Surabaya. Three juvenile Komodo dragons have gone missing from one of the country’s most notorious zoos, amid revelations that zoo keepers waited five days before reporting the disappearance.
The missing reptiles were from a group of 18 komodos that hatched at Surabaya Zoo in March 2010.
Toni Sumampau, head of the zoo’s caretaker administration, told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday that the keepers first became aware the animals were missing on Feb. 28, but did not report it to the management until March 5.
He said there was little possibility that the komodos had escaped from their cage.
“That means they were either eaten by predators [larger komodos] or they were stolen,” Toni said. He added it was the first time any animals had gone missing there since he was appointed to manage the zoo last year.
“We reported it straight to the Surabaya Police because we want the management to be as transparent as possible,” he said.
Surabaya Police chief of detectives Adj. Sr. Comr. Anom Wibowo said an investigation was under way.
Rosek Nursahid, chairman of the animal conservation group ProFauna, suggested that if the komodos had indeed been stolen, they would fetch a high price on the black market.
“Four years ago, a one-year-old Komodo dragon was priced between Rp 20 million and Rp 30 million [$2,300-$3,500] at the Pramuka animal market in Jakarta. Since then the price has gone up,” he said.
“The baby komodos could have been sold to foreign buyers who own private zoos. The demand for exotic animals from Indonesia is very high.”
Rosek also said communities of reptile collectors were on the increase, fueling the demand in the illegal animal trade.
“This a problem,” he said. “The government needs to take action.” He said there were no official institutions regulating or keeping tabs on the country’s komodo population.
“We don’t know which komodos were bred in captivity and which ones were taken from their natural habitat,” he said.
Last August, the Forestry Ministry revoked Surabaya Zoo’s license following a rash of animal deaths. In the space of just a few weeks, a Sumatran tiger, African lion, wallaby, Komodo dragon, babirusa cub, Bawean deer, crocodile and several birds died.
At the behest of the zoo’s interim management, formed after the license was revoked, Surabaya Police and the East Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) conducted a joint probe that found negligent keepers were to blame for many of the deaths.