Malaysia has a human population of over 33.5 million with a land area of 330,345 km² and a total coastline of 4,675 km. Situated in Southeast Asia, it is located in the tropics and is one of seventeen megadiverse countries, home to crucial migrating and endemic animals such as the Malayan tiger, Asian elephant, Malayan tapir and around 104,700 orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo. Due to most of the country having rainforest coverage like the Borneo and Sumatra islands, there is a vast biodiversity of plant and animal species.
Since 2014, Malaysia has been ranked as a C-grade (out of possible grades A,B,C,D,E,F,G) for animal welfare laws in the Animal Protection Index. Along with India, this is highest among countries within the Asian continent. However, this week guest writer Zach Ng explores how an increase in effective authority and animal laws and policies would ultimately further improve the situation where instances of animal crimes are frequently reported, hand-in-hand with vital conservation efforts.
Legislation relating to Animals
Animal Welfare Act 2015
The Animal Welfare Act 2015 (which amended Malaysia's Animals Act of 1953) exists as the main piece of legislation concerning captive and domesticated animals, including companion and farm animals. The AWA provides regulations to: prevent unnecessary cruelty and slaughter, control transportation and selling, control and prevent disease, and general issues relating to animal welfare and conservation. There are also total bans on some inherently cruel activities such as animal fighting and baiting. Additionally, it details the ‘Ancillary Power of the Court’ and ‘Powers Relating to Enforcement’ to ensure the suitable punishment for cases where individuals are found acting brutally toward animals.
Some benefits of the AWA can be seen as this legislation acknowledged at federal level symbolises the progressive movement towards animal welfare and emphasises responsible ownership and care. Animal cruelty penalties within the Malaysian Penal Code have increased through section 38 of the Animals (Amendment) Act 2013, where there is now a maximum fine of MYR50,000 (around £9,000) and one year’s imprisonment. Section 24 also acts inclusively of the Five Freedoms proposed by the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare: (i) freedom from hunger and thirst, (ii) freedom from fear and distress, (iii) freedom from discomfort, (iv) freedom from pain, injury, or disease, and (v) freedom to express normal behaviour.
Wildlife Conservation Act 2010
The Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (enacted to repeal and replace the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972) regulates the county’s wild animals, generally outside human control. The WCA defines ‘wildlife’ as: ‘any species of wild animal or wild bird, whether totally protected or protected, vertebrate or invertebrate, live or dead, mature or immature and whether or not may be tamed or bred in captivity’.
Furthermore, through the supplementary Wildlife Conservation (Operation of Zoo) Regulations 2012, the government has enacted various regulations including special permit requirements to import and export, captive breed wildlife and keep animals in zoos, circuses and exhibitions. A list of legally protected species is designated. Heavily endangered species such as the Malayan tiger and other species of large cats are listed as ‘totally protected’ under the law to deter their exploitation and promote wildlife conservation.
The WCA establishes a system through which special permits and licenses are issued by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) which oversees the conservation and management of wildlife in Malaysia. Its stringent criteria ensures that activities related to protected wildlife species such as captive breeding, trade and research are conducted in a regulated and sustainable manner. Consequently, the risk of illegal activities is reduced and a mechanism for monitoring and accountability is provided.
Under the WCA, wildlife offences and penalties such as cruelty and keeping wild animals were established; ranging from fines to imprisonment and more severe penalties for repeat offenders or those involved in organised wildlife crimes. These provisions act as a deterrent to send a clear warning that illegal wildlife-related activities will not be tolerated. Complementing these, stronger enforcement powers were established such as granting wildlife officers greater powers to fulfil their duties of investigation, arrest, and seizure of wildlife and related items.
Shortfalls with the current law
There are still many shortfalls within Malaysia’s realm of animal law. Significant challenges include a lack of effective legislation, a lack of clarity in legislation and inadequate enforcement capacity. Even the symbolic national animal, the Malaysian tiger, which is adorned on the country's coat of arms, has failed to be protected where there used to be thousands and now reduced to less than a few hundred in the wild.
There is a lack of enforcement in place by the government to protect animals. Whilst Malaysia is a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), there is still a lot of underground animal trade internally and with countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. Under the WCA, wild animals are only allowed to be bred and kept by licence holders, however there is significant illegal wildlife trade, including the keeping of wild animals as companions.
Poaching and habitat loss have also led to a huge loss in population, showing the lack of adequate enforcement. Although hunting with a license is legal, it is not regulated.
There is also not a full incorporation of laws in the country: the states of Sabah and Sarawak have not fully ratified the AWA into their state laws.
The future of Malaysia’s welfare of animals depends on the actions of its government and society, as well as its international cooperation to address animal cruelty and streamlining procedure, scientific research and even funding. The WCA encourages collaboration among relevant agencies, including law enforcement, customs, and international entities.
Internationally, cooperation and intelligence sharing with the likes of INTERPOL and United Nations assists to combat transnational wildlife trafficking networks and transnational wildlife crimes such as through the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Internally, there are also several non-governmental organisations dealing with animals such as the Malaysian Nature Society, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Selangor and Malaysian Animal Welfare Association that seeks ‘to promote a caring Malaysian society through creating awareness and a balanced approach to animal welfare’.
Efforts into education are vital to the success of the future of Malaysia’s animals. This can be conducted by various organisations and government agencies to conduct educational programs and awareness campaigns for public outreach to advocate deeper understanding of animal rights, conservation, and the importance of biodiversity.
Ecotourism in Malaysia is also important for the country to gain finance into protecting animals. An example can be seen through MYCAT (an alliance of NGO’s working towards recovery of wild tiger populations) whereby ‘CAT Walks’ are arranged. These are guided surveillance patrols which allows members of the general public to be directly involved in protecting tigers and their habitats.
Although the AWA and WCA serve as critical legal instruments and are good starting blocks into animal law, continuous efforts to strengthen laws and policies, as well as enforcement are essential for their successful implementation. The federal Government of Malaysia could also align all animal welfare under a single ministry to ensure sufficient animal welfare protections for all species.
This post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.