By Apriadi Gunawan
Because of decreasing numbers of rare wildlife species in Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL), located in North Sumatra and Aceh provinces, poachers have recently started catching the rangkong, or hornbill.
“Hornbills are currently being targeted by poachers because they are rare and hard to catch, partly because their population is further declining,” TNGL center head Andi Basrul told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
Basrul said the hornbill was highly valued on the black market, and was being sought by poachers only as of this year.
He added that based on the accounts of poachers arrested by officers, the price of a hornbill beak was around Rp 9 million (US$690), or Rp 90,000 per gram.
“The weight of its beak alone is between 100 and 120 grams. See how much money it could fetch. Isn’t it lucrative for poachers,” said Basrul, adding that his center arrested two bird poachers in TNGL last week.
Basrul said officers confiscated 12 hornbill beaks, which had been cleaned and prepared for sale overseas, from the two poachers.
“The trade in hornbills from TNGL has reached China, Hong Kong and Vietnam,” said Basrul, adding that the hornbill beak is reportedly an ingredient in some medicines overseas.
He said poaching suspects could face five years in prison and be fined Rp 100 million in accordance with Law No. 5/1990, which covers the conservation of natural resources and ecosystems.
Meanwhile, a suspect who traded in hornbill beaks, Jamas, 37, said he had only recently traded in the bird.
Jamas said that he used to poach other animals, including elephants and tigers, in TNGL.
However, as the endangered animals became harder to find, Jamas said that he switched to trading hornbills.
Jamas claimed that he was drawn into the hornbill beak business by their high trade value on the black market. Their price, he added, currently sits at around Rp 90,000 per gram.
“Most of the buyers come from Jakarta. The beaks are immediately sent overseas the moment they arrive in Jakarta,” said Jamas.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Indonesia Program, the population of rare animals in the park, including Sumatran tigers, rhinos, elephants and orangutans, has continuously decreased over the last 20 years.
In the 1980s the number of rhinos there was 60 but today there remains only 20 to 30. The population of the Sumatran tiger, similarly, has decreased from 150 in the 1990s to 100 today.
Besides poaching, illegal logging in the 1,095,592-hectare park is believed to contribute to the decline in the numbers of these animals.