JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesian police on Wednesday (March 27) arrested nine men suspected of trafficking komodo dragons as well as other endangered birds and wild cats destined for use in traditional medicines.
An Environment Ministry official said it was the first time he had heard of the trafficking of komodo dragons. They are the largest living species of lizard, are found in the wild only in eastern Indonesia, and have become a tourist attraction.
The men detained in the city of Surabaya told police they had sold more than 40 komodo dragons for 500 million rupiah (S$47,500) each, said East Java police commissioner Rofiq Ripto Himawan.
"These animals are sold for traditional medicine. Komodo dragons could be used to make an antibiotic," commissioner Himawan said by telephone, explaining that they were usually sent abroad to Asian buyers.
Police seized five komodo dragons along with other animals mostly originating from eastern Indonesia, including pangolins, a wild cat and birds such as cockatoos.
Police were working with vets and conservation and wildlife agencies to ensure the animals are cared for, commissioner Himawan added.
Environment Ministry official Wiratno, who uses only one name, also said traffickers were using new tactics by turning to social media to advertise animals.
Indonesian law prescribes jail of up to 10 years and a fine for trafficking endangered animals.
Despite the penalties, the trade is still widespread across parts of the Indonesian archipelago.