The Riau Police are investigating a possible international ivory-trade network following the arrest of a group of hunters in possession of ivory tusks suspected to be intended for sale.
Provincial police chief Brig. Gen. Dolly Bambang Hermawan said on Saturday his office’s Special Crimes Unit would investigate the case, starting from the elephant-hunting syndicate up to the dealers and buyers in the international network.
“It’s possible that the arrested hunters were planning to sell the ivory in underground local and international markets. We have to trace the buyers and all involved in this crime,” Dolly said in Pekanbaru on Saturday as quoted by Antara.
The police arrested eight hunters in Pekanbaru on Tuesday and confiscated eight pairs of ivory tusks measuring up to 40 centimeters long.
At the time of the arrests, the poachers were trying to sell one pair of tusks extracted from a wild male elephant that had been killed in the Mandau district of Bengkalis regency.
“This group is very cruel. They shot the elephants in the head and took the ivory. I suspect that they are part of a syndicate that operates in Riau and Jambi,” said the police’s special crimes chief Sr. Comr. YS Widodo.
The group also killed elephant cubs for their organs.
The tusks would have been sold at a price of Rp 10 million per kilogram.
Seven of those arrested have been named suspects, including one member of the Indonesian Target Shooting and Hunting Association (Perbakin) suspected of masterminding the crime.
The hunters confessed that they had also killed elephants in Tesso Nilo National Park two weeks ago and in the neighboring province of Jambi last year.
The suspects were charged under Article 21 of the 1990 law on natural conservation, which carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and Rp 200 million in fines.
Following the arrest of a Perbakin member, the Riau Police have, as a precaution, confiscated firearms from the association’s members.
“We have pulled a total of 28 firearms from Riau Perbakin members. This is to prevent them from being misused,” Dolly said.
Perbakin hunters, he added, would from now on need to request permission from the police whenever they wanted to use the firearms for hunting.
“This is to monitor where and when the firearms are being used to prevent further elephant killings,” he said.
The population of Sumatran elephants has been dwindling rapidly as a result of poaching and deforestation; the species’ habitat has also shrunk by around 70 percent over the past 25 years.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has reported that Riau has no major protected areas for its approximately 700 elephants. Instead, Sumatra’s elephants exist in small pockets of jungle surrounded by homesteads, oil palms, timber plantations and logging concessions.
More than 145 Sumatran elephants had died mysteriously and tragically over the past decade, said Syamsidar, a spokesman for the WWF’s Riau Program.
“While some were killed in conflict with human beings, others have been slain by illegal ivory traders. Only a very few of them have succumbed to illness,” Syamsidar said.
He lamented that in more than 100 elephant death cases, only a few had been investigated and brought to court.
The last illegal ivory trading case that was brought to court was in 2005, and other cases of elephant killings had been reported in court, he added.
The WWF has recorded 43 cases of Sumatran elephant poaching in Riau in the past three years. However, no arrests have been made.
“We’re expecting a lot of the Riau Police,” he said.