An orangutan in Indonesia’s Aceh province died last Thursday after being beaten by residents of a local village attempting to capture the animal. The case casts a tragic spotlight on what is becoming an increasingly serious problem in the region, as habitat decline and weak law enforcement leave wild orangutans at risk of being killed or captured and kept illegally as pets.
The adult female orangutan was badly injured when it was picked up by rescuers from the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Foundation-Orangutan Information Centre (YOSL-OIC). The team tried to bring the injured animal to an orangutan quarantine center in nearby North Sumatra province, but it died before reaching the center.
Rescuers believe the orangutan was injured while being beaten by residents of Panton Luas village in South Aceh. The residents said they were trying to capture the orangutan to either keep it as a pet or sell it, both of which are illegal under Indonesian law.
“When we received the information we immediately coordinated with BKSDA and took action to try to save her,” said Ikhsan, a senior veterinarian with SOCP, on Thursday. “But from the photos we received when the rescue team arrived to pick her up and treat the orangutan at seven o’clock this morning, it was clear that the orangutan was already dying and there was no hope that she would survive. Sadly, due to the seriousness of her injuries, she died two hours into the drive.”
Ian Singleton, conservation director of SOCP, said that cases like this one are becoming increasingly common in the area. In recent years, he said, SOCP has had to rescue more and more orangutans that have been illegally captured by communities, a problem he attributes to land clearing and a lack of law enforcement. Cases involving the killing or capture of endangered species are rarely brought to court in Indonesia, and in cases that do make it to court perpetrators typically receive light sentences.
In this case, Singleton also questioned the residents’ claim that they were attempting to capture the orangutan to keep it as a pet. “It is strange that the local residents reported [that the orangutan] was captured as an adult to be kept as a pet or traded. In our opinion, the captors meant to kill the orangutan from the beginning. And who knows, she may have a baby who has now been left in the forest without its mother.”
Meanwhile BKSDA Aceh, a government agency charged with protecting endangered species, said that individuals will be brought to justice for harming orangutans and other protected animals. “[The] murder, capture and keeping of orangutans and other protected species clearly violates the law,” said Amon Zamora, head of BKSDA Aceh. “If the community has a problem with conflict with wild animals it should be reported to us first.”
“In the future we plan to increase the number of cases that are processed until they reach the courts,” Amon added. “We hope that all cases of capture, killing and keeping of protected animals in Aceh will quickly be reported to us from now on.”
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