June 18, 2015– Forest rangers from the Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP), the Government of Indonesia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wildlife Crimes Unit (WCU) announced today the arrest of two suspects engaged in the illegal trade of helmeted hornbill beaks. The suspects’ operation involved 30 hunters who poached the birds inside Indonesia’s Leuser landscape—a continuous forest covering more than 25,000 square kilometers, most of which lies in the province of Aceh, including Gunung Leuser National Park.
The arrest took place on June 12, 2015 in Langkat, 3 hours from Medan, the largest city on the island of Sumatra. Langkat is an important entry point for poachers trespassing into the GLNP in North Sumatra. The arrest resulted in the confiscation of 12 helmeted hornbill beaks, two rifles, a digital scale, and the suspects’ cellphones.
The suspects, initialed ZMS and ALB, are dealers who operated a ring of 30 hunters inside the Leuser landscape including Aceh (South Aceh, Singkil, Blangkenjeran, Kutacane), and North Sumatra (Langkat). Under Indonesian law, trafficking hornbills, their parts and by-products can result in maximum penalties of 5 years imprisonment and a USD $10,000 fine.
Helmeted hornbills are one of Indonesia’s most hunted bird species, particularly in their habitat in Kalimantan and Sumatra. In recent years, the price of their beaks, usually known as “golden ivory,” has increased sharply on the international market, driven by demand from China for their use as traditional Chinese medicine. Dealers can buy hornbill beak (valued at $8.00 USD per gram on the local black market) from hunters for $4.00 USD each. One beak can then be sold for $900 – $1,000 USD on the national black market.
Based upon evidence gathered during the arrest, the suspects sold the hornbill beaks to a Chinese middleman. Contact was made by use of disposable cell phones to avoid detection by authorities and a courier was then sent to carry out the transaction.
The suspects confessed to selling at least 124 beaks within 6 months to the same middleman. In order to ensure their supply, the suspects created and distributed rifles modified with silencers to the poachers. The silencers kept nearby hornbills from fleeing when targeted birds were shot.
Andi Basrul, the Head of Gunung Leuser National Park said, “This arrest happened after conducting an investigation with the Wildlife Crimes Unit and we achieved our objective. The arrest shows our commitment to protecting Gunung Leuser National Park’s ecosystem which has been placed under our management. We will continue to take firm action against all poaching, destruction and encroachment of the conservation forest and work hard to preserve and protect this last stronghold for biodiversity.”
"Helmeted Hornbills are increasingly becoming one of Indonesia's most hunted bird species,” said Joe Walston, WCS Vice President of Field Conservation. “We are immensely encouraged by these arrests, which are a great first step by the Government of Indonesia in dismantling these nefarious hornbill trading networks. WCS stands ready to help with their further degradation, including efforts to capture the kingpins of the hornbill casque trade."
Despite threat of arrest, helmeted hornbills still hunted:
· In 2013, a hornbill researcher, Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, investigated helmeted hornbill hunting in West Kalimantan and found that at least 1,800 hornbills were poached and 1,027 hornbill beaks were confiscated by law enforcement officers.
· Yokyok predicted that the number of hornbills poached by hunters would reach 5,000 individual birds between 2012 and 2013.
· In September 2012, BKSDA West Kalimantan arrested a hornbill dealer and confiscated 270 hornbill beaks.
· In January 2013, four Chinese suspects were arrested by Customs at the Soekarno-Hatta airport. The smugglers tried to smuggle 248 hornbill beaks and 189 pangolin scales with a total price of USD 100,000.
· The WCU assisted in the investigation of 8 cases of hornbill beak trade in West Kalimantan, Aceh, and Jakarta between 2011 and 2015. Six traders were arrested and a total of 259 hornbill beaks were seized as evidence.
WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit is supported by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Fondation Segré, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Multinational Species Conservation Funds.