In the Leuser Landscape

Since 2019, SCENTS has continuously monitored the trade of protected wildlife originating from Indonesia to South Asia, specifically to India. In February 2019, an online wildlife trader (initials DKY) was arrested by the Indonesian police. Previously, DKY was also arrested in 2015 for a case involving the smuggling of wildlife. DKY had been intensively communicating with a buyer from India. This buyer from India placed orders for orangutans, leaf monkeys, parrots, and various types of cockatoos. In 2019, the monitored route indicated that the wildlife was shipped from Tembilahan (a province in Sumatra, Indonesia) to Pontian Kecil (Johor in Malaysia). The animals were first rehabilitated before being sent to Batu Pahat (Malaysia) via land route. The wildlife would then enter India after crossing the borders of Thailand and Myanmar.  Communication efforts with stakeholders in India had been initiated at that time, including with and NGO in India and through contact persons in the IUCN Hornbill Specialist Group. However, we did not receive any information about the progress made in India, leading us to conclude that the information we provided did not result in any follow-up.

Two orangutans confiscated in September 2022 by Indian authorities (Azwal Mizoram State). Picture copyright: The Indian Express

Furthermore, over the last two years (2022 – 2023), the Government of India, particularly in the State of Aizawl, Mizoram, has actively conducted several arrests of smugglers bringing wildlife illegally from abroad. Among these, three thwarted smuggling attempts by the Indian government are notable because they involve protected species originating from Indonesia. Two of these cases included three juvenile Sumatran orangutans smuggled from Aceh Tamiang. These three orangutans were seized in Mizoram (Seling village) in September 2022[1] and one orangutan from a seizure in Mizoram in October 2023[2].

The arrest of individuals smuggling orangutans destined for Thailand market has also been carried out in Indonesia. The orangutan trading network connected to Langsa has been partially exposed with the arrest of an intermediary (initials REZ), who is part of an international network,  that tried to sold 2 orangutans[3]. Most recently, in October 2023, an orangutan seller (initials NAN), was sentenced by the Langsa District Court[4].

The three smuggled orangutans are believed to originate from their habitat in Aceh, specifically in Leuser area, where they were sent via two routes: one to India and another to Thailand. The orangutans from Aceh were smuggled through the river in the Seruway Subdistrict (Aceh Tamiang) to the Malay Peninsula, then crossed into Thailand border. From Thailand border, the route divides into two:

  • Route 1: From Aceh Tamiang, crossing to the Malaysia Peninsula, passing through the border into Thailand, and proceeding to Bangkok.
  • Route 2: From Aceh Tamiang, crossing to the Malaysia Peninsula, passing through the border into Thailand, passing the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh, and ending in Champai District (Aizawl Mizoram, India). The confiscation of orangutan carried out in October 2023 was done in Seling Village.
Orangutan confiscated in October 2023 by Indian authorities (Azwal Mizoram State). Picture copyright: India Today.

Based on Indian officer who involved in wildlife confiscation, the traditional routes for smuggling drugs and gold from Myanmar are also utilized for the transportation of wildlife and wildlife. There has been a decline in the demand for firearms and ammunition in Northeast India in recent years, as indicated by the decrease in insurgency-related events in that area. It is plausible that some of these smugglers have started to engage in the trafficking of drugs, betel nuts, wildlife, and wildlife products, as these activities are highly profitable[5].

The focus on the protection of the Leuser ecosystem should also consider the current threats to orangutans[6]. Here are recommendations that can be made to reduce the potential for orangutan poaching in Leuser:

  1. Since poachers only sell juvenile orangutans, monitoring of female orangutans that are still caring for their young becomes the priority.
  2. Areas of orangutan conflict in Leuser also need to be routinely monitored[7].
  3. Monitoring here can be carried out through patrol activities, or information gathering.
  4. Regular patrols at encroachment areas, which are also orangutan habitats, needs to be intensified due to the potential for conflict between illegal landowners and orangutans or orangutan trafficking.
  5. Continue to explore transnational information exchange collaborations with Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and India. This remains a great opportunity for SCENTS who have NGO partners and law enforcement officers’ contact person in those nations.
  6. SCENTS anti-wildlife trafficking program continuously monitors cases of poaching and orangutan trafficking, while in parallel updating the network of perpetrators, trade routes, changes in modus operandi, and other relevant information for the necessary intervention.

Enhanced prevention efforts will also have a positive impact on other species in Leuser landscape because the transnational orangutan network that spans Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and India also trades other protected species (such as primates and birds).








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