Sat, 25 Jan 2003

Animal smuggling foiled at airport

The Jakarta Post, Tangerang

Soekarno-Hatta International Airport's animal quarantine hall looked like a miniature version of Noah's Ark on Friday, lined with cages containing 246 wild animals from a dazzling array of species. The only difference was that they did not come in pairs.

The protected animals were saved by the airport's security personnel and tax and immigration officers from being smuggled to Kuwait on Wednesday night. Five suspects were arrested and are now being detained by the airport police.

"The animals are protected by Law No. 5/1990 on the international conventions on biological resources and Law No. 16/1992 on the quarantine of fauna and flora," said the head of the quarantine unit at the Ministry of Agriculture, Delima Ashari, as quoted by Antara on Thursday.

The rescued animals comprised 91 cuscus (Phalanger species), three owa from Kalimantan (Hylobates species), four gibbons, seven stripped squirrels, 83 brown squirrels, 14 monkeys, four short-tailed macaques and 40 pigeons.

The suspects, identified as Gholan Reza, Yousef KH, M. Almezver, Marhan E. and H.A. Alharban, were attempting to board Kuwait Airways flight number KU 414.

Their baggage included three large wooden crates with gauze ventilation strips in which they kept the animals, and which drew the suspicion of airport employees.

The suspects said they purchased the animals at Pasar Pramuka in East Jakarta. The market is known as a center of the protected animal trade.

Delima estimated the animals were worth roughly Rp 1.386 billion (about US$155,730), with a price range for each animal of between Rp 50,000 and Rp 75 million.

The airport's animal quarantine hall chief, Lukas A. Tonga, said Kuwait was a main destination for smuggled Indonesian wildlife because customers there were willing to pay high prices for the animals.

In 1999 alone, he said, the airport's security personnel had foiled four attempts to smuggle animals to Kuwait.

One Kuwaiti citizen, Haidar, was caught attempting to smuggle out of the country four kukang, a type of marsupial, in a handbag. While one Al Kazemi was found carrying a long-tailed parakeet and two cockatoos in a wire cage inside a carton.

"Also in that same year, we caught a culprit named Odman trying to smuggle out four mouse deer in a basket," Lukas said.

Earlier this year, a Japanese tourist was arrested at the airport for suspicion of attempting to smuggle a number of protected animals out of the country. He was freed on Thursday.

"We did not have strong legal grounds to charge the Japanese citizen, Oahazi Masayuki, 23, with trying to smuggle out the protected species," airport police chief Adj. Comr. Sri Suari Wahyudi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Suari said the Japanese man could not be charged with attempting to smuggle the animals because he carried them out in the open and made no attempt to hide them.

"The question is if those animals are protected by law, why are they sold openly in markets. Tourists must be interested in purchasing them but if they try to take them out of the country they will face problems," she said.