Indonesia police probing death of baby orang utan illegally kept as pet

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - An 11-month-old male orang utan was found dead by the authorities in North Sumatra in a grim scene after it had been held as a pet by a resident who later declared he no longer had the money to nurture the great ape.

Officials from the Orangutan Information Center (OIC), Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), the National Police and the Indonesian military received a tip-off from the public that an orang utan had died in Rih Tengah village of Kutabuluh district, Karo regency.

Karo 0205 military district commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Taufik Rizal, confirmed the finding.

The team went there on Tuesday (Dec 11) and found the remains of what they suspect was the baby orang utan. The body was mostly skeleton, except for the arms. The skull and the (other bones) were found in separate places of the village, said OIC deputy director M. Indra Kurnia.

Indra said the baby orang utan had been caught by residents of Bukit Barisan forest in Karo. Later, it was kept by a resident of Rih Tengah village.

"He claimed that he had kept the baby orang utan for four months," Indra told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

The pet keeper told the police the orang utan had died about two weeks ago and he had buried it near his house, but not long after that, a dog had dug up the grave and eaten the head.

Indra said the centre had reported the death of the orang utan to the police and Environment and Forestry Law Enforcement Department for further investigation.

"To create a deterrent effect, the owner of the orang utan has to be punished. This is important, so things like this won't happen again," he said.

At the end of November, a video with a message about the orang utan circulated in a WhatsApp group of Karo residents. The message said a baby orang utan had been caught near Lau Biang River in Kutabuluh district. Later a video showed a baby orang utan, believed to be the same one, being fed a banana by someone.

Initially, it was believed that the baby orang utan had been forced out of the forests along with other animals because of the loss of their habitat, either to illegal logging or volcanic activity at Mount Sinabung.

Panut Hadisiswoyo from the OIC explained in late November that wild animals were entering villages because they were losing their natural habitat to illegal logging and rampant deforestation in the nearby Bukit Barisan mountain range in the regency.

"The forests are now barren, which is why the animals left the habitat and found food sources in villages," said Panut.

Residents of Lau Kawar hamlet, about 10km from the mountains, claimed they had found a baby orang utan in the Lau Biang River in Kutabuluh district when they were fishing. The male orang utan was reportedly sitting alone on a river stone.

"This is the first time in decades I have seen many orang utans roaming around villages like this," said local resident Pelin in November. In addition to the orangutans, he said villagers had also encountered other animals, such as deer and wild goats.

Later, Pelin said the owner of the baby orang utan was having a hard time feeding the animal. The owner asked if anyone wanted to keep the orangutan, but he asked for some money to "replace the money he shelled out" over the past four months.

"The amount he asked was more than 7 million rupiah (S$660)," said Pelin.

Not long after the footage was circulating in WhatsApp groups, there was news that the animal had died.

Karo Police chief Benny R. Hutadjulu said the force had opened an investigation into the death of the orang utan.

The 1990 law on natural resources conservation prohibits keeping protected animals as pets. Offences are punishable with up to five years in prison and 100 million rupiah in fines.