Thursday, 16 April 2009

Indonesia's illegal orangutan trade on the rise

Wed Apr 15, 2009

By Sunanda Creagh

JAKARTA (Reuters) - More of Indonesia's critically endangered orangutans are being caught for the pet trade now than in the 1970s, reflecting the country's weak law enforcement, a wildlife protection group said in a report published Thursday.

Less than 8,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild but a new report from wildlife trade monitors, TRAFFIC, found that an increasing number are being rescued from private ownership and handed over to Indonesian rehabilitation centers.

"More effort has gone into orangutan conservation than any other wildlife over the last 30 years and yet we are seeing the same thing happening," said Chris Shepherd, Acting Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

"Confiscating these animals without prosecuting the owners is futile. There is no deterrent for those committing these crimes, if they go unpunished. Indonesia has adequate laws, but without serious penalties, this illegal trade will continue, and these species will continue to spiral toward extinction."

An estimated 2,000 orangutans have been confiscated or handed in by their owners to rehabilitation centers in Indonesia in the last 30 years, but very few owners or traders have been prosecuted, TRAFFIC said.

The head of the enforcement arm of North Sumatra's Regional Office for the Conservation of Natural Resources, Djati, said he had never charged, jailed, or fined anyone for owning an orangutan, despite the fact that it was against Indonesian law.

"When we find them, we request that they give them up and if they do not, we take the orangutan away by force," said Djati, who like many Indonesians has only one name.

"Most of the people who own them are village people who do not realize it is against the law," he said, adding that his office was setting up a new wildlife crime unit to crack down on black market traders.

A new population of up to 2,000 orangutans was recently discovered in the Indonesian part of Borneo island, but TRAFFIC's Shepherd said this community was also in great danger from poachers, who tend to kill female orangutans and steal their babies.

"It would be surprising if traders didn't know it was there already," he said.

(Editing by Sara Webb)