Suspected smuggler of rare Sumatran tigers arrested in Indonesia
Indonesian wildlife officials have arrested a suspected smuggler of critically endangered Sumatran tigers after a two-day stakeout, World Wildlife Fund reports. There are believed to be fewer than 400 of these rare big cats in the wild.
The arrest was made by Indonesia’s Natural Resource Conservation Agency in Riau and West Sumatra provinces, with support from World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia’s Tiger Protection Units. The authorities also seized the skin of a Sumatran tiger they believed was poisoned.
After hearing of the poisoned tiger, the authorities staked out a poacher, which they believe led to a high-level wildlife smuggler, WWF said in a statement.
When they arrived at the suspected smuggler’s house, investigators located the tiger skin by following the smell of chemicals used to preserve animal parts. The tiger’s bones, valued on the black market for their supposed medicinal value, were not found. They did find a live python, parts of a Southern Serow (a kind of mountain goat) and a muntjac, or barking deer.
Authorities tracked a vehicle they suspected of picking up the skin and bones from the poached Sumatran tiger to Balung, a border area between Riau and West Sumatra. The driver of the vehicle was then seen handing over the tiger skin to the suspect, who is in police custody in West Sumatra.
“It’s hard to say how big a trader he is,” Barney Long, WWF’s manager of Asian species conservation programs,” said by telephone. “We’ve been gathering information on him for the last few years … He’s clearly a major trader of wildlife and we know he’s trading tigers.”
Tigers are primarily hunted for their bones, which are used in traditional Asian medicines and in a tonic wine, especially in Vietnam and China, Long said. Tiger whiskers are thought to have magical properties in some areas, while small pieces of tiger skin are sometimes considered to be good luck charms, imparting strength.
Tigers are endangered not only by poaching and smuggling but by destruction of their habitat. In Indonesia, Sumatran tiger habitat is being lost to palm oil and paper pulp plantations.
The arrest comes as Indonesia and the other 12 countries with wild tigers embark on implementing the Global Tiger Recovery Program, launched last November in Russia, which 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.
WWF provided video made with a remote camera of a young Sumatran tiger in its leafy Indonesian habitat. Two days later, the video showed a bulldozer operating in the area. The next day, a tiger comes again to inspect the camera, with bulldozed land in the background.
Photo credits: © WWF-Indonesia/Tiger Survey Team (Camera trap image of Sumatran tiger cub, Sumatra, Indonesia)
© WWF-Indonesia/tiger Survey Team (Female Sumatran tiger captured by camera trap in Rimbang Baling-Bukit Tigapuluh Corridor, Sumatra, Indonesia)