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Illegal wildlife traders caught red-handed by police in Indonesia

An operation carried out by the Quick Reaction Forestry Police (SPORC) and the West Kalimantan Police Department to catch illegal wildlife traffickers trading on social media has led to the arrest of two suspects. Evidence recovered from the scene where the men were apprehended included a number of protected wild animals and birds - a Bornean Slow Loris (Nycticebus menagensis), a Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), a Javan Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus bartelsi), a Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus nanus) and a Crested Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus) – as well as 31 feathers from a Crested Hawk-Eagle and one dead Crested Hawk-Eagle chick.

Officers discovered the wildlife while searching a warehouse belonging to one of the suspects on 10 May. The operation was carried out in a warehouse on Sulenco Road, Bumi Emas Village, Bengkayang District, Bengkayan Regency in West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo.)

The animals and birds were in cardboard boxes of various sizes, taped up and ready to be delivered to a buyer.

The slow loris is now in our care at the centre in Ketapang, West Kalimantan, while the other confiscated animals are at the Natural Resources Conservation (BKSDA) Centre, West Kalimantan.

The suspects at first denied that they were illegally selling wildlife but eventually confessed after questioning by the police. They claimed to have acquired the animals and birds from various regions including Singkawang and the border area of ​​NKRI in Sambas. One of the perpetrators admitted that the feathers confiscated by officers were from adult eagles shot by hunters so that they could take their chicks.  A dead chick was found among the wildlife in the suspect's warehouse.

The operation was carried out following reports from members of the public who knew that online buying and selling was going on via the Facebook Group "Sale and Purchase Animal Auction Pontianak." In response to the reports the SPORC unit deployed intelligence teams to spy on the perpetrators. When the evidence had been gathered, the team moved in and caught the criminals red-handed. An online search had produced a Facebook account in the name of Herry Saputra which had been offering various types of protected wildlife since late 2016.

In February this year the suspect had had three eagles confiscated from him by BKSDA Kalbar SKW III. The birds were subsequently released back into the wild. On that occasion the BKSDA had talked to the suspect at length and warned him not to trade in protected wildlife again. But it seems the confiscation and verbal warning had not deterred him.

The Head of Law Enforcement Section Region III Pontianak, stated that the perpetrators had been questioned by the SPORC investigation team. "From the evidence and results of the interrogation by the investigator, the two perpetrators are designated as criminal suspects. They were charged under Indonesian Law on the Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems which carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 100 million Indonesian Rupiah (nearly £6,000.)

David also expressed his suspicion that there might be a whole illegal network of wildlife trade behind the case. "We will continue to explore this case. Among the confiscated wildlife there was a Javan Eagle. We will investigate how a Javan Eagle came to be in Kalimantan. The likelihood is that there is a syndicate which is supplying protected wildlife in this area," he said.

Meanwhile Karmel Tambunan, Chief of the coordinating and supervising section of civil servants of special criminal directorates said it had assisted the operation by coordinating with Special Criminal Forces at the Bengkayang Police Department. "We helped to safeguard the crime scene, the perpetrators and the evidence." In addition, Karmel also stated that he would continue to assist and safeguard the legal process of the case. "We will assist in the investigation and administration of the investigation, particularly with regard to arrests because the authority is on the side of the Police," he said.

Most of the seized animals were suffering from stress and one of the eagle’s legs had been injured while it was tied up. 

Dr Sulhi Aufa, Coordinator of our medical team in Ketapang, said the rehabilitation process is very important if the animals are to return to their natural habitat. "Currently, the confiscated loris from SPORC has been handed over to us to take care of. We will immediately check its condition to determine what action to take. Hopefully, if the loris is healthy and recovers well from the trauma of being captured and confined, we can return it to the wild.

Tantyo Bangun, Chairman, expressed his appreciation for the law enforcement operation. "we greatly appreciate the actions of SPORC and the West Kalimantan Police,” he said. “Law enforcement is vital to stop illegal trade in protected wildlife.”

Meanwhile, Karmele L Sanchez, Programme Director, said that lorises are endangered protected animals and the law stipulates that they should not be caught, killed, or kept. "We hope this law enforcement operation will send out a message to the entire community that any kind of crime against protected wildlife will be dealt with firmly," she concluded.