Malaysia is home to 746 species of birds, 300 species of mammals, 379 species of reptiles, 198 species of amphibians, and 368 species of fish.

Borneo has more species of tree shrew than anywhere else on the world. Tree shrews are not shrews and most species do not live in trees. They are generally hyper creatures that belong to their owner order (Scandentia). The local Bahasa Indonesian word for them, “tupai”, is the same word used for squirrels.

The world's longest venomous snake—an 18 foot, two-inch king cobra was captured in April 1937 in Port Dickson in the state of Nergri Sembilan in Malaysia. After it was caught sent to a zoo at England, where it grew to 18 feet, nine inches. King cobra's average about 12 to 15 feet in length.

On hunting on Borneo in the 1840s, Henry Keppel wrote in “Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy”: “But, while on the subject, I may mention that of pig- shooting, which I found an amusement not to be despised, especially if you approach your game before life is extinct. The jaws are long, tusks also, and sharp as a razor; and when once wounded, the animals evince a strong inclination to return the compliment: they are active, cunning, and very fast. I shot several at different times. The natives also describe a very formidable beast, the size of a large bullock, found further to the northward, which they appear to hold in great dread. This I conceive to be a sort of bison ; and if so, the sporting in Borneo altogether is not so bad.” [Source: “The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy” by Henry Keppel and James Brooke (1847)-]

See Southeast Asia Click Southern Asian Animals

Rhinos , Orangutans

Tigers and Tiger Attacks in Malaysia

Of the 2,000 or so Indo-Chinese tigers left, maybe 500 are in Malaysia. In 1976, tigers were classified as a Totally Protected Animal and killing them was deemed illegal. In Malaysia, tigers have traditionally been revered for their power. There are two tigers on the Malaysian royal crest.

There have been tiger attacks in northern Kelantan, where their habitat has been shrunk by palm oil and rubber plantations.

Tiger attacks have increased in areas where humans have encroached on tiger habitats to set up rubber and oil palm plantations. In September 2000, a tiger crept into a family hut near the town of Gerlik in Perak State in northen Malaysia and killed a man in his sleep,. The tiger had been injured with gunshot wounds. A couple of weeks later the tiger was killed by rangers.

In February 2011, Associated Press reported: “A woman in a jungle region of northern Malaysia rescued her husband from a tiger attack by clubbing the beast on its head with a large wooden soup ladle and chasing it away, police said. The tiger pounced on Tambun Gediu while he was hunting squirrels Saturday near his home in a jungle settlement of the Jahai tribe, a police official in Malaysia's Perak state said. Tambun's 55-year-old wife, Han Besau, rushed out when she heard his screams and struck the tiger on its head with a kitchen ladle, causing it to flee immediately, the official said. [Source: AP, February 14, 2011]

“Tambun was receiving treatment at a hospital for lacerations on his face and legs. He told Malaysian media that he first tried to escape by climbing a tree, but the tiger dragged him down. "I was terrified and I used all my strength to punch the animal in the face, but it would not budge," the New Straits Times newspaper quoted him as saying. "I had to wrestle with it to keep its jaws away from me, and it would have clawed me to death if my wife had not arrived." Shabrina Shariff, the state's wildlife department director, told The Star daily that wildlife rangers planned to track down the tiger and chase it deeper into the jungle, where there were no human inhabitants.

See Asian Animals

Elephants in Malaysia

About 1,000 to 2,500 elephants live on Borneo. Near all so them are in the far norther part of the island in Sabah. It was long thought that these elephants were descendants of domesticated elephants that had escaped or been set free in the forest. But DNA indicates that are genetically different from other Asian elephants and had been on Borneo at least since the last Ice Age. Asian elephants in Borneo are smaller than other Asian elephants and have larger ears and a more rounded body. They are very gentle creatures and known for not being aggressive around people.

The WWF wildlife group estimates that fewer than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants exist. They live mainly in Sabah and grow to about eight feet (245 centimeters) tall, a foot or two shorter than mainland Asian elephants. Known for their babyish faces, large ears and long tails, pygmy elephants were found to be a distinct subspecies only in 2003, after DNA testing. Their numbers have stabilized in recent years amid conservation efforts to protect their jungle habitats from being torn down for plantations and development projects.

See Asian Animals

Ten Dead Borneo Pygmy Elephants Feared Poisoned

In January 2013, ten endangered Borneo pygmy elephants have been found dead in a Malaysian forest under mysterious circumstances, and wildlife officials said that they probably were poisoned. Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “Carcasses of the baby-faced elephants were found near each other over the past three weeks at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, said Laurentius Ambu, director of the wildlife department in Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo island. In one case, officers rescued a 3-month-old calf that was apparently trying to wake its dead mother.

