Indonesia: As Ministry Dolphin Release Stalls, JAAN Fury Surfaces

Ismira Lutfia Jakarta Globe 8 Sep 11;

A prominent animal rights group plans to take legal action against the Forestry Ministry for dodging its commitment to release captive dolphins back to the sea, its lawyer said on Wednesday.

The commitment, which was signed in October 2010, was to involve a joint effort by the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, the Forestry Ministry and the Earth Island Institute to implement a five-year plan for dolphin protection, rehabilitation and release.

JAAN’s lawyer, Romy Daniel Tobing, said his client was prepared to take “the necessary legal enforcement measures” to see that it was upheld.

“Both the JAAN and the government, in this case the Forestry Ministry, are lawfully equal parties to this commitment,” he said.

An initial rehabilitation of two out of the 72 dolphins in captivity in Indonesia had been scheduled for June.

The dolphins would have been placed in a 90-square-meter sea enclosure — the largest in the world for a dolphin rehabilitation program — before being released back into their natural habitat, the waters off the northern coast of Java.

The plan stalled, though. In June, the JAAN lambasted government plans to release captive dolphins into the sea without preparing them for the wild.

“We have had more meetings with the government since then and they said they were committed to the initial plan, but they remain empty promises so far,” said Femke Den Haas, founder of the JAAN.

“The dolphins remain confined to their small tanks in the traveling circus and the so-called conservation agencies.”

Officials from the ministry’s directorate of biodiversity, which is in charge of the program, were not available for comment on Wednesday.

The plan was first hatched when concerned parties informed JAAN of a traveling circus featuring dolphins as one of its attractions.

The group began tracking down other captive dolphins. It found a number of the animals in the possession of institutions operating under the guise of conservation, education or therapy after allegedly obtaining them illegally from poachers on the northern coast of Java.

Dolphins are protected under 1999 government regulations on plant and animal preservation. The majority of the captive dolphins in Indonesia are bottlenose dolphins, which are classified under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

While the species is “not necessarily now threatened with extinction, [it] may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation.”

Dwi Nugroho Adhiasto, coordinator of the wildlife crime unit at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said dolphins in Indonesia were also in peril from poaching.

He said it was common for fishermen to kill them for tearing into their fish nets.

“They are also caught to be chopped into bait because their foul-smelling flesh attracts fish,” Dwi said.