Soldiers in Aceh jailed for owning rare animals

Photo and text by Hotli Simanjuntak

Jakarta Post – October 25, 2013

The Banda Aceh Military Court in Aceh sentenced on Thursday two Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers from Central Aceh for the possession of protected animals, which had been killed and stuffed for decoration. They were found guilty of violating Article 40 of Law No. 5/1990 on wildlife protection.

Defendant Sgt. Maj. Joko Rianto was sentenced to two months in jail and fined Rp 5 million (US$454) for keeping a stuffed Sumatran tiger, which is an endangered animal.

His fellow defendant, Chief Pvt. Rawali, was handed a heavier sentence of three months in prison and a fine of Rp 2.5 million for possessing a stuffed Sumatran tiger and a bear. Rawali received a heavier punishment than Joko as he had once been convicted for instigating a riot in his unit.

During the open hearing, military prosecutors produced evidence in the form of the two stuffed tigers and bear.

“We obtained the evidence from the homes of the defendants. The stuffed animals were seized by military police personnel during a raid of their residences,” said presiding judge Let. Col. Budi Purnomo on Thursday.

According to Budi, the military tribunal conducted to try an environmental crime committed by military personnel was the first of its kind in Aceh and it was expected to serve as a lesson to the convicted soldiers and any others tempted to do the same thing.

“As citizens, military personnel are obligated to preserve and protect the environment by not rearing or keeping endangered and/or protected animals in any form, whether alive or dead,” Budi said.

The two stuffed tigers and the stuffed bear were seized by the military court and later handed over to the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency.

“These specimens are rare and may be used as educational exhibits for the future generation,” he said.

Separately, conservationist Retno Sagito expressed his deep appreciation to the Aceh Military Court for being willing to handle a crime against the environment committed by TNI personnel.

“This is a very good step and provides a fine example for other military courts in Indonesia concerned with and committed to environmental protection,” Retno said.

She added that it was commonplace for members of the TNI to keep pets in the form of protected animals, such as tigers and bears. But, she went on, this was primarily due to the fact that such cases, concerning the ownership of protected animals, had rarely if ever been prosecuted and were virtually untouched by the law.

“We hope that this case will make military personnel, and everyone else, think twice before seeking to own wild and endangered animals,” Retno concluded.

The battle to save Sumatra’s elephants from extinction

Photo Courtesy by Khaidir Mahyudin

by Jenni Watts in CNN

CNN – October 24, 2013

On October 26 at 1300 and 2000 GMT watch “Expedition: Sumatra,” a half-hour feature program with CNN Special Correspondent Philippe Cousteau.

Sumatra, Indonesia (CNN) — The conflict between humans and critically endangered Sumatran elephants in Indonesia has been going on for decades, with the elephants on the losing end of the battle. The villagers and farmers don’t kill them for food. They do it to keep their homes and crops safe. The grim result is the killing combined with shrinking elephant habitat contributes to an 80% population loss since the 1930s, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In Riau Province alone, where the highest number of elephants on the island was recorded in the 1980s, the population decreased from 1,342 in 1984 to 201 in 2007.

The major contributor to this conflict is the fight over land. Elephant habitat is lowland, non-mountainous, relatively flat landscape below an altitude of 300 meters. That kind of land also makes great farmland, which is why humans have cut down the rainforest and planted crops.

Individual small farms may not seem like a big encroachment onto elephant habitat, but when that’s combined with the forest loss from large companies cutting down hundreds of hectares of forest for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, it results in the elephants running out of land.

Even though Sumatran elephants are relatively small compared to their African bush cousins, elephants are still the earth’s largest land mammal. With a weight of up to 4,000 kg or 8,820 pounds and a height of up to 3.2 meters or 10 feet and 6 inches, these elephants aren’t small and they need a lot of land to roam. Even forest blocks of 250 km are too small for a viable elephant population.

That means, as the elephant habitat is whittled away, the elephants will inevitably intrude onto villages and farms looking for food. One of their favorite foods is heart of palm, the same heart of palm we eat, which can be found in the center core of an oil palm tree.

To get to it, an elephant has to knock the tree down, killing a farmer’s valuable crop. Oil palm is one of the most lucrative crops Sumatran farmers can grow.

Even one elephant can be a destructive force, knocking down trees and trampling houses in minutes. A 3.2 meter tall, 4,000 kilo animal can be intimidating for any human, no matter how well armed. To make it even scarier, the animals usually look for food at night. A villager or farmer will do anything to stop the elephant from its path of destruction.

