The scene is Jatinegara Market, an illegal wildlife market blatantly flaunting its trade in the heart of East Jakarta. The market is easily accessible to tourists and locals, visible from the main road of Jl. Matraman.
In Jakarta, it isn’t a rare phenomenon. Hundreds of illegal wildlife markets operate right under the nose of the law, and enforcement on the issue is almost non-existent.
Indonesia is an export hotspot for exotic pets, which are also extremely popular locally. According to den Haas, the purchase of these animals, more often than not, is fuelling the illegal wildlife trade. However, these animals remain extremely popular as a signifier of wealth.
“It can be a marker of social status,” Btari Nadine, a student at Universitas Indonesia, says. “Having an exotic pet shows that you are very rich.”
The Indonesian government: the problem or the solution?
The loudest voices speaking out against animal trafficking are Indonesia’s animal activism groups. International heavyweights, such as WCS and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), are supported by smaller, local groups, including the JAAN. There is no shortage of voices calling for a change; the problem is that the Indonesian government does not seem to be listening.
Den Haas attributes the Indonesian government as the biggest challenge JAAN faces in carrying out its anti-cruelty and anti-trafficking campaigns.
“It’s very hard to get the government to be consistent; these are the people that are meant to uphold and enforce the law, but instead, they are allowing these practices to continue.”
Theoretically, the trade of endangered animals is illegal under the Natural Resources Conservation, 1990; people caught poaching, trafficking or selling prohibited animals face a maximum five year jail term and 100 million rupiah fine. However, the case of Jatinegara is an apt representation of the relationship between animal trafficking and law enforcement in Indonesia: don’t ask, don’t tell.
“I’ve never found any case where the maximum penalty has been enforced,” Dr Wibisana says.
“For [poaching or trafficking] a tiger, for example, the punishment may only be two or three months. It’s not good [enough] to deter the other criminals with these very low sanctions.”
The strong economic and cultural incentives may be the reason behind ignorance of the law in the lower economic ranks of Indonesian society, but why do law enforcement officials continue to turn a blind eye?
The answer is not simple; it is multi-faceted, and lies deep within Indonesia’s governmental and legal structure. However, a strong driving force, according to den Haas, may be institutional corruption.
“There are too many officials that are financially involved [in the animal trafficking industry], who would like to see these practices keep running.”