Trafficking of protected species on the rise

by Ni Komang Erviani on 2012-12-14

Free at last: A green turtle is released on Thursday in the waters off Sanur. The turtle is one of 33 sea turtles seized by police from a boat in Tanjung Benoa in a foiled smuggling plot. BD/Zul Trio AnggonoFree at last: A green turtle is released on Thursday in the waters off Sanur. The turtle is one of 33 sea turtles seized by police from a boat in Tanjung Benoa in a foiled smuggling plot. BD/Zul Trio Anggono

A senior official has warned that illegal trafficking of protected species was on the rise with sea turtles and pangolins topping smugglers’ lists.

The Forestry Ministry’s director general for forest protection and nature conservation, Darori, disclosed that the demand for sea turtles was quite high, particularly from East Asian countries, such as China, Taiwan and Vietnam. In those countries, sea turtles were either displayed as stuffed animals or the organs used as ingredients in traditional medicine.

“Because in those countries sea turtles have deep symbolic meaning, that’s why they preserve and display the animals in their houses. Sea turtles are also sought for their meat,” he said on Thursday after participating in the release of 24 green turtles at Mertasari Beach in Sanur.

The released turtles were some of the 33 turtles seized at midnight on Sunday by troops from Bali Police during an operation targeting an unidentified boat moored at Tanjung Benoa. Police believe that the turtles were to be smuggled abroad. Six turtles are still being rehabilitated and couldn’t be released at the event, while three are not to be released for the time being since they are to be used as evidence in court. The police arrested the skipper of the boat and named him a suspect in the case.

Green turtles are an endangered species and protected by the 1990 law on natural resource conservation. They are also listed under Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which means that any commercial trade of specimens caught in the wild of the species is illegal. Indonesia has ratified this convention.

“Illegal trafficking of sea turtles has also been spurred by the high price the species commands on the black market. Here our fishermen will be quite happy to receive Rp 5 million [US$520] for a single sea turtle, while the same turtle could command a price of hundreds of millions of rupiah in those countries.”

In 2012 alone, the authorities foiled attempts to smuggle 200 sea turtles.

“The latest seizure took place yesterday [Wednesday] in East Nusa Tenggara,” he said.

The demand for pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, had also increased, Darori revealed.

“On my recent visit to China I found that pangolin meat was sold at Rp 4 million per kilogram and the demand had increased significantly,” he said, adding that his directorate had confiscated up to 80 tons of pangolin meat this year.

In Indonesia, pangolin meat usually commands a price of Rp 200,000 per kilogram. The vast discrepancy between the price in domestic markets and abroad has stimulated the local poachers to smuggle the meat abroad.

He stressed that the government was fully aware of the need to provide alternative livelihoods to people who were currently involved in the poaching and smuggling of protected species.

“We have established cooperation with the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry to provide alternative livelihoods to the fishermen.”

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