The most common way of killing the elephants in these areas of Sumatra is poisoning. Villagers and farmers will poison a bit of food and leave it for the elephant. It eliminates a direct confrontation.

The local population doesn’t want to kill the elephants. They feel as if they have no choice. In fact, some of the locals say they take pride in the Sumatran elephant and consider it part of their national identity. No villager or farmer thinks that killing one elephant threatening his home will wipe out the entire population. Unfortunately, the sad truth is, this killing is wiping out the population.

NGOs like the Sumatran Elephant Conservation Initiative (SECI) are working to change the way locals interact with elephants. They introduced the Riau province villagers and farmers to alternatives to killing the elephants.

The SECI created scare guns that make a loud boom that will scare the elephants away. There are also barriers that will sound an alarm when an elephant trips a wire. SECI has even helped locals install an electric fence that borders Bukit Tigapuluh National Park or Thirty Hills, which is protected land for wildlife.

One of the most important elements of these successful projects is the education and cooperation of the local population. These non-lethal alternatives use cheap materials that are easily found in the area, so they catch on quickly.

The locals have built lookout stations and formed a group like an elephant community watch that will gather when elephants are nearby so they can scare them away with loud noises and large fires.

The SECI programs have been so successful in their efforts to keep the elephants from being killed, they’ve expanded their operation.

Now, they have tagged some of the elephants with radio devices so they can track their movements and organize groups to scare the elephants away even more quickly.

These are small victories in a few rural communities around Sumatra, but they can have a big impact.

If the killing can be stopped and the cutting of the forest limited, this tiny population of critically endangered Sumatran elephants might have a chance to beat extinction.

“Even one elephant can be a destructive force, knocking down trees and trampling houses in minutes”

CNN Producer Jenni Watts

It’s Not All Bad: Americans and Palm Oil (Nat Geo)

By IZILWANE–Voices for Biodiversity on August 12, 2013

Your family carefully sorts your trash and composts table scraps weekly and tries really hard to remember to bring cloth or canvas bags to the grocery store. Some of us drive hybrid cars and support wind power, while others ride a bike to work because they want to reduce their carbon footprint.

We do all of this because we want our children and grandchildren to live on a healthy planet. Going through these inconveniences makes us confident that we are doing all the right things and proud of the message we’re sending our kids. That could be the reason for millions of Americans to feel confused and angry when we feel the full impact of global warming and rising sea levels in the next few years.

Those of us who have had the luxury of time and who have been paying attention have done everything we can to stall the steady rise of earth’s temperature, but many of us remain unaware that we all support one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. President Obama said that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the world and said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

But who would have thought that one of the greatest causes of carbon emission is something found in most rooms of our homes? Who would have thought that one of the greatest threats to our well being comes from an Indonesian rainforest? Most Americans can’t even locate Indonesia on a map, and yet about 15 percent of global carbon pollution comes from deforestation – more than the emissions produced from all the cars, buses, trains and airplanes in the world.

It feels as if we are asleep at the wheel, and but sadly we have slept through the alarm, and it is long past the time for America to wake up.

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Braker.

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Braker.

What the heck is Palm Oil?

The oil of palm is a highly versatile, high-yield vegetable oil that is widely used in products, including baked goods, breakfast cereals, cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products; in fact, 51 percent of everything in American stores contains it. It is obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree and is the most consumed edible oil today. Because of its versatility, the demand worldwide has tripled over the last few decades.

So what is the problem with palm oil? 

The problem with palm oil is the way in which it is farmed and manufactured. Current estimates indicate 90 percent of the rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia will be replaced by palm oil plantations unless drastic action is taken to find ways of producing it sustainably.

The production of palm oil has given rise to deforestation, plant and animal extinctions, child labor, and land grabs. This led to the creation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2003 to address these big issues head on. The RSPO was an initiative of  the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), who recognized the need to  address some of the larger problems with palm oil.

The standards for sustainable palm oil at the RSPO were set very high. In fact, if applied fully, it could make palm oil one of the most eco-friendly options for vegetable oils in the world. The problem, however, is that the standards are not mandatory for their members. This has led to mass confusion of which RSPO members are working sustainably and which are merely using it to divert criticism.

Environmental groups – including its own founder, the WWF – have declared it a failure, and the WWF went on to join a new certification body, the Palm Oil Innovation Group, in 2013.

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Braker.

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Braker.

What can Americans do then?

