After two months attempting to rescue a young male orangutan in the province of Aceh in Indonesia, a team from the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) – along with the wildlife trade monitoring group Scorpion Indonesia, the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in Aceh, and the south Aceh police – have succeeded in confiscating the primate.
The orangutan, named Sule, had been kept illegally by a family in Aceh Barat Daya. When the rescue team arrived in early June to confiscate Sule, the owner refused to hand him over, and took the primate away and hid him.
Sule’s owner physically attacked the rescue team, and one of her relatives kicked a police officer in the chest. BKSDA Aceh and the OIC then reported the case to police in south Aceh and urged prosecution.
Yesterday (Thursday), Sule was finally found after the police and the team from BKSDA Aceh went to the owner’s house with a warrant for confiscation of the orangutan and prosecution of the owner.
The owner then allowed BKSDA Aceh and the police to take the orangutan. The police will now begin proceedings for a possible prosecution.
Sule, who is thought to be about four years old, is now in safe hands and is on his way to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) quarantine centre in Batu Mbelin, North Sumatra.
OIC director Panut Hadisiswoyo said police had taken the owner’s details and she would now be interrogated.
“If the case goes to court, this will be the first time in Indonesia that someone is prosecuted for illegally keeping an orangutan as a pet.”
Orangutan traffickers have been prosecuted in the past, but usually no legal action is taken after the confiscation of a primate kept as a pet.
Sule’s owner faces a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a fine of up to 100 million Indonesian rupiah (about US$7,600) if she is convicted.
“Again, the owner said she loved the orangutan,” Hadisiswoyo said. “We so often hear this. When we took Sule away, she acted like crazy person; shouting and yelling.”
Hadisiswoyo never ceases to be amazed at the cruel and inappropriate way people treat orangutans. “Sule’s owner put make-up on his face. You can see it in the photograph; the white powder. I have seen people put make-up on orangutans before, and dress them up in clothes.”
Sule before the confiscation. Photo courtesy of Scorpion.
The rescue of Sule follows on from that, on May 30, of Krismon – a 20-year-old male, who was captured as a baby in 1997 and was held in captivity in in Kabanjahe, North Sumatra, by a local army commander. A male baby orangutan, who was illegally held captive by a resident of Aceh Tamiang, was rescued on the same day.
Hadisiswoyo with Krismon.
Krismon spent most of his life locked in a small cage in a back yard, being fed mostly on rice.
He is now at the SOCP quarantine centre and it seems highly unlikely that he will be able to be released back into the wild.
The rescued baby orangutan is also at the SOCP centre.
There is unlikely to be a prosecution in the case of Krismon as his former owner has died.
“When Krismon was still a baby,” Hadisiswoyo said. “The family used to put a nappy on him as if he was a child, and he would eat with them, and go to the fridge and grab food. When they went on holiday, they would take him with them in the car.
“When we took Krismon away, the family members were all crying. People have a total misconception about what it is to love an orangutan. I tried to explain to them that this is not the way to care for a wild animal.”
Locals reported that the commander obtained the orangutan from a villager who had shot the primate’s mother.
Krismon at the SOCP centre (photos taken on June 25.)
Hadisiswoyo says many people keep orangutans simply for reasons of prestige.
Many orangutans held in illegal captivity in Indonesia are kept by local businessmen or high-ranking government officials and police or army officers.
When the OIC receives information about an orangutan being kept as a pet, it can be a lengthy process before the primate is located and can be rescued.
As orangutan habitat is increasingly being lost and fragmented, there is an increase in opportunistic poaching by local people, Hadisiswoyo says. “It is getting easier for people to get into forest areas so poachers can now access orangutans without much difficulty.”
The OIC, which is based in Medan, now has two rescue teams working in the field. One operates in Aceh and the other further south. Previously, one team had to cover huge distances at very short notice, conducting rescues in both Aceh and other areas of Sumatra.
In just the past three months, the two teams have confiscated four orangutans from the illegal pet trade and evacuated five from conflict situations. The OIC has rescued nearly 100 orangutans since the end of 2012, and 19 already this year. There are many others still being held in illegal captivity.
On July 9, a female baby orangutan was confiscated from a resident of east Aceh. The orangutan, estimated to be about one year old, was found to be malnourished and weak.
One of the highest profile rescues this year was that of Pongky, who was kept for more than a decade in a tiny cage, then was liberated, only to end up back behind bars in Medan zoo.
He was finally released from the zoo on February 2, and is now at the SOCP centre.
Pongky, who is now about 14 years old, was kept in captivity by a high-ranking police officer in Aceh.
He was locked in a small cage with no access to open space, very limited room to move, and only a single rope, on which he swung back and forth obsessively.
The campaign to get Pongky out of Medan zoo attracted worldwide attention and support. Nearly 10,000 emails were sent to the head of BKSDA Aceh and the director-general of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA) in Jakarta, urging them to transfer Pongky to the SOCP centre. It took years of lobbying to finally get the zoo to hand him over.
A team from the OIC and BKSDA in North Sumatra also recently rescued a white-handed gibbon.
The gibbon, which was being illegally kept by a former high-ranking government official in the Langkat district, and was rescued on July 18, was taken to the Barumun Nagari Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Unfortunately, the owner was not taken into custody despite the fact that gibbons are protected by law in Indonesia,” Hadisiswoyo said. “Like orangutans, white-handed gibbons are seriously threatened as they are poached to be kept as pets.
“As with orangutans, poachers kill the adults so they can capture the young ones.”
Update: Earlier this week, two orangutan traders were arrested in Indonesia. The arrests were made in the capital, Jakarta, and in Medan, Sumatra, and five young orangutans were confiscated. One of the orangutans was confiscated in Jakarta and the others were taken from a trader in Medan, who had brought them from Aceh.
The following statement was issued yesterday by the SOCP.
“This evening, we received three infant orangutans, estimated to be 11-12 months old, and one juvenile orangutan, estimated to be four years old.
“Yesterday, teams from the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP), and the BKSDA arrested a major supplier of orangutans in Aceh, confiscating the young orangutans and bringing them to the safety of our SOCP quarantine centre.
“It is likely that all four orangutans were illegally captured from the Leuser Ecosystem after their mothers were killed. This situation is occurring with increasing frequency as the Leuser Ecosystem continues to be opened up for palm oil production, threatening the last remaining and viable habitat for the Sumatran orangutan, rhino, tiger, and elephant.
“Upon arrival in quarantine, all four orangutans received a physical examination from the SOCP and Orangutan Veterinary Aid (OVAID) teams. The juvenile, a female, had a thick, tight rope around her neck and waist, which required immediate removal. Additionally, one infant has an injury to his left eye, which was treated by the veterinary teams.
“All orangutans are carrying a heavy parasite load and had their hair matted with faeces … Currently, all are drinking and eating well and are receiving 24-hour care from our quarantine team.
“The next few days will be a critical period for them to settle into quarantine after facing such a traumatic experience . With time and proper care, we have high hopes that all four orangutans will have a successful rehabilitation, allowing them to eventually return to the forest where they belong.”
The fifth orangutan, confiscated in Jakarta, was handed over to the Cikananga Wildlife Centre and will be relocated to the SOCP centre.