The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
January 21, 2003
A long-tailed macaque is suspended by the tail from the ceiling of
what appears to be a workshop, while a man holds the primate's head
to stop it struggling as he burns the animal with a blowtorch to
seal in its internal juices.
It is a scene from a short documentary
Menuju Kepunahan (Towards Extinction) by ProFauna, a non-governmental
organization for the protection of wild animals and their habitats.
But who is the beast here, the macaque or the man burning it
alive? And what for? Apparently for nothing else other than to
appetites of a small number of people who believe primate meat
gives one vigor and virility.
"Consumers believe the meat tastes better and gives the person eating it more power and strength when it is consumed with the blood intact," ProFauna Indonesia chairman Rosek Nursahid said last week.
The insatiable appetite of men. Nothing else on earth is capable of such cruelty and destruction than the man's appetite for control and power, in this case over their sexuality. And for that, they are more than willing to pay.
Based on its research in 2001, ProFauna believes that more than 1,500 primates are killed every year at slaughterhouses in Bandar Lampung, Lampung province. The meat sells at an average of Rp 10,000 (about US$1.13) per kilogram.
Not only primate meat, but sea turtle meat and honey bear bile and gallbladders have also been known to make their way onto the market, either as food or traditional medicines.
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) meat is a great delicacy in Bali and is sold as satay and lawar (thinly sliced meat) at about Rp 8,000 per serving, Rosek said. While medicine containing the honey bear's bile and gallbladders supposedly cures internal and other serious injuries, he said.
Traditional medicine containing derivatives of endangered species -- such as the tiger, rhinoceros, bear and musk deer -- have been practiced for more than 5,000 years and although natural and synthetic alternatives are available, traditional beliefs concerning the benefits of these medicines sustains the illegal trade and threatens the existence of these highly endangered species.
The human appetite for exotic animals, does not stop at their digestive systems. Their curiosity and hunger for status symbols have also spawned and nurtured the animal trade across the world -- the buying and selling of strange and wonderful animals for pets, or stuffing and mounting them to adorn a rich man's game room.
"Trade in animals has been known to come second in value to trade in drugs," Djati Witjaksono Hadi, from the Directorate of Biodiversity Conservation at the Ministry of Forestry, said.
While the value in legitimate trade is easy to keep track of -- the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates the global trade in animals, plants, and their byproducts is worth about US$159 billion a year -- a figure on the far more lucrative illegal trade remained elusive, he added.
"What is clear, however, is the environmental cost of the global illegal wildlife trade is immeasurable," Djati said.
Smuggling of rare and exotic specimens is obviously fueled by market demand. Endangered species, especially of tropical birds, reptiles and amphibians are sought for their aesthetic appeal, breeding potential, rarity and their alleged therapeutic properties.
To control trade and prevent these species from disappearing totally from the face of the earth, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was put into force in 1975.
Although not a law, CITES provides a framework to be respected by participating countries which then adopt their own domestic legislation to make sure CITES is implemented nationally.
At present CITES has more than 150 participating countries and provides varying degrees of protection to more than 30,000 species of animals and plants.
CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls, requiring all import, export and reexport to be authorized through a licensing system.
The species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices according to the degree of protection they need.
Indonesia signed the convention in 1978, Djati said, and protection of endangered species are protected under the 1990 law on conservation of natural resources and ecosystems. Furthermore, in accordance with CITES, the quota for trade in selected species are annually revised by the Ministry of Forestry based on recommendations from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
"The trend is the quota is reduced each year, so that eventually capture in the wild for breeding purposes only are allowed," Djati said.
Yet despite the laws, trade in endangered species remains unchecked. Worse, since the value of a particular specimen is usually related to its scarcity -- as a species becomes more endangered so its price increases -- as do the financial rewards for smugglers.
And while the CITES listing procedures flag the need for greater controls or trade bans for endangered species, they may also add to market value by labeling species as rare.
"All you need to do is to stroll through the Pramuka bird market in Central Jakarta (to find rare species on sale). It's said to be the largest (endangered species) market in Asia," Rosek said, commenting that he once found a tiger on sale there.
He expressed frustration at the failure of some of the police raids at the Pramuka market aimed at catching the illegal traders red handed.
"They knew we were coming, so when we got there there was nothing. Yet only a day earlier traders were openly marketing endangered animals," Rosek said, indicating the involvement of crime syndicates in the endangered animal trade.
Meanwhile, successful police raids, supported by ProFauna, last year resulted in 23 consfications of endangered animals, either at bird markets or on private property, but only two cases actually went to trial, he said.
Failing to strangle the trade at the neck, ProFauna (www.profauna.or.id) decided to focus on the next generation of potential collectors with Menuju Kepunahan.
Beginning in February the short documentary will be screened in high schools and universities across Jakarta, Malang, Bali, Maluku and Papua.
"We will educate the young because they will become our future leaders. They are the ones that will become important," Rosek said, adding that he was happy to have the support of popular music groups Cokelat, Laluna and Slank for its cause.