Poisoning appeared to be the likely cause, but officials have not determined whether it was intentional, said Sabah environmental minister Masidi Manjun. Though some elephants have been killed for their tusks on Sabah in past years, there was no sign that these animals had been poached. "This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state," Masidi said in a statement. "If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned, I would personally make sure that the culprits would be brought to justice and pay for their crime." [Source: Sean Yoong, Associated Press, January 29, 2013]

The elephants found dead were believed to be from the same family group and ranged in age from 4 to 20 years, said Sen Nathan, the wildlife department's senior veterinarian. Seven were female and three were male, he said. Post-mortems showed they suffered severe hemorrhages and ulcers in their gastrointestinal tracts. None had gunshot injuries. "We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten,” Nathan said.

Monkeys in Malaysia

Malaysia's monkey population is estimated at 700,000. They are mostly macaques or leaf monkeys. Malaysia is home to crab-eating macaques, long-tailed macaques and pig-tailed macaques. Children are told that if they don't pray five times a day they will turn into a monkey. In some parts of Malaysia, pig-tailed macaques have been trained to climb trees and pick coconuts for human masters.

In February 2008, AFP reported: “Malaysia has abandoned a controversial plan to capture and export monkeys found in urban areas after a majority of them were found to be infected with deadly diseases, a report said Saturday. Azmi Khalid, natural resources and environment minister, said the government decided to drop the plan after at least 80 percent of the 250,000 urban monkeys were deemed unfit for export. The long-tailed macaques were sick with diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis and AIDS, he told the New Straits Times newspaper said. [Source: AFP, February 2, 2008]

"After a study was conducted recently, it was found the macaques were not suitable for export because they were infected," he said. "They were supposed to fulfil the demand for exotic meat in a few countries in Asia and in the West." Malaysia in August last year lifted a 23-year ban on the export of long-tailed macaques from the peninsular, saying they had become an urban pest and were attacking people and stealing food. No permits had been issued for the export of the monkeys, the report said.

Reuters reported: In August, the government said it would end a ban on the export of long-tailed macaques after complaints that they were too aggressive and had attacked residents. Animal-rights groups objected, saying the monkeys would be sold to laboratories.The report also quoted Azmi as saying the diseases could pose a threat to human health, but it gave no idea as to how the government now planned to tackle the problem.Veterinary experts have previously called for relocation programs, reproduction controls and public education to stop residents from feeding or teasing the animals [Source: Reuters, February 1, 2008]

See Asian Religion

Coconut Monkeys

In some parts of Malaysia, pig-tailed macaques (a relatively russet, rain forest monkey native to Southeast Asia) have been trained to climb trees and pick coconuts for human masters. Known locally as “beroks”, they can harvest 300 or 400 coconuts in a morning before they tire in the hot sun. They are connected to their human handlers by thin ropes or chains. The best monkeys can harvest 800 coconuts a day and clear a whole grove in a day by leaping 30 feet from tree to tree and tossing down coconuts like cluster bombs. [Source: Randall Peffer, Smithsonian magazine]

One handler told Smithsonian, "the big males are best for picking from tall trees, where the work is hard. But the males can be difficult to manage; they are strong and have large canines. Young beroks are easier to work with but are not always as productive."

Humans are sometimes faster than beroks on a single tree but monkeys have more endurance, they can sometimes leap from tree to tree, and they aren't bothered as much by stinging ants, scorpions and poisonous snakes that often inhabit the top of coconut palms.

Coconut Monkeys at Work

Monkeys are sometimes employed in the coconut industry to climb up trees and bring down coconuts. The monkeys and their handlers are contracted out by plantation owners. They are taught not to bring down any old coconut but only the young ones with tender meat. They are fickle though and won't work when they are tired.

Monkeys that respond to voice commands are sometimes used to pick coconuts. Sometimes a owner will get monkeys to work in pairs or teams to bring down hard to reach nuts.

Describing a berok named Hitam at work on 80-foot-high trees, Randall Peffer, wrote in Smithsonian magazine, "Led to the first tree, the berok rapidly shins up. Tahar [the handler] lets out coils of leash until the monkey is swaying among the fronds. Almost immediately the tree begins to shake as Hitam struggles to break a coconut from its tough stem. Rustling noises disturb the silence and Tahar moves quickly to dodge the coconuts that suddenly begin to thump on the soft ground around him."

"After five or six coconuts are plucked. Tahar tugs on the leash for Hitam to climb down and try the next tree some 25 to 30 feet away. The work is slow; Hitam lacks the speed and strength of larger, more experienced berok."

The Malay writer Fatima Busu, once explained, "Beroks are so like us. They can be loving and cooperative but also mean spirited, selfish and lustful. Also very independent. We can love this animal. We can hate it, all at the same time."

Coconut Monkeys, Their Handlers and Training

At home the beroks are kept tethered to poles and are transported from place to pace on platforms on the back of bicycles. Or motorbikes. If a berok falls and breaks a leg it is given a splint, hand feed, bathed by its handler until it recovers. Monkey have been known to protect their handlers from wild dogs and raise a call of alarm when a poisonous snake is near.

One handler told Smithsonian, "I give my monkeys affection every day. I sit with them, and we groom one another. We share fruit or walk to the river together to bathe." Sometimes the monkeys are offspring of berok; sometimes they are caught on the forest with nets or traps. Often though, nursing mothers are shot are their babies are taken.

Training the beroks involves patience, persistence, punishment and rewards, mimicry and persuading the monkey that picking coconuts is somehow to his or her advantage. A bond between the trainer and monkey and an understanding of macaque body language and social interaction are necessary.

Describing the training of berok by a trainer name Hajee, Peffer wrote: "First the man clips the monkey's wire collar to a leash, holds him close and dangles before him a ripe coconut on a stem and shows the berok how twisting the coconut will make it fall. Next the trainer places the monkey's hand on the coconut, and the monkey imitates what he has just seen. The coconut drops. At the end of the training session, Jajee cuts open the fruit and shares it with the trainee."

“On day two the coconut is tied to a low tree. The exercises of the day before are repeated, but this time the monkey has to climb a tree. Successful plucking is rewarded with another coconut feast. On the third day the monkey repeats this lesson and then follows his trainer to a tall palm."

Later the monkeys are taught to respond to commands, and pick ripe coconuts using a similar reward system. After a training period of around 20 days, the berok is ready to pick coconuts for five or six hours a day.

Proboscis Monkeys

Proboscis monkeys are threatened by logging and settlements along rivers. Only a few thousand are left. Many live along the Kinabatngan Rover in Sabah, an area proposed as a wildlife sanctuary.

Proboscis monkeys are named for their long bulbous noses. They are found in forests along rivers and in swamps and coastal lowlands of Borneo. Indonesians call them "Belanda," which means "white man."[Source: Tim Laman, National Geographic, August 2002]

About 8,000 proboscis monkeys are estimated o be living in the wild. They need relatively large areas to live in to collected all the food need. Proboscis monkeys have had their numbers reduced by poaching and loss of habitat resulting from clearing of the rain forest. Particularly damaging for them has been the drainage of swamps and shrimp farming in coastal habitats.

Proboscis monkeys are one of Asia’s largest monkeys. Adult males can reach lengths of two feet, excluding their tail, and weigh 50 pounds. Females are about half the size. They have long tails which are not used for gripping but may provide balance when then the monkeys fly through the air. They also have very long limbs, ideal for swinging in branches and moving from tree to tree. Infants have dark fur and bluish faces. Twins are rare.

Males have the largest noses. They are long, bulbous and drop downward below the chin. When males grunt their nose jerk upwards. Female noses are significantly smaller and turned up and look like the noses on clowns. Youngsters have short, turned-up button nose. The large male noses are believed to be help them attract females and possible dissipate excess heat.

Proboscis monkeys are great leapers. They can leap great distances from one branch to branch and tree to tree. They push off with their powerful hind legs and fly through the air with their arms extended over their heads, ready to grasp a branch. Mothers leap with their offspring clinging to their stomachs.

Proboscis monkeys have chamber stomachs like ruminants such as cows. They eat large quantities of leaves and rely on bacteria in their stomachs to break down the cellulose in the leaves. These monkeys often spend several hours eating and several hours relaxing while food in their stomachs digests.

Proboscis monkeys eat seeds and green fruits as well as leaves. The have a permanent pot belly, which encloses a large chambered stomach necessary to process all the fibrous food they eat. They avoid sweet fruits which could cause deadly bloating from rapid fermentation. Male proboscis monkeys sometimes move their noses out of the way when they eat.

