Leopards in Peninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand are almost always melanistic or black in colour © Tambako the Jaguar-Flickr

Leopards in Peninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand are almost always melanistic or black in colour © Tambako the Jaguar-Flickr


Published 3 May 2024


International Leopard Day: Malaysia gives leopard poacher long jail term

As the world marks International Leopard Day today, a Vietnamese man caught with parts of a leopard in a Malaysian national park is set to serve a six-year jail term.

Nguyen Van Tien was caught in December last year in Taman Negara Pahang with 54 leopard parts, weapons and tools, and was charged under laws governing the park and wildlife conservation.

On April 24, the Raub Sessions Court found him guilty of illegally possessing the leopard parts and sentenced him to an MYR300,000 (~USD64,000) fine and four years jail.

Nguyen also faced three charges under the Taman Negara (Pahang) (Amendment) Enactment 2018 for trespassing and illegal possession of weapons and tools for which the court gave him 24 months in jail for each, ordering all the jail terms to be served concurrently.

The case highlights twin concerns of the targeting of leopards and poaching in Malaysia’s forests.

Not only do we want to remove poachers from our protected areas, we also want to deter anyone thinking they can waltz in and poach protected species here. We hope hefty penalties like the one meted out in this case, will do just that."

Dato Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, Director-General of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia PERHILITAN

The leopard is a totally protected species in Malaysia. It is on a special list in the Wildlife Conservation Act (Amendment) 2022 which carries some of the most severe penalties in the law.

While the case marks the loss of a leopard, the sentence reflects the severity of the crime and TRAFFIC congratulates PERHILITAN on pushing for and winning a deterrent penalty."

Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

A melanistic leopard. Photo: Tambako the Jaguar / Flickr

Lithe and muscular with powerful crushing jaws, the leopards in Peninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand are almost always melanistic or black in colour, leading to the moniker 'black panther’ that is often used to refer to them.

Leopards are poached for their meat and especially parts which are used in a variety of ways including  for collections and trophy, jewellery, talismans and in traditional medicine.

TRAFFIC’s data shows at least 10 seizures involving leopards and clouded leopards and their parts made in Malaysia between 2010 to 2023. The items seized comprised six whole individual animals and 36 parts ranging from skin to claws.

A majority of seizures took place in the state of Pahang, where this case occurred. The other confiscations were recorded in Kelantan, Johor, Terengganu, as well as in Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia. 

At least eight Vietnamese nationals have been arrested in connection with these leopard-related seizures but many more have been linked to the illegal hunting of numerous other species in recent years.

Just six months ago three Vietnamese nationals believed to be part of a hunting gang, were nabbed in the town of Panching, also in the state of Pahang.

A joint operation by the Royal Malaysian Police and PERHILITAN found the group with dozens of parts of tiger, bear, wild boar, serow and porcupine among others.

Leopards and clouded leopards are often overshadowed by the charismatic tiger, yet they face tremendous pressure from poaching and illegal trade.

A TRAFFIC report for the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2022 revealed that at least 1,200 seizures of leopards occurred between 2010 and 2021, with over 10,000 individual leopard parts and items seized across 56 countries. Meanwhile, 63 seizures of clouded leopards took place between 2010 and 2021, comprising over 267 items confiscated across 11 countries.