Busted: orangutan trafficker prosecuted and sent to prison in Sumatra for the first time

February 23, 2012

“Julius,” a baby orangutan saved from an illegal trader in North Sumatra, Indonesia. He is expected to be released back into the wild in the near future. Credit: WCS.

For the first time in Medan, North Sumatra, an orangutan trader has been prosecuted and sent to prison for trafficking in the endangered apes, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The trader, who was trying to sell the three-year old orangutan, received a seven-month prison sentence, which is only the third in Indonesia since orangutans were officially protected in 1924.

"Although there have been over 2,500 confiscations of illegally held orangutans in Indonesia since the early 1970’s, the first actual prosecution of an illegal orangutan owner occurred in Borneo in 2010, and now in Sumatra with this case in 2012," said WCS in a statement.

The bust was made by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s Directorate-General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA), working with the support of WCS’s Wildlife Crime Unit and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP).

WCS says orangutans aren't widely traded in Sumatra. Most enter the market as a byproduct of forest clearing for oil palm plantations and other forms of agriculture. Only juvenile orangutans are captured — mothers are generally killed. About 30 orangutans are confiscated a year by SOCP and PHKA.

Panut, Chairman of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Forum (FOKUS), says increased vigilance will further cut down on the orangutan trade.

"Increased efforts to curb crimes against orangutans will provide a deterrent effect to traders," he said.

Ian Singleton, Director of Conservation for the PanEco Foundation and the head of the SOCP, added that the prosecution will send a strong message.

"It's absolutely fantastic to finally have a prosecution of an illegal orangutan ‘owner’ in Sumatra, but it’s also long overdue," he said. "With this sentence, as long as it is widely publicized in the region, anyone considering capturing, killing or keeping an orangutan illegally will certainly think twice about it, and hopefully the numbers being killed and kept in the coming years will begin to decline."

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Busted: orangutan trafficker prosecuted and sent to prison in Sumatra for the first time.