Ipoh, Malaysia, 5th December 2017—The minimum fine, one-month jail and his motorcycle confiscated: this was the sentence handed down to a man caught ferrying a Tiger carcass on his bike last year in northern Peninsular Malaysia, home to some 250 Critically Endangered wild Tigers.
Wong Chee Leong, 43, was sentenced by the Ipoh Sessions court today, 22 months after his arrest, to MYR100,000 (USD23,800) in fines for the offence of illegally possessing a Tiger Panthera tigris carcass in an oil palm estate in Gopeng, Perak on 2 Feb 2016. Wong will have to serve one year in jail if he fails to pay the fine.
Wong had earlier pleaded not guilty to an illegal possession charge under Sec 68 (2) (c) of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. However, Wong changed his plea to guilty and this was recorded in court today. He was subsequently sentenced by the Sessions Court Judge Zulqarnain Hassan.
This section of the law under which Wong was charged provides for a fine of between MYR100,000 and MYR500,000 (USD23,800–USD119,000) and up to five years in jail.
In mitigation, Wong’s legal counsel, Mr Nahtan Krishnan, appealed for a lenient sentence arguing that a heavy one would burden the accused’s family. Wong is a father of four who holds a job as a helper in a fish farm.
The counsel said that while Wong was caught with the Tiger carcass, he was a first-time offender and it could not be proven that he killed the animal or was about to trade it. He also argued that the carcass was given to Wong by locals who could not be traced and that it was meant to be used to feed fish in the farm that Wong helped at.
In response, prosecuting officer for the Wildlife and National Parks Department Nor Shahrim Mohamed Noor said Wong had committed a serious offence especially in view of the fact that only an estimated 250 to 340 Tigers remained in the country and that the species faced tremendous pressure from poaching.
Nor Shahrim said the case was not only a matter of respect for the law, but also one of national interest. He argued for a custodial sentence to set an example for other would-be offenders and urged the court to show that it viewed wildlife crime seriously. Mr John Chan of Mah Weng Kwai and Associates held a watching brief for TRAFFIC throughout the case.
Apart from the fine and jail time, the court also allowed for the confiscation of the motorcycle that Wong used to ferry the Tiger when he was caught.
In February 2016, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (PERHILITAN) officers received reports of the death of the Tiger. However, when they reached the location, the carcass was already removed, after which officers apprehended the accused. In July last year he plead guilty to the charge and paid a bail of MYR70,000 (USD16,700).
“A one-month jail term for transporting a dead national symbol on a motorbike sends an extremely worrying message to would-be offenders. What this case shows us is that we have our work cut out for us; it would be easy to give up but this is the last thing we should do,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Acting Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “We hope that this can be used as an example of why we need to fight more for the future of our Tigers.”
TRAFFIC’s research shows that from 2001 to 2015, an equivalent of 103 Tigers have been seized in the country. The year Wong was caught—2016—was a particularly bad year for Tigers in Malaysia with six lost in the first few months of the year. Later in September that year two Tiger skins were seized from traffickers. Another 17 pieces of Tiger claw and eight pieces of Tiger tooth were seized this August (2017).
The highest prison sentence meted out so far in connection with Tiger seizures was in a 2012 case involving parts amounting to 22 Tigers (as well as nine African Elephant Loxodonta africana tusks). The offender was given a jail term of 24 months which ran concurrently for all the offences, effective from the date of his arrest. He was also fined a total of MYR200 000 (valued at USD66,700 at the time).
In February this year an engineer was fined MYR 300,000 for illegal possession of a Tiger cub.