Illegal Wildlife Trade
According to the Malaysian Wildlife Act of 2010, all gibbon species are classified as ‘Totally Protected Species’ and so it is highly illegal to be in possession of one. Convicted individuals face 10 years in prison or a maximum of RM 200 000 fine or both.
Despite such stringent laws, the flourishing of social media has caused an equally flourishing wildlife trade. The law does not cover the world of the web and so, traders conveniently advertise online, on apps like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Carousel and even have their own specialty websites.
The illegal wildlife pet trade is one of the biggest contributing factor to the decline in numbers in the wild.
The over sharing culture of social media has given new life to an old trend: Exotic pets = extravagant life. To make matters worse, several local celebrities own gibbons or other wildlife and publicly share photos of their pets on social media – encouraging all their followers to do the same.
For traders to procure one gibbon baby, its entire family is killed. As gibbons are familial animals, each and every family member will defend their youngest, to the death. Worse still, it is estimated that only 1 in 3 infants survive this initial poaching stage. Many of those that do survive, end up with serious injuries and severe psychological trauma.
The process of taking a baby gibbon from its family and delivering them into the hands of their human buyer is one that leaves many casualties. Through inhumane ‘storage’ and cruel transportation methods, many fragile infants die. To avoid capture, traders ship infants via bus cargo in boxes or bags. Due to deplorable conditions, low temperature and long travel time, many of the infants die. Imagine how many families, how many individuals have had to die for one person to have one gibbon pet. This doesn’t count the deaths during transport from forest to storage location, storage conditions, and so on. It is estimated that over 200 gibbons die for one to become a pet.
Through several online campaigns with the help of the public, GCS has managed to slow down the trade of some of the biggest wildlife sellers in Malaysia. One campaign #TumpaskanKejoraAmsyar in 2019 was successful in shutting down some of the social media accounts of trader ‘Kejora Pets’, which was operating for almost 10 years, and sent them into hiding. This was done through an adamant social media campaign, which quickly caught on with netizens.
The sad truth of the matter is that gibbons and other wildlife do not belong in human hands. They are complicated creatures and are difficult to care for. Many are fed an inappropriate diet, become malnourished, are neglected, abused or eventually die.
The last population study on gibbons in Malaysia was done in the 80s. At that time, more than 40 years ago, their numbers were already declining, with only an estimation of 4000 Agile Gibbons in the wild. With the recent boom of online trade, there is no doubt that these animals are at serious risk of extinction. Something must be done to save them.
Human - Wildlife Contact & Conflict
Human – wildlife conflict also poses a threat to gibbons., with several ‘tourism’ facilities offering close encounters with habituated gibbons. These ‘interactions’ leave the gibbons vulnerable to poachers as they no longer see humans as a threat.
Animal lovers mistake feeding wildlife as an act of kindness, not realising the grave consequences of their actions. The improper food given to these apes can be detrimental to their health. They can also contract human diseases like coronavirus.
With such close contact, any ‘misunderstandings’ between species can cause the gibbons to attack and if a human is injured, it is the gibbons that suffer the worse consequences.