Sun Apr 21,12:02 PM ET
By LELY T. DJUHARI, Associated Press Writer
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Peering out from a filthy cage filled with
animal droppings and rotting food, the siamang gibbon stretches
out a long black hairy arm to grab a banana offered by one of the
four men who keep it imprisoned while they search for a buyer.
These animal traders are part of an illegal multimillion dollar
business in Indonesia, which has more endangered primates like the
siamang gibbon than any other country. Animal rights activists say
Jakarta's Pramuka Market a five-minute walk from where the
siamang gibbon is held in a ramshackle house stacked with cages
is Asia's largest black market for rare animals.
"You want baby orangutans?" said a market vendor who
identified himself only as Iwan. "How about a siamang gibbon?
Better be quick, I've sold five already today.
"If there is anything you want, we can get it for you,"
The total value of Indonesia's illegal animal trade is unknown,
but animal activists say hundreds of creatures are sold each month
despite their protection under the Convention on International Trade
on Endangered Species, known as CITES.
Demand for rare animals is great; they are sold as pets or valuable
collectors' items and for use as food or medicine. Typical is the
siamang, the largest of the gibbon apes, with long arms for swinging
in trees. The cute siamang babies are popular as pets, but owners
often abandon the full grown animal, which can be 3 feet tall and
has a loud piercing cry.
Environmentalists say a shrinking habitat also threatens Indonesia's
rare species. The lush forests are rapidly disappearing due to urban
expansion and uncontrolled logging. Corruption and political instability
further compromise animal safety.
Often the wild animals wind up at the Pramuka Market, which covers
an area the size of a football field in East Jakarta. Established
in 1967 as a bird market, it has sold all manner of creatures since
the 1980s. Overlooking it is a remnant of failed campaigns to combat
the illegal trade a faded billboard threatening sellers and
buyers of endangered animals with five years imprisonment.
Market officials insist that only legal animals are sold, but shady
transactions regularly take place in the markets' back alleys.
"The illegal trade of endangered animals is rampant here,"
said Will Smith, an activist with the Liechtenstein-based Gibbon
Foundation which focuses its efforts on Indonesia.
Animal activists face a big challenge in Indonesia. Protecting
endangered animals is not a major concern of officials, and illegal
items made from animals are openly marketed.
Department stores display jewelry and knickknacks fashioned from
giant turtles and elephants' tusks, and hawkers approach drivers
at busy downtown intersections, offering terrified animals like
the cuscus, a small marsupial, for as little as $25.
Newspapers and online media sites publish classified ads under
"collector's items," offering rare animals or just parts
A stuffed Sumatran tiger has one of the largest pricetags at around
$2,500. Even pieces of this magnificent creature are for sale
tiger's penises are sold as aphrodisiacs, and ground up bones, claws
and teeth go into traditional Chinese remedies for arthritis and
The World Wide Fund for Nature Indonesia is planning a major campaign
starting next month to raise awareness of endangered animals, focusing
on the plight of the tigers along with orangutans and rhinoceroses.
The fund says an average of 33 Sumatran tigers are killed every
year and the species could become extinct by 2010. The Javan Rhino,
once abundant in Southeast Asia, is now on the critically endangered
list. Hunters slaughter it merely for its horn, a valued ingredient
in Oriental medicine.
Fewer than 20,000 orangutans are left in Indonesia because hundreds
of the orange-haired apes are smuggled each year to the United States
and other industrialized countries, fetching up to $30,000. Baby
orangutans are the most popular and most vulnerable. Smugglers
usually ship five babies together, sedated in a cardboard box, to
ensure that at least one survives the long, arduous journey by boat.
Chairul Saleh, a senior campaigner for the nature fund, said the
new campaign of information about rare species must go beyond the
usual cooperation with authorities to catch smugglers.
"We want to cut off the trade from the consumer side,"
he said. "We want to make endangered animals deeply unfashionable."