Thousands of protected animals seized by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) have died in the hands of the authority in the past year due to mishandling.
These animals, many of which are endangered species and exotic, were being smuggled or kept illegally by local pet owners when they were seized.
A source said the lack of expertise and knowledge to handle these animals in captivity led to their death.
Among the animals that died in Perhilitan custody were 1,000 Indian Star tortoises and 10 juvenile and baby langurs.
These two species were seized from illegal dealers in mid-2016 and March 27 respectively.
Other animals that have died in the Perhilitan rescue centres include Asian Leopard Cats, small primates including endangered gibbons, and exotic white-rumped Shamas (murai batu).
The source said these animals were among many other seized species kept at the department’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Sungkai, Perak, and at Sungai Tengi, Selangor.
These two husbandries are Perhilitan’s main holding centres for seized animals.
The department has 11 other conservation centres nationwide which serve as holding centres for seized wildlife.
The source said many of the handlers have little or no knowledge in keeping, handling and caring for the animals.
“They are not well trained to handle these species and have little knowledge or technical expertise to take care of the animals, which are kept at the centres waiting to be repatriated to their country of origin.
“As such, these animals were neglected. They were not properly fed, given the right diet, or housed in proper facilities.
“These factors,” said the source, “caused the animals to be stressed from captivity, thus making them prone to disease and death.”
A former Perhilitan veterinarian said there was a need for rangers to be trained to handle these animals.
“Many do not know what are the best practices for the animals they are dealing with.
“They don’t have the basic knowledge such as the characteristics or even diet of these species to care for them.
“As such, the animals get sick, are stressed and die,” he said.
He said Perhilitan had its own veterinarians to deal with the seized animals but all these officers were seconded from the Veterinary Department.
“Many of us are trained in handling domestic animals and learn to deal with exotic animals and wildlife after joining Perhilitan,” he added.
Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, says Malaysia is one of many South-East Asian countries that does not have expertise to handle seized smuggled animals in captivity.
Its South-East Asia director Chris Shepherd said Traffic was aware of Perhilitan’s problem but added that this could be averted or minimised if the department takes steps to have a working group comprising members from Perhilitan, the Customs Department, and academicians.
He said it was a challenge for the department to care for the seized animals as it had to deal with many different species.
“However, if they pool their resources together, it would reduce the mortality rate,” he said.
Shepherd said that allowing a private rescue agency to deal with these exotic and imported species would also boost the survival rate of the seized animals.