See Asian Animals

Lizards, Amphibians and Fish in Malaysia

Flying lizards are a common site in the jungles of Malaysia. Four-foot-long monitor lizards found in northern Peninsular Malaysia are good swimmers and are known locally as iguanas. The great anglehead lizard of Malaysia can change color from brilliant green to jet black in minutes.

In 1970, scientists observed 10,000 frogs engage in a week-long frenzy and them suddenly stop and started tearing each other apart.

More than half the of 266 species of exclusively freshwater fish found in peninsular Malaysia are now extinct or near extinct in the region.

In the Borneo rainforest you can dig a hole in the ground and water and fish will appear.

Malaysia's 'Snake King' Killed by Cobra

Ali Khan Samsuddin—a Malaysian known as the "King of the Snakes" for doing things like kissing cobras and sleeping with hundreds of snakes—died from a cobra bite in December 2006. Lindsay Hamilton of ABC News wrote: “Over the years, many snakes sank their fangs into him. He suffered his first king cobra bite when he was 21 years old. His last king cobra bite happened on Tuesday. He died three days later at Kuala Lumpur Hospital at age 48. When it came to working with dangerous creatures, Samsuddin liked pushing the limits. He set records few would even want to attempt — living in a glass case with 5,000 scorpions for 21 days, and living with 400 snakes for 40 days. [Source: Lindsay Hamilton, ABC News, December 2, 2006]

Christina Koh wrote in The Star, “Malaysia’s snake king Ali Khan Samsudin, 48, died as he had lived – handling the reptiles that he loved. His eldest son Amjad Khan, 21, said his father had been performing at a show in Kuala Lumpur when he was bitten by a King Cobra. Ali Khan, who regularly performs with his beloved snakes for charity and for a living, died at 1am yesterday at Kuala Lumpur Hospital where he had been recuperating. Amjad Khan related that when his father contacted him to tell him he had been bitten, the family had not been too worried. [Source: Christina Koh, The Star, December 2, 2006]

“He had been bitten by snakes many times before, including three times by King Cobras. The first King Cobra bit him in Taiping when he was 21. “So we didn’t think anything would happen. I was just relaks saja (calm),” said Amjad Khan at their flat in Kampung Boyan here. On Thursday night, his condition took a turn for the worse. Family members here received a call from Amjad Khan’s uncle to go to the hospital. “We rushed from Taiping at 11.30pm, but by the time we arrived he was already gone. We didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye,” said the son.“Maybe his body couldn’t take it any more because of his diabetes.”

He leaves behind five children aged 13 to 23 from wives Mau Boh Bee, 48, and Jumabee Mohd Ibrahim, 33. Amjad Khan, who also works as a snake handler, said he would continue his father’s work despite the tragedy. “Many of my father’s shows have been cancelled, but this is a trade that has been passed down for five generations,” he said, adding that his uncle Husein Dasthagir, 48, also worked with snakes. “It’s our way of life and we can’t imagine doing anything else.” Well known for his daring feats with cobras, Ali Khan had also made it into the 1997 Guinness Book of World Records, living in a glass enclosure filled with more than 5,000 scorpions for 21 days. He set another record by living with 400 snakes for 40 days.

Malaysian man Kisses a Cobra Record 51 Times

In March 2006, AFP reported: “A former Malaysian snake farm worker may have set a new world record after kissing a poisonous snake 51 times in three minutes, a report said. Shahimi Abdul Hamid's feat in kissing the 4.6-meter-long King Cobra—weighing 10 kilograms— 51 times in three minutes and one second was a record waiting to be verified, the Sunday Star newspaper said. Records showed that Gordon Cates from Florida, the United States kissed 11 cobras without a time limit in September 1999. Cates had used an iron bar to protect himself while Shahimi used only his bare hands. Asked why he did such a dangerous act on Saturday, Shahimi said: "Malaysians should know that if one has sufficient knowledge of reptiles, there would be no problem in dealing with them." [Source: AFP, March 19, 2006]

The Star reported: “The first few kisses seemed easy enough. Then the King Cobra looked agitated. This was when Shahimi Abdul Hamid showed deft agility by moving swiftly to avoid being bitten. On the 39th count, Shahimi performed a long kiss. After the 51st kiss, he received a thunderous applause from the audience at First World Hotel at Genting Highlands. Universiti Malaya Department of Medicine Prof Dr Iekhsam Othman later verified that the cobra was venomous. Shahimi, 33, was presented with a certificate endorsing his record-breaking attempt by the Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai. [Source: The Star, March 19, 2006]

Crocodiles are gone in peninsular Malaysia but are still found in Borneo. In the early 2000s, a 10-year-old boy was grabbed by a crocodile while he was taking a bath in a river in Batu Niah squatter colony in eastern Sarawak. The boy’s mother tried to pull the boy form the crocodile’s jaw. “I jumped in and manage to grab the tail of the crocodile. It spinned. I was overpowered and lost grip. In another attack in Sarawak, a couple of months later, a 4½-meter-long crocodile attacked a man and his two-year-old son while they were bathing in a river in Batang Lupar southwest of Kuching. The boy was pulled to safety. The man was dragged away and killed by the crocodile.


