After the deaths in rapid succession of Sumatran elephants and other protected animals over the past few years, the government and the House of Representatives have agreed to revise the natural resources conservation law to place heavier sanctions on hunters and traders.
Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Monday that the government and the parliament were in the process of revising Law No. 5/1990 on natural resources and ecosystem conservation.
“The law is outdated,” she told reporters at her office. “Right now the revision is in progress, being drafted by us and House Commission IV [overseeing forestry, agriculture, plantations and fisheries] and we have started to promulgate [the revision].”
The government felt the urgency of the revision after seeing that most cases of animal trading and hunting resulted in prison time of less than one year for perpetrators, and fines of less than Rp 100 million (US$7,476), Siti said.
Acccording to WWF Indonesia, the harshest prison sentence that has ever been given to a perpetrator of illegal wildlife trafficking is only two years.
“On the other hand, a big elephant tusk can go on sale for hundreds of millions of rupiah,” WWF Indonesia communication and advocacy director Nyoman Iswarayoga told The Jakarta Post.
Therefore, he added, it was important for the House to include the revision in next year’s National Legislation Program (Prolegnas).
“The revision is currently sitting on the waiting list [for this year’s Prolegnas]. So, it’s important to upgrade the status of the revision to make it a priority,” Nyoman said.
Besides including harsher punishments, the revision should also update the list of protected animals, according to WWF wildlife and landscape Ecologist Sunarto.
“There are frequent changes in taxonomy and naming of animals in Indonesia. There are also animals that weren’t threatened [when the law was issued in 1990] but now are,” he told the Post.
Excessive land conversion and massive wildlife hunting have recently driven wild animals in Indonesia to the brink of extinction, a phenomenon dubbed by Sunarto as a “silent forest”.
“I believe that the state of wildlife in Indonesia is in emergency. Elephants, for instance, have been facing extinction since 2012,” he said.
At least 152 Sumatran elephants, which are included in the critically endangered species category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have died since 2012, according to data from the Indonesia Elephant Conservation Forum (FKGI).
The FKGI also noted that Sumatran elephants were already gone from 13 out of 56 regions of their natural habitat in Sumatra.
At the moment, the population of Sumatran elephants has shrunk to 1,300, a 50 percent decline in 10 years.
At the current rate, Sunarto predicts that they could be gone from the face of the earth in less than 10 years.
Therefore, he said that the revision of the law itself was not enough, reasoning that the problem was deeply rooted in Indonesian culture.
“There lacks a sense of guilt among the public [when it comes to animal violence]. From childhood, we are taught to be hostile to animals by throwing rocks at them or catching them if they run across the yard. We see them as threats even if they do nothing besides crossing the yard,” Sunarto said.
Excessive land conversion has further aggravated human-wildlife conflicts. As the territory of wild animals becomes increasingly limited, they begin entering human settlements.
Sunarto said that Indonesia had the highest number of human-elephant conflicts in Asia.
The prevalence of human and elephant conflicts in Indonesia stands at 1.2 percent, followed by Thailand (0.4 percent) and Vietnam (0.2 percent). Sri Lanka, meanwhile, boasts a very low number of human-elephant conflicts as a result of its populations’ high esteem for the endangered species.