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Patrolling Indonesia’s natural heritage

Closing ranks on environmental crime

Indonesia’s environmental crime challenges: deforestation and wildlife loss

The rapid loss of Indonesia’s rainforests due to logging, mining and agriculture together with wildlife trafficking rapidly becoming one of the most profitable illegal trades in the world mean that Indonesia’s unique natural heritage is being driven to the very edge of survival. 

Deforestation

The title of world’s third largest rainforest goes hand-in-hand with booming timber business.  Indonesian wood is particularly sought after because of its high quality rainforest nature.

A key source of economic prosperity, Indonesia has opened up part of its forests to the legal timber industry.  In return, the industry must replant seedling trees and promote regeneration.  The deal is simple, environmentally friendly, and sanctioned when not respected.

Alas the market is also attractive to organized crime which does not play by the same rules. Rigorously-organized syndicates operate illegal logging operations on a permanent and large-scale basis, exporting principally to North East Asia but also beyond.  The syndicates aren’t easy to detect because they usually hire local people to poach and smuggle on their behalf.

Indonesia’s forests are currently being destroyed at a rate of nearly half a million hectares a year, with crime syndicates held responsible by forest authorities for a considerable portion of this eradication. 

Along with mining operations and far-reaching agricultural plantations, organized crime activity is detrimental to the survival of Indonesia’s growing economy and vulnerable ecology.   Deforestation is a danger to Indonesia’s wildlife whose natural habitat is being reduced at a phenomenal rate.  Many areas can no longer support the original species and ecological communities that lived there.

In some regions of Indonesia, the Orangutan has nowhere left to live because its forests have been transformed into plantations, making it easier for hunters and poachers to capture them.  Conflict between wildlife and man increases because without their natural habitat, animals come into contact with humans, are obliged to steal human foodstuff to survive and are often captured or killed.  Today, it is believed that the few orangutans left in the tropical rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra number less than 40,000.

Wildlife decline

There are two main causes of wildlife extinction in Indonesia:

  • habitat loss through deforestation;
  • illegal wildlife trade.

The rapid loss of Indonesia’s rainforests is driving many species to the edge of survival. But that’s only part of the story.  Wildlife trafficking is one of the most profitable types of illegal trade in the world today.

Illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade

The illegal trafficking of wildlife is a serious threat to Indonesia's endangered and vulnerable species.    Animals are poached by local people who know the animal’s typical behavior and who, to boost their income, sell them to dealers and syndicates.

In Indonesia, the demand for the Indonesian pangolins from Sumatra, Kalimantan and Central Java to other Asian countries is very high.   Poachers are particularly partial to this anteater which they hunt both for its meat and for its scales.     Pangolin scales are in high demand for many forms of traditional Asian medicine.  Pangolin  bush meat is shipped almost daily to nearby countries where it is considered a luxury.  

Because of its value on the international market, this animal continues to be poached on a phenomenal scale. The toll on the pangolin species has been huge and although the animal is protected today, it is moving towards extinction.  Working with INTERPOL Jakarta, Indonesian customs authorities intercept entire containers of illegally-hunted dead pangolins nationwide on an almost daily basis.

Endemic animals such as the tiger, rhinoceros, orangutan, elephant, and leopard were once abundant in Indonesia.  Numbers have dwindled drastically over the past two decades.   Some species, including the emblem of Indonesia, the Javan Hawk, are almost extinct, because of their high value on the illegal wildlife market.

Domestic pet trade

An increasing number of endangered primate, feline, reptile and bird species are falling victim to poachers who sell them to the domestic animal industry.  There are huge profits to be made for the sale of these fashionable exotic pets.  The more endangered the species is, the higher its value on the market. Captured and put through considerable cruelty and suffering, this kind of captivity often results in death as their specific needs cannot be met in a household environment.  Many die because of inappropriate transportation and handling.

Some of these animals are rescued by Indonesian police or national rescue authorities.  They are sheltered in rehabilitations centres in national parks where maximum energy is put into to rekindling their ability to live and survive in the wild.  Zimboo, a Java Gibbon, was lucky enough to meet this fate at the Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park.

Globalisation

An additional challenge is the transnational nature of organized illegal logging in Indonesia. To identify and dismantle the global criminal networks behind the destruction of Indonesia’s natural resources, national agencies need to be able to take their investigations beyond national borders and share them with their international partners.

INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Jakarta enables them to do this. It plays a key role in sharing globally-collected INTERPOL intelligence with national partners to help them tackle the organized transnational criminal groups involved in forestry crime.

INTERPOL Jakarta is a unique source of international police information and intelligence used daily by Indonesian law enforcement agencies to address their environmental crime challenges and the organized transnational nature of the criminal groups involved.