In an opportunity to combat tiger poaching and trade, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has been pushing Indonesian authorities to slap a suspected tiger smuggler with the maximum sentence available for poachers under Indonesia law—five years in prison and a fine of 100 million Indonesian rupiah ($10,000 by US standards).
“An appropriate punishment will create a deterrent for those committing wildlife crimes in Indonesia, particularly ones that involve critically endangered species,” said Anwar Purwoto, Director of the Forest, Fresh Water and Species Program at WWF-Indonesia. “WWF calls on Indonesian courts to apply the maximum sentence to those found guilty of killing tigers.”
The suspect, a forty-nine-year-old male, went on trial last week in a West Sumatra district court. Arrested back in March of this year, he is charged with “keeping, transporting, and trading endangered species,” a violation of Indonesian law. His arrest followed authorities’ discovery of an adult male tiger skin, which prompted a three-day investigation by the Natural Resource Conservation Agency in Riau and West Sumatra Province (BKSDA), as well as WWF-Indonesia’s Tiger Protection Unit.
However, if convicted, his sentence could be a far cry from the maximum penalty the WWF has called for. In a controversial ruling in 2009, authorities sentenced poachers found guilty of killing three tigers in Riau Province to one year in prison and a fine of two million rupiah ($200), a “slap on the wrist” according to some observers.
The WWF hopes this new case will set a precedent.
“Illegal wildlife trading is a big loss to our country,” said Osmantri, Coordinator for WWF-Indonesia’s Tiger Protection Unit. “We must insist this case sets an example so that we can continue to dismantle the illegal tiger trade syndicate and arrest other players.”
Considering the tiger population’s steep decline rate, the organization’s concern is understandable. According to WWF estimates, a meager 3,200 tigers roam in the wild. Only six tiger subspecies—Amur, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China, and Sumatran—remain, with Bali, Caspian, and Javan tigers having gone extinct in the past seventy years.
Poaching and habitat loss have painted the tiger’s future a bleak shade; of the subspecies that remain, four are classed “endangered,” with the South China Tiger and Sumatran Tiger—the only subspecies to be found in Indonesia—labeled “critically endangered.” While the WWF approximates four hundred Sumatran Tigers to exist in the wild, the South China Tiger is “virtually extinct,” with forty-seven tigers in eighteen zoos across China. A few individuals may still live in the wild, the group’s website says.
But faced with the tiger’s shaky prospects, the WWF holds out optimism.
“Five decades of conservation experience has shown us that given enough space, prey and protection, tigers can recover,” says the organization’s website.
With recovery in mind, the WWF has set out on a bold goal: to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger marked on the Chinese calendar. In November 2010, at the St. Petersburg, Russia International Tiger Forum, the thirteen remaining “tiger range” nations, including Indonesia, agreed to work toward this aim, signing onto the Global Tiger Recovery Program.
Dedicated to inspiring change for tigers across the globe, the WWF teamed up with actor Leonardo DiCaprio to launch the Save Tigers Now campaign. Using social media to spread awareness, the movement encourages individuals to buy sustainable goods, travel to tiger reserves, donate to the WWF, and educate others about tiger endangerment. For more information, visit http://www.savetigersnow.org/.
Meanwhile, WWF-Indonesia watches this latest tiger trial with hope-stained eyes.
“WWF highly appreciates the District Court and District Attorney bringing this case to trial,” said Anwar Purwoto. “We also strongly support a clean trial in this case, and are confident the process will add to global efforts fighting wildlife crime.”
Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Sumatran-tiger.jpg