National Geographic : 2010 Jan
• told Morrison, and he was leery of Canada. "We can meet anywhere here in Asia," Anson wrote. Argentina, South Africa, Peru, France, and England were all OK too. "No New Zealand," he stipulated, "or Australia." ey settled on Mexico. THE MALAYSIAN PHOENIX With Anson Wong's arrest that September day in 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accomplished its mission, but it may have lost a war. "We focused everything on one climax," George Morrison told me. Exhausted, he le full-time undercover work. Rick Leach, the group's supervisor, retired, and soon Special Operations had all but shut its doors. Six years later, on November 10, 2003, Anson went free. Reporters ocked to Malaysia. ey parked in front of his headquarters on Penang, a tiny island o the west coast, and tried to take his photograph. He refused to speak to the press. At the time, Malaysia was embroiled in a smuggling scandal involving western lowland gorillas, a critically endangered species. Tra ck- ers had used Nigeria's University of Ibadan Zoo- logical Gardens as a front to smuggle four infants, snatched from the forest in Cameroon, to Malay- sia's Taiping Zoo. e Taiping Four incident had sparked international outrage. In the midst of this commotion, Anson sat down at his com- puter and typed a one-line message on Vo r r a s .net, a commercial message board frequented by international wildlife traders: "we need Nigerian primates. pls quote CnF Malaysia." Anson was back in business. In truth he had never really stopped. Dur- ing his imprisonment, Cheah Bing Shee contin- ued to run the operation. Now Anson began to frequent Internet message boards, seeking rep- tiles from India, Madagascar, and Sudan; insects from Mozambique; and "10 tons a month" of sheep horns. He has offered to sell an array of wildlife, including Malaysian reptiles, my- nah birds, parrots, and half a million dollars' worth of wild agarwood, prized for its aro- matic qualities. To a request for dead birds and mammals, he replied, "We have always specimens." Since his release he's had only one brush with the law. On March 16, 2006, Manny Esguerra, an alert ai Airways cargo employee stationed in Manila, questioned a shipment of reptiles en route from the Philippines to Sungai Rusa Wild- life in Malaysia. e consignment lacked export permits, in violation of Philippine law. Esguerra, as required by his airline, telephoned the intended recipient, which con rmed the shipment. Esguerra referred the case to Philippine authorities. en the Philippine supplier named in the shipping records evaporated. e seized reptiles them- selves vanished before authorities had a chance to investigate further, turning up later at a remote Philippine rescue center. Local news articles presented the case as a success, but no one was arrested. e only identi able person who could be connected to the illegal shipment was safe in Fortress Malaysia---Anson Wong. What initially drew my attention to Anson was an o and comment by Mike Van Nostrand, owner of Strictly Reptiles in South Florida, among the world's largest reptile import-export wholesalers and one of Anson's biggest custom- ers. I was writing a book about Van Nostrand's past as a reptile smuggler. "Two weeks a er he got out," Van Nostrand told me in the summer (Continued from page 87) MALAYSIA WAS EMBROILED IN A SCANDAL INVOLVING CRITICALLY ENDANGERED WESTERN LOWLAND GORILLAS. TRAFFICKERS HAD USED NIGERIA'S IBADAN ZOO AS A FRONT TO SMUGGLE FOUR INFANTS TO MALAYSIA'S TAIPING ZOO.