Finding beetles for Japanese beetle collecting market is quite lucrative. Suppliers find them in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. During hot spells, the town of Lebu get overwhelmed by swarms of butterflies.

Borneo crab spiders imitate the color of bird doping which their favorite insect prey feed upon. Many ants tend aphids and mealybugs and feed on their sweet excrement. The migrating herdsman ants of Malaysia can not live without their mealybug slaves. The ants place the mealybugs on leaves to feed and watch over them like shepherds. When the food supplies are depleted the ants and their herd of mealybugs move on to new food sources like human nomads with their flocks. Herdsman ant nests are temporary. They consist of 10,000 or more interlocked bodies with the queen, young ants, mealybugs and their young inside.


Malaysian Monks and Their Ant Dilemma

Jonathan Kent of the BBC wrote: “Buddhism forbids devotees from harming any living creature. So the monks are looking for a creative and non-violent solution to deal with the insects, which are biting worshippers. The monks at the Ang Hock Si Temple, also known as the Hong Hock See temple, in Georgetown on Penang Island have had to learn to live with nature.Some years ago they shared their temple compound with a cobra. The chief monk, the Venerable Boon Keng, told the BBC that they had become used to meditating alongside the snake but eventually decided to catch it and take it away to a nearby forest. Now he says the cobra's place has been taken by a colony of fire ants. [Source: Jonathan Kent, BBC, March 12, 2007]

But the ants are dropping from the temple's sacred bodhi tree onto people meditating below - and when they bite it causes painful swelling. The Venerable Boon Keng practises what he calls "letting go" meditation - so he "lets go" of the pain. But out of consideration for worshippers less far along the path to enlightenment the monks are looking for ways to persuade the ants to go.

An attempt to remove them using a vacuum cleaner failed, so the Buddhist community is appealing for help. They cannot encourage anyone to harm the ants, but the chief monk says that if someone turns up unbidden and deals with them without the monks' involvement then that is the will of the universe.

Scorpion Queen

In the early 2000s, Malena Hassan was crowned Malaysia’s “Scorpion Queen” after she lived with 2,7000 scorpions for 30 days in a two-by-six meter glass case in a museum in Kota Baru in northeastern Malaysia. She was in the cage non-stop except for occasional bathroom and praying breaks. During the first five days she was stung once but was determined to continue with her efforts. Her mentor was Ali Kan Shamsuddin Malaysia’s “snake king.” In 1997, he spent three weeks in a cage with 5,000 scorpions.

In September 2004, News agencies reported: “A Malaysian woman has broken a world record by enduring 32 days enclosed in a glass box with 6,069 scorpions, suffering seven stings in the process, her sponsor claimed. Nur Malena Hassan, 27, will remain in the case, on display in a shopping mall in the eastern city of Kuantan, said Bohari Rahmat, whose biscuit company sponsored the stunt. Earlier, Nur Malena surpassed the previous record held by Kanchana Ketkeaw from Thailand, who spent 31 days in a glass box with 3,400 scorpions, Bohari said. Bohari said he hadn’t talked to Nur Malena since she reclaimed her record, which she first won in 2001 by living for 30 days with 2,700 scorpions. “We don’t want her to lose focus, thinking that this is enough,” Bohari said. “If we can reach 36 days, it will be more difficult for someone else to beat us next time.” [Source: News agencies, September 21, 2004]

Sujatah Nair, a spokeswoman for the Malaysia Book of Records, told The Associated Press that video and other documentation were being sent to the Guinness Book of Records. “She was stung on her leg three times and could not walk, but she’s recovered,” Bohari said. “She left the room for two minutes to cut a cake and celebrate her 27th birthday.” Otherwise, she has left the room only once a day for a 15-minute bathroom break. Nur Malena has built up resistance to stings after five years of training, but can pass out if stung three times within a short span. A doctor has remained on standby to treat her if necessary. Thousands of Malaysians have visited the mall to observe Nur Malena in the room, where she sleeps, eats and performs Muslim prayers, moving very carefully to not upset her dangerous roommates.

