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Judges up the ante for tiger traffickers in Indonesia

A Sumatran tiger captured by camera trap. Photo credit: WWF-KemenLHK.

  • Wildlife criminals in Indonesia usually receive light sentences, if they are convicted at all.
  • A four-year prison term recently handed down in Sumatra is the toughest yet for selling tiger parts.
  • Conservationists implored judges to continue to impose harsher sentences.

Judges in Indonesia’s Bengkulu this week handed down the harshest sentence ever for tiger trafficking in the country, imprisoning a man for four years and fining him 60 million rupiah ($4,500).

And in Aceh, a trader in tiger parts received a three-year sentence, a record there.

Both provinces are located in Indonesia’s main western island of Sumatra, where fewer than 400 critically endangered Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) still remain.

“The decision is a record under the 1990 Conservation Law,” Dian Rusdianto, field manager of the Tiger Conservation Team in Kerinci Seblat National Park, said of the verdict in Bengkulu.

The defendant there was said to preside over the biggest animal poaching and trafficking network in the the province’s Mukomuko area. Investigators posing as buyers arrested him and an accomplice in a sting operation in January.

“We’ve been following their illegal activities since 2011,” Mukomuko Police spokesman Welman Seri said after the arrest. “They’ve already sold eight Sumatran tigers.”

Tiger parts seized recently by the police in Indonesia's Aceh province. Photo by Junaidi Hanafiah/Mongabay
Tiger parts seized recently by the police in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Photo by Junaidi Hanafiah/Mongabay

The Aceh man was caught trying to sell the skin and bones of two baby tigers.

“We urge other judges in Indonesia to follow the lead of the Aceh and Bengkulu courts,” said Irma Hermawati, of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Indonesia program.

Aceh is home to the Leuser Ecosystem, the last place on earth where Sumatran rhinos, tigers, orangutans and elephants still coexist in the wild.

Tiger parts and those of other animals are coveted by wealthier Asians for use in traditional medicine. Conservationists hope the Sumatran tiger does not go the way of its Javan and Bali cousins which died out last century.

Wildlife criminals in Indonesia often receive far less than the maximum penalty of five years. The government recently said it would ask parliament to raise that to 20 years, but “having a new set of rules doesn’t mean much if the law isn’t being enforced,” WWF Indonesia spokesman Nyoman Iswarayoga said at the time.


Dedek Hendry. “Empat Tahun Penjara, Hadiah untuk Pemburu Harimau Sumatera.” Mongabay-Indonesia. 23 June 2016.

Chik Rini. “Jual Kulit Harimau Sumatera, Residivis di Aceh Ini Diganjar 3 Tahun Penjara.” Mongabay-Indonesia. 24 June 2016.

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