Indonesia’s tigers are critically endangered, and their trafficking is a growing problem. In Indonesia, there are two subspecies: the Sumatran and Javan tigers. Both are threatened. The illegal trade is driven primarily by demand for trophies and exotic pets. In Indonesia, parts of tigers are used as part of traditional medicine. The parts have healing powers. Indonesian legislation prohibits the trade of tigers. Despite government and conservation organizations’ efforts, the tiger trade continues flourishing. A lack of resources and enforcement is a challenge in combating tiger trading. Many poachers or traffickers operate in remote locations where law enforcement may be weak. They also may have access to advanced technology and weaponry, making it harder to apprehend. Conservation organizations work in Indonesia to protect and preserve tigers and their habitats. They raise public awareness about trafficking dangers and increase law enforcement. They work with communities to encourage sustainable development that can help reduce demand for tiger products and protect the animal’s habitat. The illegal trade of tigers requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders in Indonesia. These include the government, law enforcement agencies, and conservation organizations.
Indonesia’s porous borders make it challenging to prevent smuggling on its 17,000 islands (UNODC, 2013). The Critically Endangered Sumatran Tiger (Panthera Sumatra) is one of the most prized and sought-after species in the illegal wildlife trade. Demand for products such as tiger bone wines and traditional medicines drives the trafficking of tigers. Asia has dominated this market, and the region’s rapid economic growth has driven the demand for luxury products. These groups now have more disposable income and can spend it on luxury goods, including wildlife products. This has caused a spike in the illegal trade of wildlife, as several Asian countries have become significant demand nations and have a disproportionate impact on the poaching rate in source countries like Indonesia. The unsustainable scale and scope of the illegal wildlife trade have pushed many species to the brink of extinction. This includes the Sumatran Tiger. These high-profile seizures, including 6.6kg of Javan Rhino Horn and five tonnes of frozen pangolins, illustrate the severity of this problem and the massive profits involved. (Hong Kong Customs 2017, WCS, 2015.) India has significantly more arrests than China (374) or Indonesia (227). Although the numbers are low, it’s clear that poaching remains a significant problem.
Southeast Asia is now a hotspot worldwide for human impacts, including the illegal hunting of tigers. Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Brunei are the top countries with the highest threats to species. This alarming condition is further compounded by the reality that the most impacted ecosystems, such as tropical forests and mangroves, contain the greatest variety of life on Earth.
Hotspots of threats and threatened species richness
Demand and Consumption of Tiger Products in Indonesia
The Indonesian demand for illegal tiger products and their consumption has significant consequences on conservation efforts and public health. Despite international efforts to conserve tigers and their habitats, the illegal trade is still thriving, driven by a demand for traditional drugs and luxury goods made with tiger pieces. Indonesia is home to a large amount of illegal trade in tiger body parts. Sumatra and Java are key transit zones for smugglers. Tigers from Indonesia are hunted primarily for their skins. Their bones, teeth, etc., are used to make traditional Chinese medicine, decorative items, and souvenirs. The tiger bone wine made from steeping tiger bones in rice wine has also become a favorite luxury item. Indonesians demand tiger goods for many reasons, including cultural beliefs about tigers, economic incentives, or lack of information. Indonesians still believe that products made from tiger skins and fur have medicinal properties.
Aside from the high cost of tiger body parts, poaching is profitable for those involved. Consuming illegal tiger items significantly threatens public health since many contain toxic levels and heavy metals. Tigers are also exposed to industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and pesticides. They can accumulate these in their body over time. When humans consume these products, they may suffer from severe health conditions, including cancer and reproductive disorders. Indonesia has a long history of efforts to curb the consumption of illegal tiger items. They include various strategies: education, law enforcement, and outreach. International organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora CITES, work with communities and local authorities to spread awareness of tiger conservancy and fight the illegal trade in tiger items. Also, the development of alternative sources of income is underway for local communities to reduce incentives for smuggling and poaching.
Between January 2001 and June 2022, more than one-quarter of all seizures included whole tiger species, either alive or deceased, including a fetus. These seizures were the results of 608 incidents which involved 1,319 Tigers. The majority occurred in Indonesia. Thailand. Lao PDR. The number of incidents in which tigers were confiscated has increased through the decades. In 2017, this figure reached a record high of 47%. Even though there was a temporary fall during the COVID-19 pandemic peak in 2020-2021 (as shown by a drop to 39%), the trend appears to be increasing overall. Skins were the most frequently confiscated item, followed by entire tigers and bones. Around 2013, an increasing number of confiscation incidents included other body parts, including teeth and nails. Tiger bone (used primarily for derivatives like tiger bone glue and liquors infused with a tiger) was the most wanted commodity type in terms of volume. It was the most common, with over 11,528 pieces and 2,950kg confiscated. Tiger teeth (953), skin (1313), or claws (3101) were all used in fashion. The illegal consumption of tiger products and the demand for them in Indonesia pose a threat to wild tiger populations. Even though they are protected under the law, tigers are still hunted and killed, and their body parts are used to make traditional medicines, jewelry, decorative items, etc.
