Indonesian police have apprehended three members of a crime ring allegedly involved in the illegal trade of Sumatran tiger organs in Pasir Penyu district, Indragiri Hulu regency, Riau.
Riau Police chief Inspector General Agung Setya Imam Effendi said the police had named three suspects – a 45-year-old Jambi local, 57-year-old North Sumatra native and 43-year-old Ingragiri Hulu resident.
“The three of them acted as couriers who transported tiger organs from Jambi to Indragiri Hulu,” Agung said in a statement on Sunday.
The investigators had tracked down and monitored the suspects’ activities since Friday to follow up on a report regarding tiger organ trafficking from Muara Tebo in Jambi to Riau, he said.
“Our investigation found that [the suspects] had been transporting the tiger organs in a minibus.
“We arrested the three suspects and seized several pieces of evidence including one dried tiger hide, four fangs and one sack of bones on Jalan Arjuna, Candi Rejo subdistrict, on Saturday at around 11am,” Agung said, adding that the suspects were detained at the Riau Police headquarters along with the evidence.
Riau Police spokesperson Senior Commander Sunarto said that during the questioning, the suspects said they had been paid by an individual identified only as AT to transport the animal body parts to another individual identified as HN in Air Molek subdistrict.
“[The suspects] were paid two million rupiah [$150] each. HN and AT have been added to Riau Police’s most-wanted list,” Sunarto said.
He said the recent boom in the illegal tiger skin and organ trade could be attributed to the growing demand for such items in the black market.
The police investigation found that a single tiger hide could sell for between 30 and 80 million rupiah, while tiger bones could sell for two million rupiah per kilogramme and fangs for 500,000 to one million rupiah each, Sunarto said.
“The surge in black market prices was likely the main reason why these smugglers dared to commit such crimes. As a member of a larger international community, Indonesia has committed to putting an end to illegal tiger organ trade, given that the animals are facing extinction,” he said, adding that the Riau Police would keep tracing the movements of the larger crime syndicate involved in the illicit business.
The government has recently stepped up its efforts to crack down on groups involved in the illegal trade of tiger organs across Riau.
A joint team comprising personnel from the Environment and Forestry Ministry and the National Police tracked down and subsequently arrested suspected poachers and traders targeting Sumatran tigers and confiscated four foetuses of the endangered species as well as tiger hides in the province in December.
As of December, the Sumatran tiger population stands at no more than 600 because of a loss of habitat and poaching, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry estimates.
Meanwhile, a report in Nature Communications estimated that there were 618 adults in 2012, a 20 per cent drop from 742 in 2000.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK