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Australian tip-off leads to online wildlife trafficking sting in Indonesia

Jakarta: A tip-off from the Australian Federal Police led to a sting that nabbed two Indonesians who had smuggled Papuan reptiles to Australia in an international online wildlife trafficking operation.

Indonesia is a global hotspot for the lucrative illegal trade of exotic animals, in demand both dead and alive as trophy pets, for leather products and for use in Asian medicines.

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Indonesia's response to animal trafficking

Indonesian authorities invite media to attend a public burning of seized animal pelts, skins and carcasses that were destined for the black market.

Most of the animals smuggled to Australia from Indonesia are reptiles, which are often sent live in the mail.

"A Papuan local may only receive $10 for a green tree python, the Indonesian trafficker will charge Australian customers $200 to $300 and once in Australia, rare reptiles can fetch up to $10,000 on the animal black market," said an AFP spokeswoman.

Jakarta Animal Aid Network head Benvika​ said Australian authorities had alerted the Indonesian police to Papuan reptiles found in Australia. The tip-off included the name of a man – Darmawan – who sold animals online.

"So we pretended to be would-be buyers," Mr Benvika said. "We contacted Darmawan through his Blackberry number displayed on the website."


Mr Benvika agreed to meet Darmawan in Bogor, a city south of Jakarta, in July last year. He said he wanted to buy an emerald tree monitor, a lizard whose unusual green and turquoise colourings make it a highly coveted pet.

Emerald tree monitors are one of about 5000 protected animal species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, of which both Australia and Indonesia are member countries.

"We did not show up but the police did," Mr Benvika said.

Police arrested Darmawan and Yongki, two students from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, who were found in possession of 30 green tree pythons, three emerald tree monitors, a blue-tailed lizard, a frilled-neck lizard, a peach-throated monitor and a yellow monitor.

"The two suspects had been involved in an online international wildlife trafficking operation since 2012, primarily trading in reptiles, and their customers included Australian persons," the AFP spokeswoman said.

Both were sentenced to five months' jail last month.

Under Indonesian law, animal traffickers face a maximum five years' jail and fine of up to 100 million rupiah ($10,000).

In 2014, Indonesia's top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, requiring Muslims to take an active role in protecting threatened species.The fatwa was hailed by environmental group WWF Indonesia as the first of its kind in the world.

While not legally binding, it is based on Islamic law and supports the Indonesian government's policies on protecting threatened animals.

"People can escape government regulation but they cannot escape the word of God," the head of the MUI's agency for honouring environment and natural resources, Dr Hayu Prabowo​, said in 2014.

Last week the Indonesian National Police held a ceremonial burning of seized contraband, including four Sumatran tiger skins, a kilogram of tiger bones, tiger skin wallets, a stuffed hawksbill sea turtle, a stuffed crocodile head and a helmeted hornbill casque.

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered with fewer than 400 living in forests in the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Although the AFP was not involved in the contraband seizure, a representative was invited to attend the burning ceremony, to reflect the close co-operation between the two countries on environmental crime.

"We extend our gratitude to all parties who have helped Indonesian police to prevent the poaching of endangered animals," Jakarta Police detective chief Krishna Murti​ said in a statement read at the "extermination of the evidence".

The AFP spokeswoman said that since 2014 there had been an increased level of cooperation between the AFP and Indonesian National Police in relation to wildlife smuggling investigations.

With Karuni Rompies

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