Indonesia: Bring back our orangutans, activists plead

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 5 Dec 16;

Activists are demanding the government bring back orangutans originating from Indonesia that have been smuggled abroad, saying they have sent letters to embassies in the hope of securing the return of the critically endangered animals.

The activists, under the non-governmental Scorpion Wildlife Trade Monitoring Group, had written to the Indonesian Embassy in Kuwait to help return a baby orangutan to Indonesia, director Gunung Gea said. The group sent the same letter to the Environment and Forestry Ministry, asking for help in accommodating the process.

“We asked the government to bring back the baby orangutan to be rehabilitated and released into its natural habitat in Indonesia,” Gunung told The Jakarta Post over the weekend, adding that the one-and-a-half year old baby orangutan may be from Kalimantan.

The animal’s presence in Kuwait was revealed when the owner was arrested by local police over a traffic accident. The police seized the baby orangutan from its owner and are housing it temporarily in a zoo.

“We were informed that the Kuwaiti government has since July this year been in contact with the Indonesian government through the embassy there to take the baby orangutan,” Gunung said.

The case is one example of rare Indonesian animals being taken abroad via illegal smuggling. Protected animals could easily be smuggled abroad because of the involvement of rogue personnel in the process, Gunung claimed.

“Recently we worked with the Jakarta Police, uncovering [cases of the] rare animal trade involving civil servants working for Soekarno-Hatta International Airport’s quarantine center,” Gunung said.

Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) founding director Panut Hadisiswoyo said orangutan trafficking was a bitter truth. It occurred amid high demand for certain animals abroad, either to become pets or for illegal safari parks and zoos in Southeast Asia and China, he added.

In November this year, Panut said he found four Indonesian orangutans in a mini zoo in a department store in Bangkok.

“The four most likely were Bornean orangutans,” Panut said, showing pictures of the orangutans at the facility.

He also once spotted 26 Indonesian orangutans at the Pintung Rescue Centre in Taiwan, which so far have yet to be returned to Indonesia. Panut said he believed many Indonesian orangutans still remained abroad.

“The government has to take them back soon,” he said.

Between 1990 and 2000, 283 orangutans were smuggled to Taiwan. However, so far none of them have been returned to Indonesia, according to Panut.

One orangutan from Kuwait and 14 others seized from entertainment centers in Bangkok were brought back to Indonesia last year, Panut said.

In 2007, 48 orangutans were seized in Thailand, along with six others the following year. All of them have been returned to Indonesia.

Unfortunately, he said, the orangutans were sent to safari parks, not rehabilitation centers.

“We want all the orangutans saved abroad to be rehabilitated in their natural habitats, not in safari parks or zoos,” Panut added.

The protected animals, which only live in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Indonesian section of Borneo island, still face rampant illegal trading. The North Sumatra Police uncovered syndicates illegally trading orangutans from Mount Leuser National Park in July, following the seizure of five orangutans ready to be sold in Jakarta and Medan.

Orangutans sold directly from their habitat in Aceh and Kalimantan are priced at between Rp 10 million (US$743) and Rp 15 million. In Java, however, the price could be between Rp 50 million and Rp 100 million, Daniek Hendarto, coordinator of the Center for Orangutan Protection (COP), said previously.

Java provided a market for the protected animals because, apart from the high number of consumers, it is also a transit point for orangutans smuggled to countries like Thailand and Malaysia.

The COP said that as a result of the rampant trade, orangutans are critically endangered, with the population continuing to decrease to 5,000 orangutans in Sumatra and 7,000 in Kalimantan at present.

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