Thursday, 24 February 2011

Chocolate king

I'm in the process of reading this book by Bryan Christy, called The Lizard King. It's a fascinating account about law enforcement officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facing an uphill battle against international wildlife trafficking. For every case that they resolve, an uncountable number of other cases go undetected or hit a brick wall. Wildlife smuggling into the United States was rampant because it was a lucrative, unstoppable business.

A good portion of this book described an illegal wildlife operation centred in Penang. The last I've heard about the infamous Anson Wong is that he is appealing the enhanced sentence that the High Court had handed down.

Wong was caught at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 26 Aug when his suitcase broke open to reveal 95 boa constrictors that he was smuggling to Jakarta. Why a man of his wide reputation as an "importer and exporter" of illegal wildlife across the globe should choose to make a personal delivery has not been revealed. He could have easily recruited his mules to do the work.

But more alarming also is the complicity of the equally infamous Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Peninsular Malaysia, otherwise known as Perhilitan, in this matter. I wonder what has become of the investigations that the MACC had carried out on the Perhilitan offices subsequent to this widely publicised incident. Bryan Christy's blog is here where he continues to be sceptical yet hopeful of the will of the Malaysian government to be more serious with stopping illegal wildlife trading.

One paragraph in the book jumped out at me: "Lucio Coronel got off a plane from Buenos Aires on a Sunday morning wheeling a big, hard-sided suitcase up to the customs line. Ceramics, he said he was carrying. The X-ray showed skeletons." Inside his suitcase, the smuggler was carrying a whole load of live reptiles such as tortoises, turtles, boa constrictors and other snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, frogs and lizards. At least 450 rare, protected or endangered reptiles were found stuffed inside the suitcase.

This got me thinking back to the day I once went through airport security at Subang International Airport in the 1980s. This was well before security checks became so much stricter after 911. Anyway, when my luggage went through the X-ray machine, an ominous, mystery shadow appeared: deeply serrated and about a foot long.

The security officer looked at his colleague and then at me. I looked at him. He looked me up and down. I looked him up and down too. Finally, he asked: what's that inside? So I had to open my suitcase and showed unopened bar of Toblerone chocolates!
Reluctantly, I had to unwrap and remove the foil. It was meant as a little family surprise. I broke off a piece and ate it. All the time, both of them looked at it. I think they were in some kind of shock. I broke the tension by offering them some chocolates. They started laughing and waved me through.I dropped the bar back into the back and walked away.

No comments: