Indonesia busts Russian smuggling drugged orang utan in suitcase

DENPASAR (Indonesia) • A Russian tourist attempting to smuggle a drugged orang utan out of Indonesia in his suitcase has been arrested in Bali, police said yesterday.

Andrei Zhestkov, who wanted to take the animal home as a pet, was detained in Denpasar airport late on Friday while passing through a security screening before a planned flight back to Russia.

Suspicious officers stopped him and opened his luggage to find a two-year-old male orang utan sleeping inside a rattan basket.

"We believe the orang utan was fed allergy pills which caused him to sleep. We found the pills inside the suitcase," Bali conservation agency official I Ketut Catur Marbawa told Agence France-Presse yesterday. "(Zhestkov) seemed prepared, like he was transporting a baby," he added.

The 27-year-old also packed baby formula and blankets for the orang utan, Mr Marbawa said.

Police also found two live geckos and five lizards inside the suitcase.

Zhestkov told the authorities the protected orang utan was given to him by his friend as a gift, another Russian tourist who bought the primate for US$3,000 (S$4,055) from a street market in Java.

He claimed his friend, who has since left Indonesia, convinced him he could take the orang utan home as a pet.

The Russian could face up to five years in jail and US$7,000 in fines for smuggling, Mr Marbawa said.

Orang utans are a critically endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with only about 100,000 remaining worldwide.

The orang utan resting in a rattan basket, after being found inside a Russian tourist's suitcase at Denpasar airport on Friday, in this handout photo taken by the Natural Resources Conservation Agency of Bali. The man has been arrested over the smuggling bid. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Plantation workers and villagers in Indonesia often consider the apes pests and sometimes attack them, while poachers capture the animals to sell as pets.

A string of fatal attacks on the apes had been blamed on farmers and hunters.

Four Indonesian men were arrested last year over the killing of an orang utan that was shot some 130 times with an air gun.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 24, 2019, with the headline 'Indonesia busts Russian smuggling drugged orangutan in suitcase'. Subscribe