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Animal trade thrives amid crackdown

Kanis Dursin, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite much-publicized raids on numerous animal markets, the trade of protected species continues to flourish across the archipelago, pushing rare animals into extinction and threatening the country's biodiversity, the third richest in the world.

Attempts to put an end to such practices have so far failed, as eventually all operation plans, including those most covert, are always leaked to traders, which has raised suspicions that law enforcers are part and parcel of the animal trade network.

"Operation plans always get leaked so animal traders know beforehand about raids," said supervisor Willie Smits of Jakarta-based Schmutzer Primate Center, stressing that illegal trade had become the biggest cause of extinction for many animal species.

Spanning thousands of kilometers, Indonesia is home to 12 percent of the world's mammalian species, 17 percent of bird species, 15 percent of reptilian and amphibian species and about 25 percent of fish species. The population of these species, however, has dropped rapidly over the past few decades due to poaching and illegal trade.

Some flagship species, including the Sumatran rhinoceros (direrorhynchus sumatranus), Sumatran elephant (elephas maximus sumatranus), Sumatran tiger (panthera tigris sumatrae), Balinese tiger (panthera tigris balica) and Javanese tiger (panthera tigris sundaicus) are already on the brink of extinction.

"If we look at the biodiversity of Indonesia, it is one of the top three in the world, but we have the longest list of species threatened by extinction in the world as well," Smits said.

An investigation by non-governmental organization ProFauna Indonesia reveals that inter-island trade of endangered species continues openly in Lampung, Bengkulu, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Papua, South Sulawesi, Bali, East Java, Yogyakarta, Central Java, West Java and Jakarta, with relevant authorities making no visible attempt to stop the transactions.

Topping the list of rare animals traded are reptiles, birds and primates, with Jakarta's Pramuka bird market remaining the main destination, followed by Surabaya's Bratang and Semarang's Karimata bird markets. Virtually all animals sold in these markets, protected or otherwise, come from Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Ambon, Maluku and Papua.

"If you go to Pramuka bird market, you can buy komodo lizards or orangutans every day. There seems to be no species that you cannot buy there," said Smits.

Pramuka is the world's largest illegal animal market.

Hardi Baktiantoro of ProFauna Indonesia said animal traders in Lampung, Sumatra, often hired elderly women to take thousands of animals, including rare species, to Jakarta's Pramuka bird market weekly.

These elderly women, Hardi said, traveled by public transportation from Bandar Lampung to Pramuka bird market, from where the animals were distributed to other cities across Java, including Surabaya and Semarang.

"Thousands of gibbons, owls and eagles are exported from Lampung to Java through the Bakauheni and Merak ports every week," he said. Most of the protected species are usually collected from Kotabumi, Liwa, Prabumilih and Martapura in Sumatra.

According to ProFauna, the trade in protected animals in Surabaya, East Java, is concentrated at Bratang bird market, where at least 100 endangered species of various classes are sold freely every month, including the long-tailed Javanese monkey (trachypithecus auratus), eagles, yellow-crested cockatoos and gibbons.

Meanwhile, orangutan traders operate in all four provinces in Kalimantan without fear of being apprehended by law enforcers.

Iwan Setiawan of the Indonesian Nature Conservation Centre (PILI) said up to 20 orangutans (pongo pygmaeus) from Kalimantan are smuggled every month into Java aboard barges carrying a consignment of logs through Semarang's Tanjung Emas and Surabaya's Tanjung Perak seaports.

Rare bird species such as cockatoos and paradise birds from Maluku and Papua have also been smuggled into Java through Surabaya.

According to Smits, buyers of illegally traded protected animals usually hail from the upper classes, and are thus educated and understand law. In some cases, protected animals end up in the hands of high-ranking military and police officers, who receive protected animals as gifts when they are transferred to a new posting.

"These educated, richer and well-off people are giving horrible examples to the rest of society, that it is okay to own protected animals illegally. In so doing, they indirectly promote this huge wildlife trade in Indonesia," Smits said. "We need a mass campaign to shame these people for breaking the law."

Aside from domestic trade, some of Indonesia's rare animals have also been smuggled overseas. From December 2002 to June 25, 2003, 40 orangutans were smuggled out of the country -- three to Taiwan, one to Japan, two to the United Kingdom, one to Italy, three to Germany, two to Canada and three to the Netherlands.

The orangutan smugglers' usual route begins in Central Kalimantan, from where the primates are shipped to Surabaya on barges carrying logs. From Surabaya, they are transported over land to Jakarta through Semarang and Bandung in West Java. From Jakarta, the orangutans are exported to Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand, often through the country's main international gateway -- Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

The absence of clear guides identifying protected animals and a system to identify each animal uniquely has long been considered as a main reason as to customs officials' incapability of stopping protected animals from being smuggled overseas.

