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Wildlife seizures made in Malaysian ports and Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

6000 kg of Ivory at Port Klang – Malaysia No Stranger to Major Wildlife Seizures

Malaysia Customs pose with July 10th, 2022 seizure that included 6000 kg of ivory, 29 kg of rhino horn, 100 kg of pangolin scales and 300 kg of assorted animal bones, skulls and teeth.

It has been almost 2 years since an ivory seizure of this magnitude has been reported.  Malaysian customs at Port Klang on July 10th, 2022 seized from one shipping container, 6000 kg of ivory, 29 kg of rhino horn, 100 kg of pangolin scales and 300 kg of assorted animal bones, skulls and teeth.  The wildlife contraband was hidden behind sawn timber, timber products being the cover load of choice among wildlife trafficking cartels.

While the original country of origin has not been announced, as is typical of Malaysian seizures, it has been reported that the container transited Abu Dhabi and its final destination was the port of Pasir Gudang, Johor.  Perhaps coincidentally, Johor is known as the main base of operations of  Malaysian national, Teo Boon Ching.  This is the same Teo Boon Ching who was arrested on June 29th in Bangkok, on wildlife trafficking and money laundering charges.  Perhaps it is coincidental that this seizure was made 11 days after his arrest, while the container was still on the high seas.  Most would think not.

While major pangolin scale seizures in the past two years have been the norm, including a 6160 kg seizure at Port Klang in March 2020, the large ivory seizures have not.  

The last major ivory seizure was a massive 8800 kg haul combined with 11,900 kg of pangolin scales made in Singapore on July 21, 2019.  That shipment originated from Matadi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and has been since connected to Moazu Kromah and the West African Cartel. It was the last of six major ivory seizures in 2019 that also included a 9100 kg ivory seizure in Da Nang, Vietnam, a seizure that is believed to be the largest recorded ivory shipment ever.  Pointe Noire, Congo,  was the port of origin; one days travel by ship or road, from Matadi.  The ivory was also obfuscated through timber.

Media reports of the recent 6000 kg ivory seizure may paint a perspective that the Malaysia destination is atypical, but that is not the case. Malaysia is a major gateway for wildlife products, with its close proximity to  the porous borders of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.  As referred  earlier, 6160 kg of pangolin scales were seized in March of 2020.  In 2017, within a one month period in the Sabah region of Malaysia, two major seizures were made that originated from Nigeria, one of 8000 kg of pangolin scales and a second with 5000 kg of pangolin scales and 3000 kg of ivory.  Both shipments were headed to China.
One of the most well known containerised  ivory seizures, from a wildlife crime investigators perspective, was made at Port Klang in December 2012.  This was the first and only time that a shipment  was identified as having originated from East Africa (Mombasa) and transited West Africa (Togo) where forest elephant ivory was added, before it continued its journey to Malaysia via Spain.  Later DNA analysis found this 6034 kg ivory shipment to be supplied through the Kromah network.
The December 2012 Malaysia 6034 kg ivory seizure was linked to 8 other seizures from both sides of the continent through direct genetic matching of tusks. From: “Combating Transnational Organized Crime by Linking Multiple Large Ivory Seizures to the Same Dealer” - Dr. Sam Wasser et al

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) has had at least 16 seizures of either ivory, rhino horn or pangolin between 2016 and 2021.  These sixteen, with points of origin spread between Kinshasa, Luanda, Accra and Lagos, included a total of 217 kg of rhino horn, 1641 kg of pangolin scales and 3239 kg of elephant ivory.  Twelve of the 16 seizures had come via air freight while the remaining four had travelled with passengers.  A number of these seizures were directly linked to the West African Cartel, through documentary evidence and/or DNA analysis.

The amounts are significant but in actuality are five to ten times that, with authorities catching only a fraction of the amount trafficked.  Clearly, if the cartels were not making handsome amounts of cash, KLIA would not have continued to be an airport destination for their goods.  

It remains to be seen whether the arrest and expected extradition of Teo Boon Ching will impact on wildlife trafficking transiting Malaysia.

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