We, as Americans with the ability to make an impact – negatively or positively – on palm oil production policies, must make a statement against palm oil that is causing so much global warming. I have created a petition asking Senate to introduce legislation to stop the imports of conventional palm oil – the cause of all that green house gas emissions.

We will not ask for an outright ban, as we understand the jobs of many poor workers in Indonesia and Malaysia depend on palm oil production. We must, however, exercise our own rights for a healthy future for our children and tell these palm oil companies in clear terms that we will not let polluting products to cross our border.

The United Kingdom has created a policy on palm oil use as a government, and this has led to palm oil companies scrambling to lighten their environmental impact. The European Union has made it mandatory to label clearly all products containing palm oil. The expectation there is that any product with palm oil will suffer a drop in sales as Europeans are more aware of the destruction caused by conventional palm oil.

It’s time America spoke up.

To celebrate the first ever World Orangutan Day on August 19, 2013, I will be hand delivering my petition to my senator, Maria Cantwell (D-WA), to introduce legislation to control the imports of palm oil.

You can help by signing the petition here and by writing your own letters to your senator.

– LeAnn Fox, Palm Oil Consumer Action


Another Elephant Found Dead in Aceh

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 5.50.04 PMIn this photo taken on May 10, 2013 two children look at a dead Sumatran elephant that was killed by electrocution the day before at Blang Gajah Mate village, in Pidie, Aceh. (AFP Photo/Zian Mustaqin)

By Nurdin Hasan   Jakarta Globe  July 26

Banda Aceh. Another elephant has been found dead in Aceh, the second this month, with reports from local people indicating that the elephant’s tusks have been removed.

“Conflicts between elephants and humans often happen in Blang Tualang and the neighboring village of Pante Labu,” Rabono Wiranata, the head of non-governmental organization Fakta said on Friday. “Some villagers or hunters may have placed poison on the track often used by elephants.”

The adult male elephant was found on Thursday inside an oil palm plantation run by state-owned PTPN I in Blang Tualang village, East Aceh.

Rabono said the elephant was understood to have died four days ago.

He added that local residents had repeatedly complained about a pack of elephants “trespassing” on their plantations and destroying plants, but there had been no serious response from the local authorities.

The head of Aceh’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), Amon Zamora, said he received a report of the death on Thursday night. A team was dispatched to the area on Friday morning.

“But [the team] haven’t returned, so I don’t know yet as to what caused the elephant’s death,” Amon told the Jakarta Globe. “I’ve told the team to report the case to police if the tusks were gone. If they were gone, we would strongly suspect that it’s been murdered.”

The finding came just two weeks after a 30-year-old male elephant was found dead in Ranto Sabon village in the Aceh Jaya district, Its tusks had been severed.

Aceh Jaya Forest Ranger commander Armidi said the elephant died after it was caught in a sharp metal trap placed on a big tree log.

Police and BKSDA Aceh have not been able to find the perpetrators.

The latest finding brought the number of elephant deaths in Aceh to four over the past three months.

On May 9, a 10-year-old male elephant was found dead due to electrocution in Bangkeh village in the Pidie district.

On June 23, a two-year-old elephant died after having been looked after for two months by residents of Blang Pante village in the North Aceh district. The villagers took care of the elephant cub after it was left behind by its pack in a local plantation.

Demand for ivory has soared in recent years, primarily due to increased demand from China, where it is highly valued for its use in crafting ornaments. Elephant tusks sell for several hundred dollars per kilogram.

Hotspots increase in Sumatra, haze could return: NEA

AsiaOne    Jul 21, 2013

Most are in Riau province. The other hotspots on the island are primarily further north, in Aceh and North Sumatra.


SINGAPORE – The number of hotspots in Sumatra as tracked by satellites has gone up sharply in the last two days to reach 159 yesterday, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) said.

Of these hotspots, 63 are detected in the Riau province in central Sumatra, which is about 280km from Singapore. Some localised smoke plumes are observed to emanate from the hotspots. The other hotspots on the island are primarily further north, in Aceh and North Sumatra.

Although the smoke haze is not being blown towards Singapore at this time due to wind direction, the air quality here might take a hit if winds start to blow from the west.

At the moment, the winds are blowing from the southeast or the east.

NEA said that some states in Peninsular Malaysia have been experiencing a deterioration in their air quality since late morning yesterday with the highest Air Pollutant Index (PSI) reading at 5am today being 98 in Bukit Rambai, Malacca.

Over the next two days, dry weather conditions are expected to persist in most parts of Sumatra.

