intend to be racist also cannot be accepted by any rational person. What other purpose could he have for heckling another elected representative by making fun of her skin colour? If it were indeed true that the seat Kasthuri Patto was sitting in was dimly lit, and Abdul Azeez had no intention of practicing racism or colour discrimination, he would not have asked her to “put on some powder”, but would instead invite her to step forward or present her views from a more brightly-lit area. Instead, his comments that she is “too dark and cannot be seen” and that she should “put on some powder” in order to make herself visible are malicious and intended to ridicule, humiliate, and intimidate a female elected representative as she was raising the very pertinent issue of the lack of female representation in the Select Committee. 

The question to be asked is not whether: “Is Abdul Azeez also of dark complexion?” but “Would he have uttered a similarly disparaging remark to someone of a fairer skin colour?”. The answer is necessarily no, because fair skin is not an object of ridicule and would not have the intended effect of silencing and humiliating the person being teased. 

The next question is “Would he have uttered similar words to another man, that he should somehow alter his physical appearance to make himself more attractive or visible?” The answer is again, no. Men have a long history of talking over women and interrupting or attempting to silence women with offensive and derogatory words often irrelevant to the issue at hand, designed to attack women’s femininity or physical appearance, to make women feel unwelcome and disrespected. This is simply not done to other men, except men who are disabled or who are seen as less masculine than the average man. 

The third question would be “Would he have uttered such words to someone belonging to a majority ethnicity or group, or someone who holds more political or social power than he does?” The answer again is no, because there would be grave repercussions for doing so, and Abdul Azeez’s history in politics indicates that he does not pick on those who hold the majority of support and power. Thus his words and conduct clearly constitute an act of punching down. Parliamentary privilege should never be extended to acts of punching down designed to harass and intimidate other elected representatives and stop useful and constructive debate. 

Elected representatives need to face serious repercussions for hate speech and offensive and discriminatory language and conduct. We have the right to hold them to a higher moral standard because we elected them to represent our values and interests. They should be subjected to greater scrutiny than the average citizen and be made accountable for their words and actions. 

Other elected officials should demonstrate that they are good allies who are capable of making a stand against injustice, inequality, and discrimination, by speaking up against racism and sexism, and standing up for another person facing bullying and unfair attacks, no matter which political party he or she is from. This is not because the tables could be turned one day and you could find yourself sitting on the Opposition bench, but because standing up for someone who is unfairly treated is the decent, just, and responsible thing to do. Your political views can differ from that of someone else, but you need to stand up for someone who is being unfairly treated or ridiculed based on his or her gender, race, faith, skin colour, physical attributes, or other vulnerability. This will persuade us that we, the electorate, have made the right choice in electing and supporting you, and that you are a representative who will protect and assist everyone, especially the marginalised and vulnerable. 

We need to take a stronger and more decisive stand against racism and sexism as a society. We know that it happens to women and people of different races in different settings – when it comes to the hiring of workers, the selection of tenants, or the treatment of employees and customers, for instance. We know that some categories of people are more susceptible to discrimination and unfair treatment than others, and we need to make it clear that it is unacceptable and we will not participate in the discrimination. We need to have the courage to say to someone in a position of power or privilege: “That sounded rather unkind”, “That doesn’t seem fair to me”, “It is only fair that we meet this applicant and interview him/her first”, “She/he is not done talking, please let her continue”, “She/he has a point, let’s hear it from her/him.” We need to centre and amplify the voices of those who are not heard and who had not enjoyed the same privileges and opportunities that we had. Just because we are not participating in the act of bullying or discrimination does not mean we are not complicit in systemic sexism, racism, and discrimination against those who hold less political and social power than we do. It is time for all of us to listen, learn, and change. And this change includes rejecting and voting out politicians whose values are not consistent with those of an equitable, just, and progressive society.