A wide range of wildlife and forestry crimes continue to prosper online involving individuals in Sabah selling protected species such as marine turtles, Sunda pangolins, Bornean elephants, agarwood and sun bears. The use of closed groups on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are among commonly preferred methods used by sellers and brokers around the world, Malaysia and Sabah included, to advertise and trade wildlife.
Responding to this rise of illegal wildlife trading online, the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) were involved in a series of training exercises aimed at strengthening intelligence gathering and cybercrime investigations for the Wildlife Crime Interagency Working Group.
The training courses were conducted by the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) in partnership with the WWF Asia-Pacific Counter-Illegal Wildlife Trade Hub and WWF-Malaysia in Sabah. The series of training spanned from July to September 2022 and focused on enhancing the ability of Sabah enforcement officers to effectively tackle wildlife cybercrime by using advanced investigation techniques. Law enforcement officials from SWD and the SFD officers were trained on open-source intelligence, evidence gathering, report writing, intelligence, and online investigations with the aim to improve the quality of proactive, intelligence-led investigations for wildlife and forestry crime cases.
The training courses also showcased best practices and models in law enforcement networking and operations against online wildlife trafficking. Counterparts from the Government of Thailand contributed case studies, techniques and task force structures to emphasise the necessity of cooperation in cases of cyber-enabled wildlife criminality affecting both countries and the region. This prompted potential joint actions and operations between Thailand and Malaysian authorities.
The Wildlife Justice Commission and WWF also facilitated specialised expert presentations by Western Union on utilising financial crime investigations, inter alia, online investigation work.
“We welcome the opportunity to enhance capabilities of wildlife cybercrime investigations and are keen to continue working with the Wildlife Justice Commission to achieve even greater regional capacity for our local enforcement agencies. The Malaysia – Thailand law enforcement interactions within this project and follow-up actions is very promising.”, said Shaun Martin, Senior Project Manager, WWF.
“This programme will equip our officers with the necessary tools to tackle wildlife crime occurring on online platforms, and more generally how to apply advanced investigation techniques in wildlife crime cases.”, said Mohd Soffian bin Abu Bakar, Head of Enforcement, Sabah Wildlife Department.
“It is crucial that the training programme does not end with the delivery of the courses, and we will get the chance to implement the tools and techniques we learned with the Wildlife Justice Commission’s support and mentoring.”, said Zulkifli Suara, Head of Investigation, Enforcement and Prosecution for the Sabah Forestry Department.
To ensure effective implementation of this training on cyber-enabled crime, the Wildlife Justice Commission subsequently provided operational intelligence support and mentoring to both SFD and SWD. The Wildlife Justice Commission provided intelligence packages to improve knowledge of the online wildlife trafficking and trade in Sabah, apply the skills and tools provided in the training course, as well as serve as potential leads for intelligence-led investigations. On-site mentoring on utilising the intelligence packages was also provided by the Wildlife Justice Commission, and as a result, both parties wrote intelligence reports and recommendations for further actions, and one of the six intelligence packages was developed into an investigation.
“I appreciate the support provided by this training and mentoring programme. The training helped me with conducting my own open-source investigation. I can also pass on my newly acquired knowledge on using open-source investigations techniques to other colleagues in my department.”, said Siti Nur’ain Ampuan Acheh, Wildlife Officer, Sabah Wildlife Department.