Illegal Animal Trade in Malaysia

So many endangered wild animals have been smuggled into Malaysia, and then exported out with false documents, that wildlife officials call Malaysia one of the "black holes" of "animal laundering." Activists have warned that the illegal trade of endangered animals is flourishing in Malaysia because demand worldwide for exotic pets and of demand from restaurants in Asian nations where exotic meat dishes are prized. In July 2010, Parliament passed a new law to punish poachers and smugglers more severely.

In April 2009, Associated Press reported: “A wildlife official says Malaysian authorities have rescued more than 800 turtles and 160 protected snakes from being smuggled on a truck under a load of garlic to mask their smell. Masnim Abdullah, from the wildlife department in northern Perlis state, says customs officers near the Thai border on Saturday confiscated 160 king cobras and 814 turtles, including protected Malayan box turtles. Masnim says the reptiles were hidden in bags under 2.3 tons of garlic. They have been released back into the jungle. He says the Thai driver has been taken into custody and could face charges that carry a maximum three-year prison term. [Source: AP, April 26, 2009]

Lizards Saved from Cooking Pots While Bag of Snakes Burst in the Airport

In January 2009, Associated Press reported: “Malaysian wildlife authorities rescued 2,300 endangered lizards headed for restaurants that offer exotic meat, an official said. The clouded monitor lizards were found in cages at a storage facility holding live and dead animals that were destined for cooking pots in Malaysia and abroad, said an official with the state wildlife department. The lizards, which are about 5 feet long, will be released into the wild soon, the official said. Officials also found 319 owl carcasses and 22 paws of the protected Malayan sun bear, he said. The meat, which was worth about $140,000, was believed to be on its way to China, the official said. Three men were arrested at the location and will likely be charged with confining wild animals, which carries a maximum prison term of three years. [Source: AP, January 13, 2009]

In September 2010, Associated Press reported: “A Malaysian man pleaded guilty to wildlife smuggling after his bag bursting with 95 live boa constrictors broke open on a luggage conveyer belt at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, an official said Friday. Keng Liang "Anson" Wong, 52, who was previously convicted of wildlife trafficking in the United States, was charged Wednesday in a district court with exporting the endangered boas without a permit, said Shamsuddin Osman, an official with Malaysia's wildlife department. The offense that carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison and a fine, Shamsuddin said. [Source: AP, September 3, 2010]

Wong was arrested Aug. 26 after airport authorities found the boa constrictors, together with a few other snake s and a turtle, when his bag broke open on a luggage conveyor belt. Wong was transiting from Malaysia's northern Penang state to Indonesia's capital Jakarta.A decade ago, Wong was sentenced to almost six years in prison in the U.S. for running an animal-smuggling ring that prosecutors said imported and sold more than 300 protected reptiles native to Asia and Africa from 1996 until Wong's arrest in Mexico in 1998. It is unclear whether he served the full term.

Malaysian Box Turtle in Peril

In January 2009, AP and SAPA reported: “The box turtle is disappearing across Malaysia because of increased illegal hunting for its meat and use in traditional Chinese medicine, wildlife activists said. TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, said in a new report that the Malayan Box Turtle "is in peril due to overexploitation" despite a Malaysian government ban on its export since 2005. Since the ban, export of turtles for the pet trade in Japan, Europe and the United States ceased, but TRAFFIC found widespread evidence of continuing illegal export, mainly to Hong Kong, China and to a lesser extent Singapore. [Source: AP, SAPA, January 7 2009]

Exotic meats from wildlife are much sought after by the Chinese, who also use body parts of animals for traditional medicines including aphrodisiacs. There is no commercial breeding of the animal in Malaysia or elsewhere because it is expensive and time-consuming. "To meet demand, animals are being taken from the wild at an unsustainable rate, which has to be addressed or they will disappear from the Malaysian countryside," said Sabine Schoppe, the author of the report.

The report said a survey of stock at two traders in Selangor state found 385 box turtles in a 38 day period. Multiplying by the number of known illegal suppliers of turtles gives a conservative estimate of almost 22,000 animals illegally exported per year from Malaysia, Schoppe said. "Simple maths leads you to the obvious conclusion: stop the over-exploitation of Malayan Box Turtles, before we lose them," she said.

