Indonesian authorities uncover online orang utan trade

An orangutan at jungle school at the International Animal Rescue centre outside the city of Ketapang in West Kalimantan. PHOTO: AFP

PONTIANAK/JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Wildlife traffickers in Indonesia are taking their illicit business to social media such as Facebook and Instagram, with the latest case coming to light this week.

On Monday (Aug 21), West Kalimantan forest rangers and police arrested a suspect, identified only as Tar, on suspicion of selling two baby orang utans on Instagram.

The 19-year-old suspect was arrested at his house in a neighbourhood in West Kalimantan, where two orang utans were found in a basket in the garage.

The investigation into Tar, who had offered to sell a 10-month-old female and a one-year-old male orang utan on his Instagram account, began after the police received a tip-off about the Instagram post.

During investigations,Tar told police that he had long been selling various endangered animals, such as orang utans and the Kalimantan grey gibbon on online platforms or face-to-face transactions.

Tar added that he had obtained the baby orang utans from a "supplier" in Sintang regency, which borders Malaysia, before trying to sell each infant orang utan for Rp 3.5 million (US$262).

Pontianak Environment and Forestry Agency's security and law enforcement unit head David Muhammad said there was an indication that the supplier might be a part of an international wildlife smuggling ring that focused on selling orang utans.

"We are tracking the supplier and investigating the transaction for the two baby orangutans involving the suspect [Tar]," Mr David said.

The police have charged Tar with wildlife trafficking, for which the maximum punishment is five years in prison and a Rp 100 million fine.

The case is the latest in the long-running fight against the online trading of protected animals in Indonesia in the past few years.

Earlier this month, a man was arrested in Bantul, Yogyakarta, on suspicion of selling endangered animals, such as pangolins and bearcats, on Facebook.

In May, West Kalimantan rangers arrested two alleged traders of protected animals like the Kalimantan slow loris and leopard cat. The two men reportedly ran their business via social media.

The trading ring was thought to have operated with partners outside Kalimantan as the authorities also seized Javan eagles, which are found outside Kalimantan.

In another case in April, a 42-year-old man, identified only as AM, was arrested in Jakarta for allegedly possessing three young endangered animals - a clouded leopard, a sun bear and an orang utan. All of them were bought on Instagram.

Monday's arrest, however, was the first in Kalimantan, said Mr Subhan, head of security and law enforcement at the Environment and Forestry Ministry's Kalimantan office.

"All this time, we found no orang utans but we did find other endangered animals, such as pangolin, being sold online," he said.

The ministry last year started monitoring social media to find any signs of wildlife online trading.

The two baby orang utans seized from Tar have been put in a shelter run by conservation group International Animal Rescue (Yiari) in Ketapang, in the southern part of the province. "The male baby orang utan is showing signs of stress, while the female infant is relatively healthy," said Mr Heribertus from Yiare.

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