Indonesian Laws Against Trade in Endangered Orangutans Ignored

JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 22, 2005 (ENS) - Orangutans and gibbons are still traded and kept as pets on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali in violation of national and international law, finds a new report from the Southeast Asia branch of the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. The study concludes that one of the main reasons why people still trade these species is that the chances of having the protected animals confiscated, or of facing legal charges, are "extremely remote."

Releasing the report Friday in Jakarta, TRAFFIC and WWF-Indonesia warned that greater awareness among the judiciary, enforcement agencies and the general public is needed to ensure that trade in these endangered primates is treated as a serious crime.

The TRAFFIC Southeast Asia report, "In Full Swing, An Assessment of Trade in Orangutans and Gibbons on Java and Bali, Indonesia," analyzed data from 1994 to 2003 based on information collected from 35 wildlife markets in 22 cities across the two islands.

Author Vincent Nijman focused on the trade in seven species of gibbon and two species of orangutan on the islands of Java and Bali, the economic, industrial and political centers of Indonesia.

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The bird market in Yogyakarta, Central Java. While they are called bird markets, other species are sold there. (Photo by Leonora Hamill courtesy AskAsia)
He reports that TRAFFIC investigators found a total of 559 orangutans and gibbons during surveys of bird markets, locally known as pasar burung.

The actual numbers of animals sold from the bird markets are still unknown. "For all species, the prices of infants were considerably higher than those of adults," Nijman states.

Unlike some other areas in Indonesia, no evidence was found on Java or Bali for the use of gibbons or orangutans as sources of meat.

"Better monitoring of wildlife markets would enable more accurate analysis of the trade in primates as well as other wildlife species that continue to be sold in these markets," said James Compton, director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. "This would definitely help increase the efficiency of law enforcement."

Orangutans do not occur naturally on Java or Bali, all are imported to the islands. For the gibbons, the over 75 percent of the gibbons encountered on Java and Bali have been imported.

The large harbors along Java’s north coast - Jakarta, Tegal, Semarang, Surabaya - are the main ports through which the species arrive, TRAFFIC reports. Most gibbons and orangutans arriving on Bali have been transported overland and by ferry from Java.

Most of the gibbons and orangutans that are being smuggled to other countries from Java go by air, with the Soekarno-Hatta airport in Cengkareng, outside Jakarta, as the main exit point.

Orangutans and gibbons are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits any international trade in these animals.

Under Indonesian law, orangutans and gibbons are classified as protected, which forbids capturing, killing, possessing and trading these species. Penalties for breaking the law can total up to IDR100,000,000 (US$10,455) in fines and up to five years of imprisonment.

But although protective laws have been in place since 1931, TRAFFIC investigators found that people who hunt, keep and trade in orangutans and gibbons are rarely punished.

Fewer than 10 percent of all persons that had specimens confiscated from them were actually prosecuted. It appears that many law enforcement personnel, including judges and prosecutors do not see trade in or possession of protected species as pets as a serious offense, the TRAFFIC report indicates.

"A large-scale awareness building and education program targeting general public and law enforcement officials should be set up to increase the understanding of the protected status of wildlife, and effectiveness of law enforcement in the field," said Dr. Mubariq Ahmad, CEO of WWF-Indonesia.

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Baby orangutan in the forest of Indonesian Borneo. (Photo courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation)
In his report, Nijman explains that the lack of habitat protection is linked with the illegal trade in these primates. "Since Indonesia’s transition from the autocracy of Soeharto to a democracy, illegal logging has accelerated and in large parts of the country, forest is being lost at an alarming rate. This puts the survival of those species that fully depend on forest at risk, including all species of gibbon and both species of orangutan."

"Trade in these species, and the associated loss of individuals in the process of capturing and trade, may exacerbate these risks," he wrote.

Dr. Ahmad agrees. "Trade must be addressed in conjunction with increased protection of the lowland forest ecosystems that form the habitat of orangutans and gibbons particularly in Borneo and Sumatra," he said.

The report found that from the estimated 40,000 wild population of the Borneo orangutan, trade on Java and Bali alone may be contributing to an annual loss rate which corresponds to up to some 1,000 individuals a year, or one to three orangutans a day. This does not necessarily include loss due to habitat destruction.

Adi Susmianto, the director of Biodiversity Conservation at PHKA, Indonesia’s CITES Management Authority, said, "Indonesia is fully committed to step up enforcement at major exit and entry points which is clearly needed to ensure that species are not smuggled out of Sumatra and Kalimantan to other countries or within Indonesia, to Java and Bali.

"More importantly," said Susmianto, "the habitat of the orangutans and gibbons must be protected to stop such endangered species from being poached."

Both orangutans and gibbons are hunted and traded to satisfy persistent demand for pets. Orangutans are the most expensive primates for sale in the markets of Indonesia and are kept in households as status symbols.

Orangutans are also in trade for the entertainment industry. In November 2003, the Thai authorities seized 115 orangutans from the premises of Safari World in Bangkok and the source of these great apes was reportedly from Indonesia. The case is ongoing, and the government of Indonesia repeatedly has requested the repatriation of the remaining orangutans from Thailand.

"Also, the general public needs to understand that buying and keeping an orangutan or gibbon as a pet is contributing to the depletion of wild populations," warned Compton. "Not only is it against the law to purchase and keep these animals in Indonesia, but it is destroying the country’s precious natural heritage."

TRAFFIC works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint program of WWF, the conservation organization, and IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

For a copy of the TRAFFIC Southeast Asia report "In Full Swing," visit: www.traffic.org.