She said the vast majority of the illegally exported Malayan Box Turtles - distinguished by three yellow stripes on the head and a dark olive carpace - are adults. This is especially dangerous because the species has a slow reproductive cycle and produces a limited number of eggs in its life span of 30 to 35 years. A typical adult is about 20cm long.

The Asian Box Turtle, which includes a range of box turtles including the Malayan variety, was listed as vulnerable to extinction by IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in 2000. TRAFFIC, a joint program of IUCN and WWF, urged Malaysia to strictly implement the export ban for one generation to allow numbers to recover. It also called for better regional cooperation in controlling illegal wildlife trade, particularly at border crossings. Misliah Mohamed Basir, deputy director of Malaysia's wildlife department, said it was difficult to stamp out the illegal trade. Smugglers, if even convicted, often get away with a fine. "We try our best to curb this, but it's not an easy job," she said.

Ivory and Elephant Tusk Seizures in Malaysia

In December 2012, Malaysian authorities recovered more than 1,000 elephant tusks in the country’s largest ivory seizure. Ron Corben of the Voice of America wrote: “Malaysian customs officials at Port Kelang near Kuala Lumpur uncovered the elephant tusks inside shipping container compartments destined for China, after beginning their journey in the West African port of Togo. Freeland Foundation Against Wildlife Trafficking Director Steve Galster says the seizure is “extremely significant”, because smugglers look for alternative routes onto the international market, which is largely headed to China. [Source: Ron Corben. Voice of America, December 12, 2012]

“The fact that that was seized in Malaysia shows that traffickers are always changing things so they do not get caught. And, it demonstrates that Malaysia is also entering the game of wildlife law enforcement - they are a member of the Association of Southeast [Asian] Wildlife Enforcement [Network]," he said. "They have had some seizures before, so this demonstrates that traffickers are taking a chance about using Malaysia as a transit country too."

The Thai-led ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network has seen stepped up policing at ports and air terminals in a bid to curb wildlife trafficking. Galster says the ivory trade has proceeded under agreements allowing for limited sales of ivory. He says the seizure in Malaysia should be a “wake-up call” that such measures to limit the illegal trade are failing. “It just shows - I hate to say it - that we need a complete ban again so that law enforcement agencies can catch up with the problem and start putting organized crime gangs behind bars and educating consumers about where ivory is coming from," he said.

In September 2011, AFP reported: “Malaysian authorities have seized nearly 700 elephant tusks bound for China, an official said, the latest in a series of hauls indicating Malaysia had become a key ivory transit hub. Inspectors discovered the 695 African elephant tusks, worth three million ringgit ($1 million), in Klang, Malaysia's biggest port, customs official Zainul Abidin Taib told AFP on Tuesday. They were in two containers labeled "recycled plastic" that had arrived from Tanzania's largest city of Dar es Salaam, he said. [Source: AFP, September 5, 2011]

He added that as-yet unidentified criminal syndicates were behind a series of recent attempts to smuggle tusks through Malaysia and authorities were struggling to keep up with increasingly sophisticated traffickers. "It is our social responsibility to end this ivory trade. The world at large has branded Malaysia as a hub (for elephant tusks)," said Zainul, the national customs bureau's assistant director general for enforcement. Wildlife watchdog TRAFFIC has said the global illegal ivory trade has grown since 2004, largely due to expanding demand in increasingly prosperous China, where ivory is often ground up and used in traditional medicines.

Hong Kong authorities a month earlier seized nearly two tonnes of elephant ivory worth about $1.7 million in a shipment that had transited through Malaysia. Malaysian authorities also have seized more than 1,000 African elephant tusks in two separate shipments in the past two months, the New Straits Times newspaper reported on Saturday. TRAFFIC's Southeast Asia Regional Director William Schaedla in a statement the latest Malaysian ivory seizure was "both heartening and disappointing." "It's heartening because it shows that the country's authorities can and will take action on the problem," he said. "It's disappointing because it clearly validates what TRAFFIC has been saying for some time now — Malaysia is a major transshipping country for illegal ivory." "Illegal wildlife trade is fluid. Now that the ivory traffickers have been caught out using some of Malaysia’s ports, they are likely to move through others in an effort to keep their black market business alive," Schaedla said.

Plants in Malaysia

Malaysia is home to some 15,500 species of higher plants Around 15,000 plant species are unique to the Sunderland, which embraces Indonesia and Malaysia and is regarded as a biodiversity hot spot.

