Orangutan Conservation Hindered by Poor Law Enforcement

“The laws are in place in Indonesia, but unless they are upheld the illegal trade will continue and the species will spiral toward extinction”.

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The inefficiency of law enforcement in the illegal trading of orangutans and gibbons in Sumatra has been the main cause of the declining primate population. By February 2012, law enforcement strategies had not yet been tightened and those involved in supporting the illegal trade were still not been prosecuted on terms that were strict enough for the crime.

February 2012 had, however, seen the first successful prosecution of an illegal orangutan trader in Sumatra. In history, there have only been two convictions for the illegal trade of orangutan in Indonesia. The trader had attempted to sell a three-year-old orangutan stolen from the Gunung Leuser National Park, and was given a fine and sentenced to a mere 8 months in prison after he had been caught. With a maximum sentence of 5 years' imprisonment and a fine equivalent to around $10,000 US dollars, it is evident that the illegal industry is not being dealt with correctly according to Indonesian laws.

The orangutans that have been saved from the illegal pet trade are placed in a quarantine centre where they are slowly introduced to social activity with other orangutans and prepared for an eventual release back into the forest.

TRAFFIC in the Illegal Trade Industry

Lack of law enforcement against illegal trade in Indonesia threatens the survival of orangutans and gibbons on Sumatra, a study by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC showed. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) reports that despite considerable investment in wildlife conservation, numbers of the critically endangered orangutans captured mainly for the pet trade exceeded the levels of the 1970s. A lack of adequate law enforcement is to blame, TRAFFIC says. TRAFFIC is a joint program between WWF and IUCN.

Records of orangutans and gibbons put into rehabilitation centres serve as an indicator of how many of these animals were illegally held. Meanwhile numbers continue to decline in the wild, with the most recent estimate of just 7,300 Sumatran orangutans surviving. Orangutans, which can weigh up to around 90kg and reach 1.5m in length, end up in such centres after they become too old and big to be held as pets. But owners of the reddish-brown coloured apes do not face any legal consequences.

"It is futile to confiscate these animals without prosecuting the owners," said Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC North America. "There is just nothing to deter people from committing these crimes if they are not punished," Allan added. The laws are in place in Indonesia, but unless they are upheld the illegal trade will continue and the species will spiral toward extinction."

An estimated 2,000 orangutans have been confiscated or turned in by private owners in Indonesia in the last three decades but no more than a handful of people have ever been successfully prosecuted. Between 2002 and 2008, for example, the newly opened Sibolangit rehabilitation centre in Sumatra took in 142 Sumatran orangutans. "When the first rehabilitation centres were established for orangutans and later for gibbons it was hoped that with more apes being confiscated, levels of illegal trade would fall," said Vincent Nijman, a TRAFFIC consultant and author of the report, based at Oxford Brookes University.

"But with hundreds of orangutans and gibbons present in such centres, and dozens added every year, it is hard to view these numbers as anything other than an indictment against Indonesia's law enforcement efforts," he said. The report also documents the 148 Sumatran gibbons and siamangs and 26 Sumatran orangutans kept in Indonesian zoos.

"Tackling this crisis requires investigating the root causes of trade and stricter enforcement of laws for the protection of orangutans, gibbons and the island's other wildlife," said Ginny Ng, WWF programme officer for Borneo and Sumatra.

Conserving the Declining Populations

Sumatra's wildlife is also threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation, logging, land conversion, encroachment, and forest fires. WWF is working to reduce the destruction of wildlife habitat in Sumatra by working with industry to ensure high conservation value forests are not converted for agriculture, empowering local communities to manage natural resources in a sustainable way, and providing alternatives.


Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS)
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