Orangutan trader Vast Haris Nugroho was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 10 million Indonesian rupia (IDR) , the equivalent of $750 USD, in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Nugroho was arrested on February 27, 2015, by the Forest Police Rapid Response Unit (SPORC) of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s Conservation Agency in North Sumatra (BBKSDA North Sumatra). Technical support was provided by WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit. At the time of his arrest, Nugroho was attempting to sell a one-year old female orangutan that he was transporting in a knapsack.

Indonesian law forbids the killing, capture, trade or ownership of orangutans, a protected species in Indonesia.

John Kenedie, head of BBKSDA of North Sumatra said, “The sentence for the orangutan trader is an important step taken by the government in reducing the level of orangutan trade in Indonesia. We will act firmly on every form of wildlife crime to prevent such cases from recurring in the future.”

Nugroho admitted to illegally sourcing wildlife via a hunters’ network and through local dealers in Aceh and North Sumatra, and to having a trade network that extends as far as Java. An investigation revealed he traded numerous other live animals illegally, including other orangutans, golden cats, porcupines, slow loris, siamangs, gibbons, hornbills and baby crocodiles. Additionally, he illegally sold animal parts such as hornbill beaks and the skins, claws and canine teeth of Sumatran tigers.

Noviar Andayani, Country Director of WCS’s Indonesia Program said, “This case is evidence of the government’s increasing commitment to preserving Indonesia’s rich biodiversity, including its many protected wildlife species.  We hope that the very clear and firm decision from the judge will have a deterrent effect and send a clear message that wildlife crimes can and will be punished.”

The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is a distinct species, different from its relative in Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus). Sumatran orangutans are listed by the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as ‘Critically Endangered’ and are on the list of the World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates.

Both orangutan species are protected under Indonesian National Law. The main threats to their survival include the destruction and fragmentation of their tropical rainforest habitat (often for plantations and roads), conflict with humans in farms and plantations and the illegal black market trade in orangutan infants as pets, after their mothers have been killed.

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) added, “This is an excellent and extremely welcome result. Since the early 1970’s there have been over 3,000 confiscations of illegal pet orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo but only a handful of actual prosecutions, and only in the last few years. For far too long those involved in wildlife crime in Indonesia have known the chances of any serious legal consequences to their activities were essentially almost zero.”

According to WCS and BBKSDA North Sumatra, Vast Haris Nugroho has carried out numerous illegal wildlife transactions over the course of the last two years. This most recent arrest was the result of follow-up by BBKSDA/SPORC on a case dating back to April 2014. At that time, one of his staff, Dedek Setiawan, was arrested with 2 golden cats, a siamang and a gibbon in his possession. In addition, he was found to be selling wildlife illegally on the internet and sourcing many animals from Nugroho who had ready access to a large supply and variety of animal species. In August 2014, Setiawan was sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined 5 million IDR.

Dr Singleton concluded, “The sheer scale of wildlife crime and trafficking in Indonesia is indeed staggering. Effective law enforcement and the threat of serious consequences for those involved is an essential component of the conservation arsenal if there is to be any hope of preventing the extinction of orangutans, and many other heavily traded and persecuted species here.”

The orangutan confiscated from Nugroho in this case, now named “Cita Ria,” is currently being cared for at the SOCP’s orangutan quarantine center in Sumatra and will eventually be returned to the wild.

WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit is supported by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Fondation Segré, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Multinational Species Conservation Funds, and the AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan’s Tiger Conservation Campaign.