WildLeaks wants Malaysian whistleblowers to expose wildlife traffickers

WildLeaks wants Malaysian whistleblowers to expose wildlife traffickers
-filepic: Ivory products in China
KUALA LUMPUR: Despite being named as a ‘crucial country and key transit point’ for wildlife trafficking and illegal loggings, Malaysia does not seem to be serious in fighting wildlife crime, said WildLeaks.

The whistleblower site, launched last Friday and dedicated to combat wildlife and forest crime, touts itself to be the first online platform where anonymous information can be securely shared with law enforcement authorities.

WildLeaks also operates a Bahasa Malaysia version, hoping to encourage informers to collaborate regarding wildlife traffickers and illegal loggers in Malaysia.

In an email interview, WildLeaks project leader Andrea Crosta told Astro AWANI that “Malaysia is a crucial country regarding wildlife crime and a key transit country for ivory.

“But, with dozens of ivory seizures in the past three years, no significant arrests were made,” he said.

Echoing similar international criticisms on Malaysian wildlife authorities, Crosta claimed that the Malaysian government does not see fighting wildlife crime as a priority.
“Fighting wildlife crime, not just the illegal traffic of ivory, is still not seen as a priority by the government, with serious implications and repercussions in Africa and other places,” said Crosta.

When asked why such a website was necessary, Crosta said that new and innovative approaches are urgently needed and global civil society “can now play their part”.

“I think that the global fight against wildlife crime, which we are not winning, is still mostly based on old approaches and working methodologies, ineffective strategies and a poor use of technology. The criminal syndicates and groups behind wildlife crime are ahead of us, faster, more coordinated and better connected,” said Crosta.

Crosta heads the Elephant Action League (EAL), which funds WildLeaks. The project is also managed by a small group of "very experienced individuals, including directors of environmental NGOs, environmental lawyers, accredited journalists, security professionals and ex-law enforcement officers."

Among the founding members of WildLeaks is National Geographic Special Investigations director Bryan Christy, who was behind 'The Lizard King', the non-fiction book about notorious Malaysian wildlife smuggler Anson Wong.

It was reported earlier that there have been at least nine high-profile ivory seizures, worth millions, in Malaysia since 2011.

Statistics from a database used to analyse global ivory trade patterns and seizures, the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS)— on top of the nine, 22 other cases related to Malaysia were seized outside of the country.

Malaysia was listed as an “importer” in at least four of those 31 cases.

Crosta said that from his groups’ experience in the field, there are many people who have potentially important information but they will never shared it with the law enforcement, for many reasons. “We hope to fill this gap by offering a new, neutral, secure platform,” he said.

After receiving information, WildLeaks say that a group of experienced and responsible professionals, investigative reporters and ex-law enforcement officers will evaluate documents and tips provided to WildLeaks.

“After anonymous information is received, evaluated and validated by WildLeaks, we work to transform this information into a verified and actionable item, a point for launching an investigation or sharing it with the media or, when possible, with selected and trusted law enforcement officers” added Crosta, “always aiming at exposing wildlife crimes and bringing the responsible individuals to justice”.

Wildlife crime is said to be the 4th largest transnational crime in the world, worth at least US$ 17 billion (RM56.5b) annually, after narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.

Wildlife crime is now the most immediate threat to many species including elephants, rhinos, big cats and apes.

Forest crime, which is the illicit trade in illegally logged timber, degrades forests and destroys wildlife habitats. These crimes also cause a significant human and economic toll.

In November, last year, an investigative reporter with Al-Jazeera claimed that Malaysia was favoured by wildlife traffickers due to the ‘low risks’ of being caught in this country.