Youth key to saving vulnerable primates: NGO

The Banded Leaf Monkey
Dr Leong Tzi Ming

The government and the general public, especially younger generations, must take a leading role in the fight against illegal primate trading, a business that has reached alarming levels in Indonesia, a wildlife protection NGO has declared.

ProFauna Indonesia's West Java campaigner Rinda Aunillah Sirait said the demand for exotic primates such as lutung (tailed leaf monkeys) and kukang (slow lorises), for use as pets, continued to increase despite the shrinking populations of the species in the wild.

The organisation's media monitors identified 67 cases of illegal primate trading reported in the mass media last year, slightly lower than the 74 cases recorded in 2014.

Last year, the highest number of cases took place in East Java, with 16, followed by seven cases in West Java and five in Bali.

"The actual number of cases, however, is probably much higher if you consider all those that went unexposed," she said, adding that some reported cases had used social media, like Facebook, as a trading platform.

There are currently 600 primate species in the world, with 40 of them found in Indonesia. Some 70 per cent of the primate species in Indonesia, according to ProFauna, are now vulnerable to extinction due to extensive deforestation and illegal poaching.

Apart from law enforcement, Rinda said, a campaign to protect rare primates must also involve young people, where demand for primates as exotic pets mostly comes from.

"These young people, for example, must know that to obtain a baby lutung, the poachers must kill its mother first," she said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) previously listed the Javan lutung, one of many lutung species, as endangered but in 2008 later updated its status to vulnerable.

The organisation has also listed the Javan kukang and the Bornean kukang as critically endangered and vulnerable species, respectively.

According to the 1990 law on biological resources and ecosystem conservation, a person who buys or sells a protected species can be punished with a maximum five years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rp 100 million (S$10,300).

West Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) technical division head Munarto, however, thinks that the law fails to create a significant deterrent effect.

"So far, the highest punishment for such cases has been two-and-a-half years' imprisonment. Meanwhile, the amount of money earned through the illegal trade remains tempting," he said.