NEA will provide further haze alerts to the public if these events become more likely.


Indonesia: Forestry Failures Jeopardize ‘Green Growth’

Region’s Smog Shows Need for Better Oversight; More Than US$7 Billion Lost
July 16, 2013  Human Rights Watch
(Jakarta) – Government corruption and mismanagement plague Indonesia’s forestry sector, with serious consequences for human rights and the environment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The smog roiling Indonesia and its neighbors is partly a result of Indonesia’s ‘green growth’ strategy, which involves clearing forests for the rapid expansion of oil palm and pulp plantations.

The 61-page report, “The Dark Side of Green Growth: Human Rights Impacts of Weak Governance in Indonesia’s Forestry Sector,” finds that illegal logging and forest-sector mismanagement resulted in losses to the Indonesian government of more than US$7 billion between 2007 and 2011. Indonesia recently introduced reforms to address some of these concerns and has been touting its forestry policies as a model of sustainable ‘green growth.’ But much logging in Indonesia remains off-the-books, fees are set artificially low, and existing laws and regulations are often flaunted. A “zero burning” policy and a moratorium on forest clearing are manifestly inadequate.

“The return of the smog is only the most tangible evidence of the damage from Indonesia’s continuing failure to effectively manage its forests,” said Joe Saunders, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “Weak law enforcement, mismanagement, and corruption are to blame not only for the smog but also for the loss of billions of dollars a year in desperately needed public funds.”

The persistent failures have global implications. The smog causing so much suffering for Indonesia’s neighbors is produced by clearing forests for agriculture, a practice so widespread that it makes Indonesia’s carbon emissions among the largest in the world. The Obama administration announced on June 26, 2013, that it would invest more in sustainable forestry overseas as a way to combat climate change. However, without improvements in governance in Indonesia, greater investments by the international community may not bring significant change in the status quo.

The Indonesian government recently introduced reforms in part aimed at addressing forest mismanagement and corruption, including a timber legality certification system and a freedom of information law, but such efforts have fallen far short of their aims. The new report, an update to the 2009 Human Rights Watch report “Wild Money,” analyzes industry and government data, concluding that the pace of revenue loss has actually increased in recent years. In 2011 alone, the losses totaled more than $2 billion – more than the country’s entire health budget for that year, undermining the government’s ability to provide basic services to its population, Human Rights Watch said.

It is not only during the dry season that Indonesians suffer the negative consequences of forest mismanagement. The significant loss of revenues contributes to the government’s disappointing progress on a number of human rights concerns, notably those related to rural health care.

Indonesia’s forest communities, among the country’s poorest groups, have been harmed the most under the current system. Many of these communities have constitutionally recognized rights to use the land and forests or be adequately compensated for their loss. But the new legality certification system does not address whether timber is harvested in violation of community rights to forest lands.

Increasing demand for land to expand plantations appears to be leading to more violent land conflicts, Human Rights Watch said. The problem is especially acute on the island of Sumatra, where the majority of pulp and oil palm plantations – and most of this year’s fire hotspots – are located, often on land claimed by local communities. The government’s failure to comply with its own regulations for issuing concessions on forest land claimed by communities and its failure to hold companies accountable for violating legally required compensation agreements have led to an escalation in disputes. For example, in 2011, the escalation of long standing land disputes associated with an oil palm plantation in the Mesuji sub-district of South Sumatra led to violent clashes between local villagers and company security, leaving two local farmers and seven company staff dead.

In May the Constitutional Court ruled that the government’s practice of allocating concessions on customary land is unconstitutional, offering some hope to those communities. However, in the current climate of opaque, unaccountable forest governance, without adequate participation and oversight, identifying and registering rights to these lucrative forestlands could easily result in more, rather than fewer conflicts, Human Rights Watch said.


Elephant poaching

Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 6.00.13 PM

Photo: AFP/Getty

Huffington Post

A resident (R) looks at the carcass of a male Sumatran elephant, its head and trunks mutilated and ivory tusks missing, in Aceh Jaya district on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. According to Natural Resources Conservation Agency the elephant was killed by a booby trap set up by unidentified people.

In the month of May, three elephants were found dead in Tesso Nilo National Park, south of Aceh. Fewer than 3,000 endangered Sumatran elephants remain in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Rampant expansion of palm oil, paper plantations, and mines, has destroyed nearly 70 percent of the Sumatran elephant’s forest habitat over 25 years, conservationist says, and the animals remain a target of poaching.



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