PEKANBARU – A suspected tiger smuggler has been arrested in West Sumatra, Indonesia, following a three-day investigation by the Natural Resource Conservation Agency in Riau and West Sumatra Province (BKSDA), with support from WWF Indonesia’s Tiger Protection Unit. The investigation also resulted in the seizure of the skin of an adult male tiger believed to have been poisoned inside or near a wildlife reserve in Sumatra’s Riau Province.
After receiving a report on 28 February that a poacher had poisoned a tiger near Rimbang Baling Wildlife Reserve in Kampar District, BKSDA Riau and WWF Riau’s Tiger Protection Unit staked out the area in Kampar District for two days.
“Our goal was not only to help government arresting the local poacher, but to see if we could track the tiger carcass to someone higher up in the smuggling network,” said Chairul Saleh, Wildlife Conservation Specialist with WWF Indonesia.
“We need to break the smuggling networks that are decimating our Sumatran tiger population, so we have to go as high up the ladder as possible.”
BKSDA Riau tracked a courier suspected of picking up a piece of Sumatran tiger skin and bones from the poached tiger to Balung, a border area located between Riau and West Sumatra province. The courier was later seen handing over the tiger skin to the suspect, who travelled to Payakumbuh, West Sumatra. BKSDA West Sumatra was then called to join the operation.
After detecting the smell of chemicals often used to preserve tiger skins at the suspect’s house, a WWF Tiger Patrol Unit member was able to locate the skin. The tiger’s bones, which are highly valued on the black market for their supposed medicinal value, were not recovered. Other wildlife was also discovered in the house, including a live python and body parts of a Serrow (a local species of mountain goat) and muntjac, or barking deer, according to BKSDA.
Kurnia Rauf, Head of BKSDA Riau said, “We believe the suspect has a wide international wildlife trade network in Sumatra; therefore we expect law enforcement in this case can be done as soon as possible. We’re ready to help provide necessary data to help the judicial process of this case, hoping that the maximum sentence can be enforced to create a deterrent effect to other poachers.”
“The BKSDA teams in Riau and in West Sumatra deserve much credit for running a highly professional operation that resulted in the arrest of the suspect without incident on 3 March,” said Suhandri, leader of WWF-Indonesia’s Program in Riau.
“WWF strongly urges law enforcment agencies in West Sumatra to take this case seriously and to seek the maximum penalty to deter this poacher and others. Sumatran tigers are critically endangered and poaching is one of the top threats to their survival.”
The suspect continues to be detained at the Payakumbuh Police Station in West Sumatra. A minivan allegedly used to transport the tiger skin has also been confiscated as evidence.
The arrest comes as Indonesia and the 12 other nations that still have wild tigers embark on building the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, an initiative launched at the International Tiger Conservation Forum in Russia last November that seeks to double the number of tigers within the next 12 years. A follow-up meeting, the International Conference on Tiger Conservation, will be held from March 28 – 30 in New Delhi, India.
“As a follow up to the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry commitment in Russia, we’re also committed to reducing the threat to the Sumatran tiger population by strengthening law enforcement and stopping Sumatran tiger poaching and illegal trading,” said Kurnia Rauf, Head of the BKSDA Riau.
“The Ministry of Forestry is also strengthening its collaboration with partners on the protection of Sumatran tiger population in its natural habitat to increase population of Sumatran tiger by 3 per cent per year as mandated in the National Strategic Plan of Sumatran Tiger Conservation 2007-2017.”
The Sumatran tiger population is estimated at 400 individuals, with as few as 3,200 tigers remaining in the wild across Asia.