Fri, 28 Mar 2003

Protected animals smuggling reaches $547.5m annually

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Smuggling of protected animals in Indonesia is valued at a whopping US$1.5 billion a year, with Jakarta topping the list with $1.5 million per day or $547.5 million per year, according to a survey.

The Gibbon Foundation survey found the practice was widespread thanks to the help of government officials and military officers, and poor law enforcement.

"This (smuggling) is certainly not a small case for this country, so people must fight against it," foundation director Willie Smits said on the sidelines of an international seminar on Indonesian Wildlife in Jakarta on Thursday.

Smits said it had carried out undercover interviews with smugglers in various cities during the survey.

Jakarta is the biggest haven for smugglers, followed by the East Java capital of Surabaya, the Central Java capital of Semarang and the North Sumatra capital of Medan, the survey found.

In Jakarta the trade of protected animals centered in Jl. Pramuka in Central Jakarta and Jl. Barito in South Jakarta.

Smits said birds and primates, particularly orangutan, were the most popular targets, as were reptiles.

A day earlier, Ministry of Forestry forest protection and natural conservation director general I Made Subadia said the trade of protected animals had reached $600 million per year.

Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and European countries are popular destinations for protected animals.

"All people in the country will suffer great losses, not only from an economic point of view, but from the extinction of biodiversity," Smits said.

He said at least 25 species of tree and fruit could disappear if one orangutan became extinct because they could only grow with the assistance of the great ape.

Smits insisted that traders in big cities instead of animal hunters from villages were the ones who benefited most from the illegal trade.

"It is difficult to combat the illicit practice as it is supported by many government officials and military officers," he said.

"If the government wants to eradicate the practice, they must certainly take legal action against the perpetrators and those who support it."