Need for prestige boosts online wildlife trading
When Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo showcased stuffed tigers in his home during a television show last year, little did he know that he would trigger a wave of condemnation.
Tjahjo was apparently unaware that keeping taxidermied endangered species was against the law. It did not take long for the embarrassed minister to realize his mistake and hand the preserved animals over to the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA)
Environmentalists believed that Tjahjo’s penchant reflected a long-standing belief among highpowered Indonesians that keeping living or mounted rare species would earn them commanding positions in society.
The trend started during the Soeharto administration, according to activists, and has not lost traction some 40 years on, due partly to the emergence of online platforms supporting more advanced wildlife trading.
“Online wildlife trading takes place because of high demand generally triggered by a false perception among our people that keeping rare animals as pets or [preserving] parts of the animal’s body would give them prestige,” said Chairul Saleh, a wildlife conservation specialist with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia.
“This is rather stupid, because in fact, they are violating Law No. 5/1990 on the conservation of natural living resources. I still wonder why they are so proud [of keeping rare animals], when they are actually breaking the rules,” Chairul said.
As Indonesia continues to struggle with illegal poaching and trafficking of protected species, it has also seen an increase in online transactions in recent years.
In 2015, ProFauna Indonesia recorded about 5,000 advertisements for wildlife trading displayed on various social media platforms, including Facebook, and e-commerce sites. The estimate showed an increase from the previous year, when the environmentalist group found 3,640 similar online advertisements.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by WWF Indonesia found that in the January-June period of 2016, 7,058 advertisements making the rounds on Facebook, Instagram and online marketplaces, promoted the sale of animals such as orangutans, yellow-crested cockatoos, hornbills and eagles.
According to Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia director Noviar Andayani, many of these animals were being hunted for food and for their body parts to fashion talismans and jewelry.
She added that the prevalence of online wildlife trading was also spurred by the growing need among millennials to show off their belongings on social media.
Campaigns to raise awareness were important in deterring the practice, but strict law enforcement played a bigger role, she said.
“Law enforcers publicly uncovering online trading [syndicates] would send the message that buying and keeping rare animals violates the law,” Noviar said.
This year alone, police have uncovered four internet-based wildlife trading syndicates.
In August, West Kalimantan forest rangers and police apprehended a suspect identified as TAR, for allegedly selling two baby orangutans on Instagram.
TAR told police that he had been selling various endangered animals both online and through face-to-face transactions.
In May, the province’s police also arrested two alleged traders of endangered animals. Operating through social media, the trading ring was thought to have operated with partners outside the island.