Need for pres­tige boosts on­line wildlife trad­ing

The Jakarta Post - - FRONT PAGE - Moses Om­pusunggu

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.

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