>Animal center raises new hope for conservation

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Features – April 22, 2003

Bambang M and Mahmud NA, Contributor, Yogyakarta

Large iron cages stand strongly on a plot of land measuring almost 14 square hectares in Paingan hamlet, Sendangsari, Kulonprogo regency, some 15 kilometers to the west of Yogyakarta.

Some are rectangular while others are dome-shaped. There are also moats surrounded by iron fences. The distinctive sounds of cockatoos and gibbons are heard simultaneously.

This is not a zoo, although it looks like one. This is the center for wild life conservation (PPS) of Yogyakarta. It is here that legally protected animals, confiscated by the state or voluntarily surrendered by community members, are accommodated, and “re-educated” before being released back into the wild.

It is one of six such centers across Indonesia. The other five are found in Jakarta, Sukabumi in West Java, Manado in North Sulawesi, Malang in East Java and Wanariset Samboja in East Kalimantan.

“All these centers were built in mid 2002 with financial assistance from The Gibbon Foundation,” said Sugihartono, project manager of PPS Yogyakarta. The Gibbon Foundation is a Holland-based environmental non-government organization.

The establishment of these six centers gives new hope that efforts may be maximized to eradicate illegal trading and possession of protected animals (dead or alive) as stipulated in Law No. 5/1990.

Protected animals commonly kept as pets by people in cities include certain species of birds, crocodiles, bears, leopards and primates. Deddy Pranowo Eryono, the owner of Ruba Graha Hotel in Yogyakarta, for example, is known to have kept a sapit alligator (Tomistoma schlegelii) without a proper document.

Even universities violate this government regulation on protected animals. UGM in Yogyakarta, for example, possesses two Timorese deer (Cervus timorensis). These two and five spotted deer (Axis axis) are kept at UGM’s Valley Park. Center for Conservation of Natural Resources (BKSDA) of Yogyakarta have twice asked UGM to process the licensing for keeping the deer but to no avail so far.

The university’s school of veterinary medicine, which owns the two Timorese deer, was tight-lipped about this matter. “No comment,” said HR Wasito, the dean of the school, apparently irritated.

Data compiled by the BKSDA of Yogyakarta in 1991 showed that there were over 3,000 people that own protected animals in this province. “Thirty percent of them have live animals while the rest possess stuffed animals,” said Sulistyo Wibowo, a staff member of the center.

The figure for the entire country, however, is amazingly large. As of 2000, according to the data from the Director General of Nature Protection and Conservation, there were 69,180 owners of protected animals. They possessed 59,022 living animals, 63,315 animals preserved in whole and 26,876 preserved parts of animals. Of course, the real number is greater as not all owners of such animals are registered.

Rife trading and possession of protected animals (also the damaged habitat) have made Indonesia, known as one of the world’s centers of biological diversity, become one of the countries with the biggest number of animals facing extinction. Records of IUCN (The World Conservation Union) show that in Indonesia, 128 species of mammals, 104 birds, 19 reptiles, 60 fish and 29 invertebrates face the threat of extinction.

Apart from the earnestness of a few law enforcers, Sigit Riyanto, lecturer of the school of law at UGM said that the eradication of wild animal trading and possession could not be carried out to the optimum as Law No. 5/1990 was yet to be completed with important supporting facilities like PPS.

“In the absence of such a center, the confiscated animals will simply die later,” he said.

Before a PPS-type facility comes into being, every time the government confiscates animals, it will leave these animals in the zoos or other conservation institutions. As great costs result, zoos are willing to accept only animals not yet in their possession. “Besides, zoos prefer large and exotic animals only to lure visitors,” Sugihartono said.

To ensure that this problem is well addressed, the Forestry Ministry issued a Decree in 1992 stipulating that protected animals owned by citizens are the legal property of the state. As a special place is yet to be available for these animals, these owners may continue to cage these animals. In status, these animals are left by the state in the care of community members. Any time the state wishes to take them back, it can do so.

The period in which these protected animals were left in the care of community members spanned between June 1, 1991 up to October 31, 1992. Unfortunately, when this period expired, the state was yet to collect these animals. Meanwhile, there is a growing number of people who have protected animals. They can easily buy the animals from markets in major cities or from the place where the animals come.

“Now that PPS has come into being, there is no reason for the government not to undertake confiscation of protected animals,” said Sugihartono, while adding that confiscation is necessary as a shock therapy to discourage community members from keeping protected animals. “If confiscation continues, community members will be discouraged from taking these animals. The market demand for these animals will drop and hunting of such animals will become rarer, as well,” said Sugihartono.

Although each PPS will accommodate every species of confiscated wild animal, some of them have their own specialization. PPS Yogyakarta, for example, will be specially intended for reptiles. The center in Sukabumi for carnivores while the one in Malang for primates. Orangutans will be kept in Wanariset Samboja. Two more PPS – in Jakarta and Manado – can take any wild animals.

All these PPS establish operational cooperation. If an orangutan is confiscated in Yogyakarta, it will be left in the care of PPS Yogyakarta temporarily. Then, it will be dispatched to Wanariset Samboja. Then, if a reptile is confiscated in West Java, it will be kept temporarily in Sukabumi before being finally sent to Yogyakarta.

Each PPS is completed with facilities such as a laboratory, a clinic, a quarantine room and an isolation room. All animals taken to a PPS will be examined. If they are sick, they will be treated. If they cannot be cured and there is fear they will spread their disease to other animals, they will be destroyed.

When they are declared healthy, they will be trained again on living in the wild so that they will be ready for their original habitat.

Sugihartono said that PPS Yogyakarta, built at a cost of Rp 4 billion (about US$470,000), was the largest of such centers. It has a conference hall, a computer room, a library and 10 bedrooms.

“Aside from being a facility where protected animals are saved, a PPS is also a center of environmental information and education,” he said. Although this PPS has been only 85 percent completed, it is now operational and keeps some confiscated animals.

The present six PPS are not enough, said Sugihartono. Ideally, each province needs to have one such center.

However, the presence of a PPS has given rise to criticisms. “Can these centers accept all animals confiscated by the state? Besides, care must be taken to prevent a PPS being considered a new zoo,” said Kuspriyadi, head of BKSDA of Yogyakarta.

Other critics say that a PPS cannot solve the existing problems unless the habitat is saved first.

“Is there any assurance that the animals that are released in the wild can survive if their habitat continues to sustain damage?” asked Triman Setyardi of Yayasan Kutilang Indonesia for Bird Conservation.

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