Indonesian official busted trading Sumatran tiger parts evades jail time

A local politician previously convicted of corruption has been charged in Indonesia for allegedly selling Sumatran tiger parts.

Sumatra Tiger_Indonesia
The Sumatran tiger's population in the wild is estimated at fewer than 400 individuals. Image: Tiomax80, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

Authorities in Indonesia have charged three men, including a local political leader in Sumatra, with selling body parts from a Sumatran tiger, a critically endangered and protected species.

Ahmadi, 41, the former head of Bener Meriah district in Aceh province, was arrested by provincial police along with two alleged accomplices while transacting a sale for the hide and bones of a Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) on May 24.

The species, whose population in the wild is estimated at fewer than 400 individuals, is protected under Indonesia’s Conservation Act. Illegal capture, distribution and trade of any protected species or its parts is punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to 100 million rupiah ($7,000).

“The perpetrators must be punished to the fullest extent [of the law],” Rasio Ridho Sani, the director-general of law enforcement at the environment ministry, said at a press conference on June 3. He added that the illegal wildlife trade was deemed an extraordinary crime in the country.

The extinction of the Sumatran tiger will affect the functional sustainability of forest ecosystems.

Rasio Ridho Sani, director-general of law enforcement, Indonesian environment ministry

Ahmadi, who in 2018 was arrested for corruption and later served three years in prison, was released shortly after being charged in the tiger case, prompting an outcry from conservation activists.

Police say there’s no reason to detain him pending the investigation, and that he will be required to report regularly to investigators.

Observers say this kind of treatment is emblematic of one of the root problems in Indonesia’s wildlife trafficking problem: the fact that the perpetrators tend to be influential figures such as politicians and military officers. Despite the jail term and fines prescribed in the Conservation Act, offenders often are rarely prosecuted; on the few occasions they are, they typically receive token sentences far below the maximum, which critics say fails to create a deterrent effect.

Aceh province, at the northern tip of Sumatra, is believed to hold about half the world’s remaining population of Sumatran tigers. Many of them are found in the Leuser Ecosystem, the only place on Earth where tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants are still believed to coexist.

The Sumatran tiger has since the 1980s been pushed to the brink of extinction by a combination of severe loss of habitat — to logging and oil palm plantations — and poaching for its body parts. Its dwindling population in the wild makes it critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, or a step away from extinction.

Two other tiger species endemic to Indonesia went extinct in the 20th century: the Bali tiger (Panthera tigris balica) and the Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica). That makes conserving the Sumatran tiger a key focus for the Indonesian government and wildlife activists. None of the few scattered Sumatran tiger subpopulations that remain holds more than 50 individuals.

“The extinction of the Sumatran tiger will affect the functional sustainability of forest ecosystems,” Ridho said.

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