KUALA LUMPUR, AFP
Criminal gangs are using Malaysia as a hub for exporting millions of dollars worth of wildlife for the Chinese market, wildlife officials said Sunday.
Officials said trafficking of wildlife had hit alarming levels in Malaysia, which also plays the role of source and consumer.
Traders from Indonesia's Sumatra and Borneo island regularly smuggle the animals to middlemen in Malaysia, said Chris Shepherd of wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.
"Criminal syndicates are mainly behind the trafficking. It is growing at an alarming rate," he told AFP.
"Unless tough measures are put in place to contain the illegal activity, it will have a serious impact on the wildlife, including animals in the Malaysian jungle, which are also being poached," Shepherd added.
Traffic is a joint program of the WWF and the World Conservation Union.
Shepherd said among the most sought after creatures are fresh water turtles, tortoises, many species of snakes, pangolins, Sumatran rhino, tiger and sambar deer.
Shepherd said the Malaysian middlemen smuggle the animals to Thailand and then to China to be eaten, adding that meat from the sambar deer and sun bear is also consumed in Malaysia.
Six people have been arrested so far this year for attempting to smuggle snakes and pangolins into Thailand, said Pazil Abdul Patah, a wildlife official in the northeastern Kelantan state, which shares a porous border with Thailand.
"I estimate the annual value of the illegal trade to be worth millions of dollars," he told AFP, adding that "the public have to come forward to tip us off of the illegal activity."
"If the trafficking is not stopped, I fear our wildlife will become extinct," he warned.
Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, found in Asia and Africa, are considered a delicacy in China and are prized for their use in traditional medicine.