Illegal Bird Smuggling

Birds are a species of animal that collectors are fascinated by because of their pleasant sounding voices, the beauty of their feathers, and because of their exotic forms. Frequently certain bird populations suffer because of the high prices paid by collectors. The Straw-headed Bulbul is known to sell for millions of rupiah because of its beautiful voice. Many species of cockatoos are also known to sell for high prices because of their ability to mimic voices. Cassowaries or Lesser Adjutants actually look quite unattractive, however, because of their unusual figures the birds have become a target for collectors.

Sadly, because of excessive bird trading, which has not been offset by commensurate breeding in the wild, many birds have experienced a drastic drop in wild populations. Because of this decline regulations were put in place which restricted and even more forbade the trading of certain birds in the hopes that populations would return and stabilize in the wild. In 1999 Indonesia issued Government Ordinance No. 7 Year 1999 for the Conservation of Plants and Wild Animals. In the ordinance’s appendix there are 93 species and groups of birds included. Trapping is specifically forbidden, which is not easy to enforce.

Although in UU No. 5 Year 1990 it very clearly states that whoever kills, possesses, or trades protected animals will be threatened with a maximum of 5 years in jail and fined 100 million rupiah, many people still attempt to smuggle birds from one place to another. This smuggling of birds knows no limits, and can move between provinces, islands, and even the nation or the continent. In order to escape the detection of authorities, smugglers use several methods.

The forestry police in Sumatra often capture smugglers who use baskets of sweets to conceal birds from the scrutiny of authorities. They take cars, vans, or night buses to reduce the risk of detection by officers in terminals or harbors. These methods risk killing the birds. In 2008 more than 60 Oriental Magpie Robins (Copsychus saularis) died from lack of oxygen because they were crammed in cardboard boxes in the storage compartment of a night bus.

In 2009, BKSDA DKI and the police at Soekarno Hatta International Airport captured smugglers who tried to bring dozens of young eagles hidden in hollowed out cartons and suitcases. The most popular method of smuggling cockatoos uses bamboo, plastic piping, or water bottles. In order to make the noisy birds remain quiet the whole journey, smugglers usually use a concoction of kitchen spices.

Australian customs in 2008 captured a female smuggler who hid more than 10 birds in a specially modified undershirt. That same year, authorities caught a smuggler with dozens of cockatoo eggs hidden in a vest altered to fit at the waist so that the eggs stayed warm and weren’t broken during the journey. In a final incident a smuggler put bird eggs in his underwear in order to keep the eggs warm and avoid the scrutiny of officials. Imagine if those eggs broke or hatched!

Pants pockets or jackets are often used by smugglers to bring smaller sized birds or bird eggs through airport security. The key is not to bring metal objects which can activate alarms at check points. Officials never check airline passengers as long as the alarm doesn’t go off. This method is used to elude X-ray scanners which can reveal egg shells or bird skeletons.

Smugglers also combine birds that have similar coloring and body shapes, and that aren’t regulated by Indonesian law, with protected birds. For example, Black-capped Lories are mixed with other species of lory. This is often done to smuggle lories from the Indonesian state of Timur. Smugglers understand that most officials cannot tell the difference between these birds. The similarities confuse officials working to identify protected birds.

DNA (Wildlife Crime Unit)

Translator : Deanna Ramsay

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