Indonesia: Poaching on the rise in Mt. Leuser National Park

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 4 Mar 16;

Efforts to stop the illegal hunting of wild, protected animals in Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) straddling the border of North Sumatra and Aceh provinces, are failing as a result of a lack of patrolling.

Head of the TNGL center, Andi Basrul, said the actions the center had taken against poachers were unsuccessful in protecting the forest and its biodiversity as poaching activities in the TNGL had continued to increase.

He said that in the last two months alone his office had arrested 15 people for illegally hunting animals in the tropical rainforest, while last year a total of 20 poachers were arrested.

“This indicates that there is an increase in poaching activity in the park,” Andi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Andi said forest rangers did not conduct patrols inside the national park area for fear of physical clashes with poachers. He said the poachers had equipped themselves with weapons to fight back against law enforcers.

Thus, his team only monitors the movements of the poachers from outside the forest. “We promptly arrest anyone found coming out of the national park,” Andi said.

He said the strategy allowed the authorities to deal with the poachers without engaging in physical conflict that could result in the agency being accused of violating human rights.

The park is home to some 4,000 animal species, many of which are protected animals such as Sumatran tigers, orangutans, elephants and rhinoceri, all of which are hunted by the poachers.

The local forestry and horticulture agency estimates that the population of Sumatran tigers in the park is now only around 400 or 500, Sumatran elephants 2,000, rhinos 230 and orangutans 6,624.

The decreasing populations of those animals had prompted poachers to hunt other species, such as helmeted hornbill, or rangkong gading and magpies. “This week, we seized 15 magpies from eight poachers that we nabbed in the Tenggulun resort area in the park,” Andi said.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researcher Wulan Pusparini, said that apart from local poachers, foreign poachers had also been targeting a number of animals in the park, especially the rare Sumatran rhinos.

She said that most of these poachers were from Vietnam and had hunted for a long time in Africa, and mostly hunted Sumatran rhinos for their horns. “They are looking to sell the horns on the international market,” Wulan said, adding that the horns were much sought after by customers in Vietnam and China to be made into traditional medicines.

The prices are much higher than that for African rhino horns, which are priced at Rp 15 million (US$1,136) per gram.

“The population of Sumatran rhinos across Indonesia is only 100, in 1814, there were over 10,000,” Wulan said. She said the remaining rhino population could be found in Way Kambas National Park and in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra.

According to Forestry Ministry data, in 1997 TNGL covered an area of 1,095,592 hectares. By 2014, however, the area had decreased to 800,000 ha.

Of the remaining area, according to data at the directorate general of forestry and environment law enforcement, 40,000 ha, 30,000 ha of which are in Langkat regency, have been felled or damaged by illegal loggers.

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