Fad among the rich places apes at risk

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2005, 12:00am

Its jungle home is shrinking alarmingly, threatening extinction in the wild within a decade. There is, however, one place where Indonesia's orang-utan population is booming: the homes of the rich.

A vogue for the orange-furred primates has created a market for poachers who capture hundreds of them in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra for discreet sale in backstreet animal bazaars.

Although buying and selling orang-utans as pets is illegal, the law is rarely enforced and few of those who are caught with the exotic pets are fined, let alone jailed for five years as the law allows.

Conservation group WWF found 559 orang-utans and gibbons for sale in bird and animal markets in 22 Indonesian cities between 1992 and 2003.

The group estimated as many as 1,000 orang-utans are poached from the wild each year and sold.

Campaigner Uyung Chairul said the price of orang-utans had quadrupled in the last three years, from around 3 million rupiah ($2,270) to 12 million rupiah.

The highest prices are paid for infants whose parents may have been slaughtered by poachers.

Mr Chairul said: 'The sort of people who keep these animals are those who like to show off. They like to show off their wealth, and they like to show that they are above the law.

'For those who want something more unusual than a BMW and a swimming pool, an orang-utan is an appealing status symbol.'

Orang-utans are rarely to be seen in the markets, he said, but are shown on request to buyers.

Few of the primates are believed to be exported, because of the risk of arrest abroad or at airports and ports where laws are enforced.

WWF has called on the Indonesian government to do more to stop the trade, complaining that judges do not see it as a serious offence.