Iwan, however, said Indonesia's trade in rare and protected animals also involved international networks that facilitate the smuggling of endangered, indigenous animals to countries in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

"They (traders) are extremely well organized and have connections with a lot of different institutions in Indonesia. They have a lot of contacts they can use to help them smuggle," asserted Smits.

Officials estimate the value of the Indonesian animal trade at US$1 billion (Rp 8.45 trillion) annually, with the bulk of profits enjoyed by international smugglers. An orangutan, for example, is sold for up to $50,000 in Europe.

In the first semester of 2003, Jakarta authorities foiled at least four attempts to smuggle protected animals to Kuwait, Japan and Malaysia. Jakarta Police authorities are now questioning Kuwaiti nationals Gholamreza Akbari, Jousef Almesfer and Mashan Alharban, and Japanese national Ohashi Masayuki for their alleged involvement in the smuggling attempts.

In addition, three exporting companies -- CV Maju Akuarium, PT Viva Jaya and CV Inti Dwitama -- are also undergoing questioning by Jakarta's Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) and the Tanjung Priok customs office.

But protected animals are also smuggled through Polonia Airport in Medan, North Sumatra, Pontianak in West Kalimantan, Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, Samarinda in East Kalimantan and Surabaya in East Java, as well as Denpasar, Bali.

Just recently, 196 Kalimantan orangutans were found at a zoo in Thailand and 30 in the United Kingdom, which were smuggled out of West Kalimantan to Malaysia, then to Thailand and several European countries. At least 10 orangutans are smuggled through this route every month. Meanwhile, 23 orangutans were smuggled to Japan recently through Ngurah Rai International Airport, Bali, in hand luggage.

Indonesia is a 1987 signatory to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and has effectively committing itself to an international campaign to stop the trade in endangered species. The government also enacted Law No. 5 in 1999 on protected animals, criminalizing both trade in and ownership of protected animals with a punishment of up to five years in jail and/or a Rp 100 million (US$11,200) fine. However, only seven small traders have been sentenced so far, while the big players continue their business undisturbed.

No action has been taken so far against a Malaysian who kept hundreds of protected animals at his rented house in Permata Hijau, South Jakarta, while an investigation into the three Kuwaiti men caught with hundreds of rare animals -- including gibbons -- at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in 2003 has gone nowhere. Many high-ranking government officials, legislators and actors keep rare animals at home as pets with little attempts by law enforcers to confiscate them.

"The government has no political will to end the animal trade, and no government official is strong enough to stop the practice," said Yusuf Makasau of the BKSDA Jakarta.

Yusuf, who broke an arm during a raid against a trader of protected animals at a Jakarta animal market, said most law enforcers were merely paying lip service in their campaigns against the illegal animal trade.

"Pramuka bird market is just a kilometer away, but police and other relevant authorities cannot stop the trade in rare animals there. Any plan to raid the market always gets leaked," he said.

Yusuf, who is known for his initiative to involve the press in raids, said involving the media was highly effective in cracking down on the illegal trade and ownership of rare and protected animals.

"It's been my experience that involving both electronic and print media in raids is very effective, even against high-ranking government officials," he said, pointing out that many owners had voluntarily surrendered their protected animals, since his office brings the media along on raids.

"Almost every week, people surrender their animals to police," he said, but added that conducting raids with police authorities alone was not enough.

Yusuf also laments that owners of protected animals are not prosecuted, as most law enforcers felt that the owners were no longer violating the law once they surrendered the animals.

"Ideally, the owners must be charged even if they surrender their animals. Our law is not being implemented," he said.

Still, even those taken to court are charged with violating Law No. 5/1999 rather than with a criminal act, which results in a light sentence and fine, even an acquittal, said Budi Harto, media relations officer at the Cikananga Animal Rescue Centre (PPS Cikananga) in Sukabumi, West Java.

"We want animal owners and traders to face criminal charges, as stipulated by law," said Budi, adding that the poor law enforcement had only encouraged the illegal trade in rare and protected animals.

The lack of will among authorities to implement existing laws has not only encouraged the trade, but has also raised suspicions that law enforcers have their hand in the nationwide, illegal animal trade.

Not too long ago, a Surabaya resident whose gibbon was confiscated by forestry officials found the primate on the following day at the local flea market.

"We know that some authorities, even those from zoos and the forestry ministry, have ties with animal traders at illegal markets," Smits said.

"If we look at the number of orangutans alone, which are really difficult to smuggle out because they are big, we can imagine that the trade in rare parrot- and reptile eggs is enormous," he said.

Smits calls on government authorities to enforce existing laws to the fullest in order to put an end to the country's illegal animal trade.

"The simplest way to do this is to enforce the laws strictly. The people will learn by example," he said.

If this is to ensue, authorities must make a comprehensive, organized nationwide effort involving the media and conservation groups, starting with the confiscation of those protected animals in the possession of public figures, supported by raids on animal markets and tightening security and customs measures at domestic and international ports. (END/KD)

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