Malaysia: Celebrity fined for illegal possession of Sun Bear cub
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 15th January 2020 – A reality show participant who made news last year in Malaysia for keeping a Sun Bear cub in her apartment has escaped jail time, leaving court today with a small fine for illegal possession of a species totally protected by law. Zarith Sofia Mohammad Yasin was fined a total MYR27,000 (USD6,623) after pleading guilty to two offences under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.
She was arrested in 2019 after residents of the building where she lived spotted the bear hanging out of her apartment window and growling. Authorities moved in and seized the cub. Zarith Sofia was charged under two laws, both of which have provision for jail time and one of them for fines of up to MYR200,000.
The case has cast a spotlight on the issue of illegal wild pet trade and ownership in Malaysia. Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus is among a number of protected animals that are in demand for the exotic pet trade which generally targets very young, wild animals. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia has made seizures of bear cubs in 2009, 2016 and most recently in the southern state of Johor in August 2019. Authorities in Sarawak have also routinely rescued or seized adult bears kept as pets.
While female Sun Bears are sometimes killed and their cubs captured for the pet trade, the greater threat to Sun Bears remains poaching to feed the demand for traditional medicines and parts.
TRAFFIC’s 2019 study An update on the bear bile trade in Peninsular Malaysia showed illegal trade in bear parts for traditional medicine persisted in Malaysia with a higher percentage of shops selling products claiming to contain some form of bear bile now, compared to previous years.
The demand for traditional bear-based medicines also threatens Sun Bears across the species's range and is one area of focus of the Global Conservation Action Plan for Sun Bears (2019-2028). Launched in June 2019, it is the world’s first ever range-wide Action Plan for a terrestrial bear species, setting out an ambitious 10-year strategy to safeguard the world’s smallest bear species that continues to be poached for trade.