When cops arrived at the warehouse, they thought they knew just what they were looking for. And so when they stumbled upon a pile of boxes, they were thrilled to find their evidence. But when they peered inside the packages, what they saw broke their hearts.
In May 2017 the West Kalimantan Police Department caught wind of a worrying social media scheme. Their detectives found that people were using the Internet to trade goods. And what they were selling was completely illegal.
A member of the public had first alerted law enforcement after noticing some unusual activity in a Facebook group called “Sale and Purchase Animal Auction Pontianak.” From there, intelligence teams began to monitor the perpetrators. And they’d soon collated a whole pile of incriminating evidence.
Authorities were so concerned about what they had learned, that they decided to track the suspects down. And eventually, their investigations led them to two protagonists. So they raided their premises in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
When police arrived at the warehouse facility, they got to work uncovering any evidence they could. And it wasn’t long before they spotted what they were looking for. There, in the storage unit, they found a number of different sized boxes each containing the criminals’ lucrative haul.
Someone had carefully packaged up the boxes, in what police believe was preparation for delivery. Sadly, however, the seller had given no thought to the living cargo trapped within the packaging.
Because when investigators looked inside the boxes, they found a range of living creatures. Among them were a variety of different birds and some land mammals. Moreover, many of the species were actually protected.
At first, the men in question denied they were breaking any laws. However, after police probes, they finally confessed. Moreover, then went on to explain how they had come into possession of the wildlife.
Among the creatures was a Bornean slow loris. The species is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN. And unfortunately, one of their biggest threats to this rare breed comes from the illegal wildlife trade. In some parts of the world, the animals are used traditional medicine and kept as exotic pets.
Another box contained a small leopard cat. And although the species is not endangered, leopard cat populations are falling. Again, these beautiful animals are popular in the illegal wildlife trade because some want them as pets. They are anything but, however – they are wild cats and difficult to domesticate.
The other boxes contained a Javan hawk-eagle, a Wallace’s hawk-eagle and a crested hawk-eagle. All three species are currently facing threats to their existence. However, the Javan Hawk-Eagle is so rare it is classified as endangered.
Unfortunately, authorities’ efforts came too late to save two crested hawk-eagles. Moreover, one of the fatalities was just a tiny chick. “It was possibly still too young to survive without its mother,” Lis Key, from International Animal Rescue, told The Dodo. “Or it could have simply been from stress or from lack of proper food and care once it had been captured.”
The other fatality was an adult. But sadly all police found of that animal were 31 feathers. When asked where the feathers had come from, one suspect admitted they had slaughtered the bird.
According to Key, it’s a miracle that more of the animals didn’t succumb to their cruel living conditions. All of them showed physical signs of stress. In fact, some were simply hanging onto life by a thread.
“These are sentient creatures who are susceptible to fear and pain,” Key told The Dodo. “It must have been traumatic for them to be snatched from their natural environment and forced into a completely alien one, shut up in small dark boxes with no light and very little air and surrounded by unfamiliar sounds and smells.”
“I don’t know for sure whether the animals had been given food and water,” she continued. “Our experience with confiscations of slow lorises is that the animals’ welfare isn’t generally too high on the dealers’ list of priorities.”
The majority of the animals are now residing at the Natural Resources Conservation (BKSDA). The slow loris, meanwhile, is in a special sanctuary operated by International Animal Rescue. Staff there hope he’ll make a good recovery and eventually be able to return to the wild.
“He stands a good chance of release if his teeth are intact and he hasn’t been kept captive for very long,” Key explained. “He is in good hands now and IAR’s veterinary team will be giving him appropriate treatment and care.”
It later emerged that authorities had charged the perpetrators under Indonesian conservation law. This means that they could face up to five years in prison. Alternatively, they may have to pay a penalty of up to 100 million Indonesian Rupiah ($7,500).
But, while these men have met their demise, the problem of illegal wildlife trafficking still looms large. This operation and others like it, however, are undoubtedly helping to combat the problem. As Karmele Sanchez from International Rescue explained on the charity’s website, “We hope this law enforcement operation will send out a message to the entire community that any kind of crime against protected wildlife will be dealt with firmly.”