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Inflated quotas for captive-bred wildlife in Indonesia may aid traffickers: report

Native to northern Borneo, the earless monitor lizard is a semi-aquatic brown 8-inch-long lizard. And yes, it lacks external ears. Photo credit: Kulbelbolka.

  • Indonesia’s captive breeding plan is meant to enable the legal wildlife trade while protecting the country’s natural riches, including its incredible biodiversity.
  • But “unrealistically high” quotas for the maximum production of certain species in the plan are likely being taken advantage of by wildlife traffickers, according to a new study.
  • The Indonesian environment ministry official in charge of setting the quotas says his department has audited the country’s breeding centers to ensure their professionalism and quality.

JAKARTA — Inflated quotas for breeding animals in Indonesia’s commercial conservation facilities appear to be fueling the illegal wildlife trade, according to a new study by TRAFFIC, an NGO.

To supply markets at home and abroad, the archipelago country sets per-species quotas for the numbers of both wild-caught and captive-bred specimens that can be legally sold. But the latter are “unrealistically high” for 61 species, creating loopholes for traffickers to fraudulently report animals they catch as captive bred.

To arrive at their findings, the researchers compared biological parameters used in the Indonesian quotas with published ones from hundreds of books, journals and magazines.

“For many species, quotas are much higher than what top-notch breeding facilities can realistically produce, and these quotas may be exploited to launder wild-sourced specimens,” according to the study, published earlier this month in Conservation Biology.

In one example, Indonesia’s captive breeding plan allows white-lipped tree frogs (Litoria infrafrenata) to be harvested at 67 times the rate the species can produce naturally. The creature is a popular pet.

Some companies are allocated quotas for captive-bred specimens of species with no breeding stock reportedly present at any breeding facilities The earless monitor (Lanthanotus borneensis) and Southeast Asian box turtle (Cuora amboinensis) fall under this category.

“That a captive breeding quota has been allocated with no pre-existing breeding stock raises serious concerns that reportedly captive-bred earless monitor may have been taken from the wild,” the report said.

Last year, Indonesia allotted harvesting of more than 4.2 million captive-bred animals of 129 mammal, reptile and amphibians to 13 registered facilities.

Evidence of wildlife laundering already exists for some species in Indonesia. A 2011 study asserted that nearly 80 percent of 5,337 green tree pythons (Morelia viridis) exported from its breeding facilities from 2009 to 2011 were in fact caught in eastern Indonesia.

“The current approach to setting quotas for the captive-bred pet trade is a conservation concern posing a serious threat to the conservation of Indonesian wildlife, as a false sense of sustainability is established when wildlife is laundered through breeding facilities,” the report said.

A white-lipped tree frog. Photo by Hans de Bisschop/Flickr.

Wiratno, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, is the newly appointed head of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry department that sets the quotas. While he was not involved in setting out the 2016 breeding plan, he said in an interview, he accepts the TRAFFIC report as constructive criticism.

Still, he said that breeding facilities did not abuse the 2016 since they ultimately exported less than half of their allocated quotas.

“We have audited these breeding centers to ensure their professionalism and the quality of the captive-bred species,” Wiratno said.

Regular checks and surprise raids by are among the ways that the ministry monitors the nation’s breeding facilities, he added. His office has involved experts from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and other institutions to design a new plan for the coming years.

“This [TRAFFIC] report serves as an input for me,” he said. “I want to run an office that applies clean and open governance, so everyone must be prepared to be evaluated by anybody and data must be published for the public.”

Indonesia has been labeled as an epicenter for illegal wildlife trade in reptiles and amphibians. President Joko Widodo has put the fight against illegal wildlife trade as a top conservation priority in his administration.


Banner image: Native to northern Borneo, the earless monitor lizard is a semi-aquatic brown 8-inch-long lizard. And yes, it lacks external ears. Photo by Chien C. Lee, Wild Borneo Photography/Wikimedia Commons.


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