Tue, 22 Aug 2000

Syndicate behind disappearance of cubs from Prigen Safari Park

By Gin Kurniawan

PASURUAN, East Java (JP): Happy yet saddened, that may be how the management and employees of PT Taman Safari Indonesia II (TSI II) in Prigen feel, following the successful uncovering by the police of the theft of dozens of rare animals from Prigen Safari Park, East Java's largest tourist spot.

The safari park management had been worried about irresponsible hands threatening the lives of the animals in the park. Since the park opened two years ago, a number of animals have disappeared. Some were tortured to death and others were stolen. A Komodo dragon, for example, was trapped and some lion and tiger cubs were stolen.

Whenever an animal went missing, the park management immediately reported it to the police, who would then quietly investigate it. The police have been quite serious in handling the thefts.

"We are indeed serious because not only are the stolen animals dangerous, they are also protected rare animals," Pasuruan Police chief Supt. Djoko Mukti said.

However, the lengthy police investigation has proved to be not only fruitful but also shocking. On top of uncovering the theft of rare animals from TSI II, they have also disclosed that the number of stolen animals is far greater than reported.

"Only six lion cubs have been reported stolen, but according to the suspects' confessions the total number is 16," he said.

A more shocking discovering is that the police have also exposed a syndicate behind the theft of the cubs. It was first suspected that locals were stealing the animals because they felt disadvantaged by the presence of the safari park. This suspicion proved incorrect with the finding that a syndicate with a wide network is behind the theft.

What has saddened the safari park management is the fact that some of the park's employees were involved in the theft. They are lion keepers, den wardens and security guards. "They have all confessed their wrongdoings," Djoko said.

Pasuruan Police have detained nine suspects, six of whom are employees of the safari park while the remaining three are the buyers. The six safari park employees have been identified as Bejo, Sugiyono, Surpiyanto, Nanang, Didit and Nunuk Herniadi, while the three buyers are Edy Wiyanto, an animal trader from Surakarta, Central Java, and Daniel and Anas from Malang, East Java.

Police suspect that the network dealing in rare animal trading is quite wide. They believe that there are several more people involved in this case. "We will continue uncovering the network," Pasuruan police chief stressed.

Unfortunately, despite the unraveling of the network, police are yet to trace the whereabouts of all the African-born cubs. According to the suspects' confessions, all 16 cubs, aged between one and two years, are now in the hands of rare animal enthusiasts, most of whom are businessmen in Surabaya, Yogyakarta and Jakarta. Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, according to the suspects, bought one of the stolen cubs.

Meanwhile, collectors of rare and dangerous animals are apparently unaware that the cubs they bought were stolen animals. The sellers often tried to convince prospective buyers that the cubs were imported from Africa. On average each cub was sold for Rp 3 million to Rp 5 million.

The owner of TSI II, Jansen Manangsang, in the meantime, has been shocked to learn that a lot of cubs have been stolen, saying he had been deceived by the lion keepers and den wardens into believing that the cubs had been eaten by their mothers.

"These cubs have not been eaten by their mothers, they have been 'eaten' by their own keepers," he said.

He expressed hope that those who bought stolen cubs would return them to the safari park management. TSI II will allow them to be foster parents to the stolen cubs which they bought and looked after. "We realize they have developed love and fondness for the animals," Jansen said.

He hopes that collectors of rare animals will realize that these wild animals cannot be reared in a house. He has his worries about the survival of the animals. "If they agree, they can act as foster parents to the cubs and can see them at any time," he added.

He said the theft was a bad precedence to TSI II Prigen as the safari park has been successful in the captive breeding of rare animals.

It is this success that led to the government to present it with the Kalpataru Award. "Our own employees have unfortunately tarnished this success," he said.