A Long Way Away From Solving Illegal Wildlife Trade in Indonesia
Fidelis E Satriastanti
While I was gathering data to write a piece on the illegal wildlife trade in Indonesia, I came across an article from The Guardian that said penalties were imposed on seven countries — Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Paraguay, Nepal, Rwanda, Solomon Islands and Syria — for failing to stop the illegal trade of animal body parts.
Honestly, I had assumed Indonesia would be one of them. So it was a bit of a relief to scan the list and not see Indonesia. But this should not hide the reality that the movement against illegal wildlife trade in the country is very quiet. Too quiet, in fact.
In February 2011, investigators from the Forestry Ministry arrested an antique dealer selling the skin of, among other endangered species, a Sumatran tiger.
One success story, but what happened afterward? Nothing. The movement against illegal wildlife trade was eerily silent, until last week.
In a spur of the moment raid, the police — instead of investigators from the Forestry Ministry — confiscated the skin, head and other body parts of several exotic and endangered animals and arrested a suspect, identified only as Feri, in his rented house in Depok, West Java.
The evidence seized from the suspect’s house included the skin and body parts of 14 Sumatran tigers, 1 leopard, 2 clouded tigers, 1 tapir, 3 sun bears, 1 leopard cat, 1 mouse deer, 4 deers and 1 African lion. Lions are not native to Indonesia, hence not protected under Indonesia’s law.
The raid came as a surprise because even my usual sources were not aware of the police’s move. But they all agreed that this was so far the biggest bust involving animal body parts.
The police deserve credit, but efforts should not stop there. Indonesia has a spotty track record on fighting illegal wildlife trade. In 2008, for instance, officials managed to seize 13.8 tons of meat from about 2,500 pangolins to be exported to China from a smuggling syndicate in Palembang. Several more pangolin trading busts followed over the next year.
With all these busts, however, we haven’t seen any “big fish” caught for illegal wildlife trade in the country. It is usually either the craftsmen or vendors.
A 2002 report listed illegal wildlife trade as the second largest illegal trade after drugs, worth nearly $16 billion. By 2008, the figure was estimated at $20 billion. In Indonesia, illegal wildlife trade was estimated to be worth Rp 9 trillion in 2004-05. The number might be bigger now with the emergence of online trading.
The bigger fish need to be caught to serve as a shock therapy to the public, both in the supply side and demand side. It will also restore confidence in the enforcement of environmental law.
In Indonesia, however, the law protecting biodiversity is still weak, with culprits sentenced to a maximum of just five years in prison and up to Rp 100 million in fines.
Stronger law enforcement would send a strict message to people who have a hobby of collecting rare animals, dead or alive. ”Look, you’ve got stuffed endangered animals in your room. This man [Feri] had dozens in his warehouse, and he ended up in prison. Stop your hobby. Return them to the government or you’ll end up just like him, in prison,” said a police investigator handling the Depok case.
Isn’t it hypocritical to talk about saving the forest, or saving orangutans, without tackling illegal wildlife trade? You can’t just be eager about planting trees to save the environment without acknowledging that wild animals are being hunted, killed and sold, which also means destroying the environment.
There is, indeed, still a long way to go before Indonesia solves the problem of illegal wildlife trading in the country.