A kind of tree (“Albizzia falcata”) grew 35 feet 3 inches in 13 months in 1974 in Sabah. [Source: Guinness Book of Records]

In April 2002, six Japanese men were arrested for stealing orchids from Mulu National park in Malaysia.

The Bintangor tree, which grows in swamps in Sarawak, produces a kind latex that in turn contains chemicals that have been shown to be effective treating AIDS and HIV. The Dyaks traditionally used the latex to make poultice that treated headaches and skin rashes as well as a poison for stunning fish. The drug company and the state of Sarawak have an agreement to share any profits made from the drug but under the arrangement the Dyaks get nothing.

Low pitcher plant found on Mount Kinabalu is endangered.

World's Largest Flower, Pitcher Plants

Coral Reefs

About 85 percent of Southeast Asia’s coral reefs in Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are severely threatened by human activities such as pollution and overfishing. Nearly all the reefs around the Philippines, Borneo and Indonesia show a high rate of damage.

The island nations in the western Pacific boast the richest coral reefs in the world. They have the world's warmest waters and are near breeding ground for El Niño. There are around 450 coral species in the Pacific and Indian Oceans around Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Australia, compared to 67 coral species in the Caribbean Sea.

Sea Turtles in Malaysia

The leatherback, Olive Ridley, the green and the hawksbill turtles are found in Malaysia. They are listed as endangered or threatened with extinction, mostly because of poaching by fishermen in the sea. But pollution of the sea and the beaches is also to blame, said Kiernan, pointing out that an average of 18,000 pieces of plastics litter every square kilometer (half mile) of every ocean in the world. Most of it is dumped by ships and cruisers, and some comes from cities, flushed by rivers into the sea. [Source: Vijay Joshi, Associated Press, September 19, 2005]

Resort owners have helped to preserve sea turtles by paying local people $20,000 a year for the rights to all turtle eggs that the local people otherwise might eat. Ian Kiernan, an Australian yachtsman who started the community-based project in 1989 by cleaning up the Sydney Harbor with 40,000 volunteers, said a smart way to clean up the beaches is to involve hotels and resorts, because cleaner sand means more tourists. "It's a solid business reason to go green."

India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand are angered by a United States rule that prevents them from exporting shrimp to the U.S. because their shrimp fishermen don't use nets that allows turtles to escape.

Tons of turtles from five different species are shipped by from Malaysia to China. Chinese believe that eating turtles is supposed to make one live longer.

Leatherback turtles nest in Malaysia. Rantau Abang in northeast Peninsular Malaysia is one of only six beaches in the world to be visited by the giant leatherback turtles. Nesting beaches used by leatherback turtles have much fewer turtles than they did in years past. Mohammed Razali bin Che Ali, a local activist, said when he first came to the area in 1975, the beach used to be filled with up to 50 nesting sea turtles. Only 33 came the whole of last year, he said. "They would be crawling over each other but now nothing," he said.

See Leatherback Turtles:

Malaysian Schoolchildren Pick Up Trash at Turtle Nesting Beaches

Reporting from Rantau Abang, Malaysia, Vijay Joshi of Associated Press wrote: “Schoolchildren and volunteers removed loads of rubbish from the nesting grounds of endangered sea turtles along eastern Malaysia's beaches as part of a global environmental cleanup that draws millions of participants annually. "The clean up is not the answer to the whole problem but it is a very good start," said Kiernan."What is important is the behavioral change among people that it brings," said Kiernan, whose initiative to rid the Sydney harbor of mounds of underwear, plastic buckets, toothpaste tubes and even diapers became a worldwide effort. [Source: Vijay Joshi, Associated Press, September 19, 2005]

Thousands of schoolchildren in Malaysia's eastern state of Terengganu gathered soon after dawn in several coastal villages, ate breakfast in the open and marched in with plastic bags to collect garbage littering the fine yellow sandy beaches on a 10-kilometer (6-mile) stretch. Scurrying around in white T-shirts, they worked at a furious pace before the rising sun became unbearably hot. When they were done, the beaches looked pristine. In two hours, piles of plastic bottles, lunch boxes and ice coolers made of plastic foam, plastic bags, gasoline cans, fishing nets, fizzy drink cans, discarded footwear and other rubbish had been piled up neatly in corners.

Organizers had invited 2,000 volunteers but 3,400 showed up, said Rantau Abang village headman Atan Mohammed Nor. "I enjoyed it because we worked in a group with my school friends ... I have seen the beach when it is dirty and it was so uncomfortable to play and swim," said Awanis Izni, 11, who came with her parents to the Rantau Abang beach.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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