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article imageTwo illegally-held pet orangutans seized from Tripa peat swamp

By Elizabeth Batt     Mar 28, 2013 in Environment
Banda Aceh - The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) says it has rescued two young orangutans held as illegal pets in the Tripa peat swamp area of Aceh, Indonesia.
The rescue, conducted by SOCP veterinarians and staff of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency in Aceh (BKSDA Aceh), occurred yesterday at two different locations in the village of Simpang Dua, in the Nagan Raya District.
"Almost certainly both were captured in the nearby Tripa peat swamp forests," said SOCP in a press release to Digital Journal. The conservation group, that works in collaboration with the PanEco Foundation and Indonesia’s Yayasan Ecosystem Lestari, said the five-year-old female named Meisin and a two-year-old male -- Upin, were were being kept illegally as pets.
Meisin  a five-year-old female orangutan was discovered underweight and eager for food.
Meisin, a five-year-old female orangutan was discovered underweight and eager for food.
SOCP/YEL/PanEco Foundation
"We see this happening over and over again in Tripa," said Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the SOCP. "Palm oil companies clear the forest completely, then burn what’s left, leaving a totally barren landscape. Almost none of the wildlife living in such areas survives this process," added Singleton, "and that includes orangutans."
Battling palm oil
The battle to save Tripa's peat swamps amid the devastation caused by palm oil deforestation has decimated the iconic red apes and other species that live there. And a recently proposed spatial plan by the new Aceh Government could destroy them even further. Conservation groups say the plan which would reduce protected forest areas from 68% to 45% -- a loss of 1.2 million hectares, will wreak devastation on local communities and wildlife.
"Orangutans often die of gradual starvation or are deliberately killed by local people or plantation workers," said Singleton. "When the animal killed is a female with an infant, if the infant is lucky enough to survive, it is often then taken as a pet," or sold. The director believes this is what happened with Meisin and Upin and said that these orangutans, "Are just two of many that we have confiscated in the Tripa area over the last few years."
Young orangutans are usually held as pets when their mothers have been illegally killed.
Young orangutans are usually held as pets when their mothers have been illegally killed.
SOCP/YEL/PanEco Foundation
Local conservation groups must also deal with corruption across law enforcement on a daily basis. Last October, a lawyer representing local people and the environment in a Tripa lawsuit said the case had been "hijacked" by the financial power of corporations operating in the peat swamps. The corruption he said, was noted throughout the provincial and national police forces.
The smallest and youngest male orangutan, "Was being kept by a local policeman from Polres Nagan Raya," said Asril, the Operations Manager for SOCP. He added, "Even though it's against the law to keep an orangutan as a pet in Indonesia," it is not uncommon, "To find police and military personnel keeping orangutans illegally."
Asran said that the lack of enforcement doesn't help. "Illegal pet orangutan owners know that the chances of them being prosecuted are almost zero," he explained. "This is something that simply has to change if we are ever to bring an end to the illegal killing and capture of wildlife," stressed the operations manager.
Head of provincial Natural Resources Conservation Agency in Aceh (BBKSDA Aceh) Mr. Amon Zamora, MSc appealed to all parties to desist from capturing orangutans or keeping them as pets. "It is totally illegal under Indonesian law to kill, capture, trade or keep an orangutan as a pet," he said, adding that the offense is "punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a 100 million rupiah fine (approximately US$10,000)."
What now for the rescued orangutans?
The older female ape is "clearly underweight," said drh Ikhsani Surya Hidayat, the senior veterinarian on the confiscation team. But her enthusiasm for food means the orangutan is expected to reach "normal weight," he added.
Both animals were exposed to the weather after being, "Kept in small cages at the back of their owners' homes," said the vet, but "were clearly too hot due to the zinc roofs they had." The apes however, were found to be in a reasonable condition.
The two orangutans are now being cared for at SOCP's quarantine center. Meisin and Upin will undergo thorough medical checks in the next few days and a minimum one month quarantine isolation period. Once cleared, they will join other rescued orangutans and begin the process of rehabilitation.
To date, the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme has returned more than 190 illegal captive orangutans to the wild and has rescued a number of other orangutans in similar situations.
Meisin  shortly before she was rescued from her cage.
Meisin, shortly before she was rescued from her cage.
SOCP/YEL/PanEco Foundation
More about Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, Aceh, Indonesia, tripa peat swamps, aceh province orangutans
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