Bambang M and Suherdjoko, Contributors, Semarang, Central Java
Though the government has put orangutans (pongo pygmaeus) on its list of protected animals, many people still hunt and trade the primate. Go to the Karimata bird market in Semarang, the capital of Central Java. The market is known as the main center for the illegal trade in orangutans, which are shipped from Kalimantan to Tanjung Emas harbor in Semarang.
After they arrive in Semarang, the orangutans are either sold to locals or sent to other cities in Java and abroad. An orangutan is usually obtainable for several hundred thousand rupiah in Indonesia, but overseas they can sell for hundreds of millions of rupiah.
A survey by The Gibbon Foundation found that Semarang ranks third as a center for the smuggling of protected animals, following Jakarta and Surabaya.
Semarang resident Harjanto Halim bought an orangutan in early 2003. He was walking through Karimata when a young orangutan jumped toward him asked to be carried. “The animal refused to be separated from me,” said Halim, a lecturer at a university in Semarang. Out of pity, he bought the orangutan for Rp 2 million (US$233).
After taking care of the animal, which he named Fani, for several months, Halim handed it over to the Conservation and Natural Resources Center (BKSDA) in Central Java. A staff member at the center, Kasiyanto, received the orangutan, who was later taken to the Jogja Animal Rescue Center (PPSJ).
When Halim and his wife took Fani to the BKSDA, they told the officers there that protected animals were sold at the Karimata market. However, there was no response to this tip. A number of protected animals such as Javan eagles (Spizaetus bartelsi) and gibbons (Symphalangus syndactylus) are still openly sold at the market.
In an effort to stop the illegal trade of protected animals, the BKSDA teamed up with the PPSJ to confiscate the animals. One of their targets was Rosyid, one of the animal vendors at Karimata. Ferry Anggriawan of PPSJ accused Rosyid not only of selling orangutans locally but also of smuggling them to Bangkok.
A raid took place on Sept. 11, 2003. The BKSDA, PPSJ and some 40 policemen from the Central Java Police sped to Rosyid’s house on Jl. Imam Bonjol in Pethek, not far from the Tanjung Emas port. The joint team hoped to confiscate 12 orangutans from Rosyid’s house. They had received information that these animals would be smuggled to Bangkok.
When the team arrived, Rosyid was out. They also failed to find any orangutans. Rosyid’s wife denied that her husband sold orangutans. “Find the proof first. Don’t just accuse my husband,” she said.
The local police heard that the orangutans had been taken overland to Surabaya. The police attempted to intercept the animals but found nothing. “Perhaps the animals are still hidden somewhere in Semarang,” said Sugihartono, the director of the PPSJ.
“When we arrived I got a glimpse of Rosyid driving away with a young orangutan,” Anggriawan claimed.
Although Rosyid is still at large, the team confiscated an adult male orangutan and dozens of other protected animals from his kiosk in the bird market. The team also seized an adult female orangutan from Edi, another animal vendor.
Strangely, the Central Java branch of the BKSDA said it was not aware that Semarang, particularly the Karimata bird market, had become a center for the orangutan trade. Forgotten that a few months earlier Halim, when handing over Fani, had tipped him off about it.
Is it true that the BKSDA was ignorant about the illegal orangutan trade?
“I reported this to my superiors but they did nothing in response,” said a forest ranger who asked to remain anonymous. Indeed, it is the job of the BKSDA to monitor the bird market. The center, however, has not taken any measure because, as the forest ranger put it, “”There are a lot of thugs there.””
The bird market is indeed tightly guarded. You cannot take pictures of the animals there. There was a notice on a tree in front of Rosyid’s kiosk that read: “”You cannot take any photographs without the owner’s permission. Be polite and we will respect you.””
Today, Rosyid, Edi and two other traders are being legally processed. They could be facing a maximum punishment of five years in jail and a maximum fine of Rp 100 million under Law No. 5/1990 on the conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem.
For the time being, the open trade of protected animals at Karimata has stopped. But this does not mean that the animals aren’t being bought and sold more discreetly.
At this junction, an intelligence operation by the BKSDA would help ensure the illegal trade of protected animals was stopped once and for all. It is still doubtful, though, whether the BKSDA really means to stop the illegal trade of orangutans in Semarang. If the practice is halted, the orangutan might have a chance at survival.
There are four species of large apes in the world. They are chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. Of these four species, orangutans are found only in Asia and they are the species facing the greatest threat of extinction.
The orangutan population in Kalimantan faces a real threat. Willie Smit, an orangutan expert, said that in the past two decades about 80 percent of the habitat of orangutans in Kalimantan had been damaged by forest fires, logging, mining and the conversion of forest into estates.
In addition, orangutans continue to be hunted. They are either captured and sold alive (particularly baby orangutans) or their bodies are sold as souvenirs. When Indonesia had an economic crisis in the late 1990s, the hunting of orangutans intensified because many people came to depend on the orangutan trade for money.
Since then some 2,000 orangutans have disappeared from their original habitat. Unless orangutan hunting is stopped, orangutans will become extinct by 2010, Smit said.