Tue, 04 Feb 2003

Officials raid illegal circus, rescue animals

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A ranger carefully shot a tranquilizer dart into a restless leopard. After fifteen minutes, it was sedated, making it possible for other rangers to move the gigantic cat from its small cage to a spacious one.

The drama did not take place at the leopard's native home in Africa, but here in Jakarta at a makeshift mini circus on Jl. Buaran I in Rawa Badung hamlet, Cakung, East Jakarta, at the far end of Pulogadung Industrial Estate.

Tipped off by non-governmental organization ProFauna Indonesia, which deals with wild animals and the protection of their natural habitat, officers of the Coordinating Body for Natural Resources Protection (BKSDA) at the Ministry of Forestry raided the circus last week.

Involving Jakarta Police detectives in the raid, the officers rescued 11 endangered animals of different species: the leopard (Panthera pardus), a Burmese python (Python molurus) known locally as sanca bodo, and an Asiatic black bear.

The raid also saved two black long-tailed monkeys or lutung, a yellow-crested cockatoo, a golden eagle, a porcupine, a squirrel, an Estuarine crocodile, and a large crocodile indigenous to the rivers of Papua, known as the Sungulok crocodile.

The animals, which are protected under Law No. 5/1990 on biodiversity conservation, have been temporarily moved to the Animal Rescue Unit (PPA) in Tegal Alur, West Jakarta, before the government finds new homes for the animals.

The police detectives of the special unit for animal protection took the circus owner, snake charmer Kirsadik who calls himself Bidut Sableng, to their headquarters for an interrogation. Bidut said that he had licenses to own and to make a profit from the animals.

"But these licenses are invalid," said Putu, one of the police detectives.

The 1990 law stipulates that a person who possesses or keeps endangered/protected animals, dead or alive, and/or parts of endangered/protected animals, are subject to a maximum five-year jail term and Rp 100 million (US$11,235) in fines.

The government once issued a ministerial decree in 1991 which allowed citizens to harbor endangered/protected animals temporarily, in an effort to ease the government burden in registering their numbers. The decree was revoked one year after in was enacted.

Although harboring or keeping the animals is now a criminal offense, it is widely publicized that many prominent people, such as high-ranking armed forces officers, businesspeople and well- known artists have private miniature zoos in their backyards.

Moreover, despite rising cases, the smuggling of endangered/protected animals has yet to be handled seriously. The smuggling of endangered/protected animals is now rated the second biggest crime in the country after drugs and arms smuggling.

The rescued animals, according to coordinator of ProFauna's Jakarta chapter Hardi Baktiantoro, are in very poor condition. The bear is suffering smallpox, while the monkeys are traumatized, as evidenced by self-inflicted injuries.

Other animals in the circus, such as a large monitor lizard, pig-tailed macaques, long-tailed monkeys, a goat with five feet, a rooster with three feet and a Persian cat, are also in poor condition. However, Bidut denied neglecting the animals.

"I'm not a bad person. I spend Rp 400,000 per day to feed them goat meat. But this business is not so profitable. I'm just earning a living by putting the animals on exhibition. I'm not selling them," he told reporters.

The circus, which charged each visitor a Rp 2,000 entrance fee, had been in operation for only a week. A resident, Idi Muhamad, said nobody ever visited the circus.

"But we know that Bidut has been in this business for a long, long time," he said.