Village leader among suspects in illegal ivory trade in Riau (Indonesia)


Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post

Date Published

Five men, including a village head, have been named suspects of illegal ivory trading following a series of interviews by the Riau Police. They were charged with violating the 1990 law on natural resources conservation, which could see them serve up to five years in prison if found guilty.

The Riau Police special crimes and intelligence unit announced it was looking for the elephant poachers who had allegedly supplied the traders with ivory.

Riau Police special crimes and intelligence director Sr. Comr. Rivai Sinambela said the five suspects were arrested on Friday, caught the offering a buyer a pair of elephant tusks at the Shushi Tei restaurant on Jl. Soekarno-Hatta in Pekanbaru.

The tusks, measuring almost 2 meters in length and weighing 46 kilograms, were going to be sold for Rp 20 million ( US$1,460 ) per kilogram.

“Police are still compiling their case, while the suspects have been detained. They are only part of the network [and we are still chasing] the elephant poachers,” Rivai told a press conference on Monday.

Three of the five suspects are from Riau, one from Gayo Luwes regency, Aceh and another from Bungo regency, Jambi.

The Riau men are Nizam Akbar, 43, head of Gema village in Kampar Kiri Hulu district; Wartono, 45, of Kampar Kiri in Kampar regency; and Yusuf, 42, of Marpoyan Damai in Pekanbaru. The two others are Makruf, 46, of Gayo Luwes regency in Aceh, and Syafrimen, 60, of Bungo regency in Jambi.

Rivai said the case had been uncovered after an investigation based on reports of the death of some elephants in a number of areas.

“We arrested them as they could not hide the evidence: a pair of elephant tusks,” Rivai said.

Based on a statement from the five suspects and coordinating with the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency ( BKSDA ), the elephant tusks were considered almost certainly the result of poaching in the province of Aceh. “They were deliberately brought there to be sold in Pekanbaru. The suspects claim to have only been involved in the protected animal parts trade once,” said Rivai.

The ivory was transported overland on a minibus to Pekanbaru by Makruf and Syafrimen, while Nizam, Wartono, and Yusuf acted as middlemen.

“Investigators are also tracing the ivory market in Riau and the uses of the ivory; whether it’s decoration or other purposes,” said Rivai.

Separately, environment activist Osmantri expressed appreciation for the collaboration by police and the BKSDA in uncovering the illegal trading.

However, he said that the arrest of the five suspects indicated that crimes against wildlife in Riau were already very critical and required serious attention from the relevant authorities.

“In less than a month, the Riau Police have uncovered two cases of wildlife organ trading, now ivory, and tiger pelt earlier, so supervision must be heightened,” said Osmantri of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s ( WWF ) special team for the investigation of wildlife poaching networks.

“Especially with the involvement of a village chief in the case, thus indicating the business is no joke,” he added.

Based on investigations conducted by the WWF team, Pekanbaru has been used as a transit point by wildlife organ traders for the past five months. Protected animals poached in a number of provinces in Sumatra are taken to Pekanbaru before being sold to Malaysia and China, the WWF reports.

“In 2011, five tiger skins were taken from Aceh to Pekanbaru. The couriers and the evidence were detained by the Pekanbaru City Police but the kingpin trader with initials AS, who often made transactions for the network in Malaysia, managed to flee,” said Osmantri.