By Loren Bell
Police in Langkat, North Sumatra, Indonesia, seized 55 porcupines from smugglers preparing to ship the animals to China. Three suspects were detained during last week's operation, while their accomplices remain at large. Dozens more animals reportedly obtained from dealers in Medan are still unaccounted for.
Police Chief, Yulmar Tri Himawan, said the operation was part of an ongoing investigation which started on a tip by local citizens. He said a truck the police were watching for was spotted traveling through Langkat.
"Upon discovery, our team stopped the vehicle immediately," Yulmar said, "Inside they found 55 porcupines (landak) concealed inside wooden boxes serving as temporary cages."
The three individuals detained are residents of Aceh Province, and are believed to be part of a larger wildlife trafficking network.
One of the detained men claims the three of them are only transporters, carrying the animals from Medan to Aceh for 425,000 rupiah ($36) per trip. During questioning he stated this is the third time he has transported animals. Previously, he hauled pangolins and 118 small turtles. The suspect claims the animals are transported to Aceh where they are smuggled aboard a boat that carries them to a larger ship waiting further out at sea.
"There are other teams involved," the suspect told investigators. "There is a team that picks up the animals, there is a team that arranges the transactions, there are others who are responsible for finding and buying the animals."
The second of the three men stated this is the first time he had transported porcupines, and that he was not aware that the animals were protected. Statements from the third individual have not been released.
The animals that are still alive will be turned over to the Nature Conservation Agency of Sumatra.
Bezoar stones, masses found in the digestive tracts of some porcupines, are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a range of ailments from dengue fever to epilepsy and cancer. A 1603 lawsuit over the purchase of a bezoar stone is cited as the origin of the concept of "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) in English common law.
Pangolins are reportedly the most trafficked animal on earth. Dried or roasted pangolin scales are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat swelling and arthritis, as well as—according to the January 1938 issue of Nature—"women possessed by devils and ogres."
SOURCE: Ayat S Karokaro. Polres Langkat Gagalkan Penyelundupan Landak ke China. Mongabay-Indonesia. August 23, 2014.