Drivers, Patterns, and Trends of Illegal Tiger and Tiger Trafficking in Indonesia
In recent years the illegal trafficking of tigers in Indonesia has become a severe issue. The TRAFFIC Skin and Bones Report: Tiger Trafficking Analysis January 2000-June 2022 gives valuable insights into the patterns and trends of tiger trafficking in Indonesia. The report’s findings, which show that the global number of tigers has decreased to 4,500 from a peak of 15,000 in 2000, are alarming and show the difficulties conservation efforts face. Indonesia’s increasing number of tiger seizures is one notable trend. The number of incidents during the first six months of 2022 was higher than in previous years. During this period, 18 tigers were confiscated. The number of reported incidents is twice as high as in 2021 or 2020. This highlights the growing problem of illegal tiger trading in Indonesia. Indonesia has an intricate network of different actors involved in illegal tiger trading. Tiger parts are traded for various reasons, including decorative purposes, health benefits, magic talismans, status symbols, and wealth. The demand for the products is what fuels this trafficking. It puts the remaining wild tigers at greater risk. Another alarming trend is the increasing importance of captive tigers within the illegal trade. Since 2000 at least 744 suspected tigers are thought to have originated either from confirmed captive sources or suspected ones. Since 2005, incidents of whole tigers being taken from a captive source have increased.
With over 8,000 captive tigers across Asia, tiger farms increase the availability of tiger-related products and parts, thus encouraging further poaching. The trafficking of tiger products in Indonesia involves sophisticated smuggling systems that operate across national borders. Poachers smuggle these products into international markets with traders, intermediaries, and other professionals. The internet can also play a part in the illegal trade. Selling and advertising tiger products using online marketplaces or social media platforms is easier. Regional variations characterize Indonesian tiger illegal trafficking. The authorities have identified Sumatran Island in Indonesia as a hotspot where tigers have been poached and traded for their body parts, including skin, bones, etc. Javan Tigers, once native to Java, are extinct today due to hunting and habitat losses.
In the past few years, Indonesians have paid increased attention and made significant efforts to fight illegal tiger trafficking. The government has enforced stricter laws and regulations. They have also successfully cracked down on illegal traders. Although the demand is high for tiger products, illegal trade still severely threatens wild populations in Indonesia. Illegal tiger trade is driven primarily by the demand of countries in East Asia. Illegal hunting and poaching of Indonesian tigers is a severe problem. Demand for tiger skins, skeletons, and other body pieces drives this. The smuggling, or smuggling of products containing tiger parts, out of Indonesia is often assisted by international criminal groups, which employ sophisticated methods to avoid being detected by the authorities. Indonesia has a significant domestic demand for tiger products, notably in traditional medicine. Indonesian law enforcement and government agencies are prone to corruption, which is a challenge when fighting illegal tiger trafficking. Corrupt officials are often involved in the illegal trade of tiger products by either turning a blind eye to the activities or by providing false documentation. Indonesian traders have found that online marketplaces provide an easy way to sell their products.
Characteristics of Tiger Trafficking in Indonesia
The illegal trade in tigers, prevalent in Indonesia, has several features that make the problem complex and challenging to address. One of Indonesia’s most essential characteristics of its tiger-trafficking industry is its high profitability. Others include access to and availability of international trade networks, high levels of risk, supply, demand, corruption, and online trade. Trade in tiger products is lucrative. Some estimates say that a single Tiger can be worth more than tens of thousands of dollars on the illicit market. Second, Tiger Trafficking in Indonesia is frequently facilitated by international crime networks that use sophisticated transport methods to move tiger items across borders without being detected by authorities. The illegal trade in products derived from tigers is a highly-risky venture, and traders or smugglers who are caught will be subject to severe financial and legal penalties. The demand for tiger products is also driven by supply and supply factors. Both domestic and global markets are driving the market. Indonesia has seen a disturbing increase in tigers confiscated in the first six months of 2022 compared with 2021. India (759 incidents – 34%), China (221 – 10%), and Indonesia (207 – 9%) are the three countries where there were most seizures. Viet Nam had a notable increase in tiger seizes, with a 185% jump between 2014 and 2017 to 2018-2021.
Corruption is a problem among the Indonesian government and law enforcement agencies. They often provide false documents to hide illegal activities or may even be actively involved in the trafficking. The traditional use of products from tigers in traditional medicine has been a significant driver of the demand for products from tigers in Indonesia and Asia. Tiger bone fragments and other body components are believed to have healing properties. The illegal trade in tiger merchandise has been a growing trend in Indonesia. Online marketplaces provide a convenient way for sellers to market their products while buyers can buy them anonymously. In late 2014, two Indonesian online merchants were detained for trying to sell many stuffed bears, lions, and tigers. In Indonesia, attempting to sell protected wildlife parts carries up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
In summary, it can be said that the illegal trafficking of tigers in Indonesia is a complicated and multifaceted issue that requires a coordinated, comprehensive response from governments, law enforcement agencies, and civil society organizations. The Indonesian tiger trading industry is marked by its essential characteristics. This highlights the importance of targeted interventions to address the root causes and the drivers behind the demand for tiger products.
Destinations of Tiger and Tiger Products Trafficked From Indonesia
It needs to be made clear where tigers are shipped from Indonesia. But there are indications that they go to markets in East Asia. This includes China, Vietnam, and Thailand. China, Vietnam, Thailand, and other countries are among the top destinations for tigers smuggled from Indonesia. China is an essential destination for tiger goods from Indonesia and other countries within the region. Traditional Chinese medicine highly values tiger skins, bones, and other body pieces. They are thought to possess a variety of medicinal properties. Vietnam, an important market for Indonesian tiger-related products, is driven by the combination of traditional medicines and cultural beliefs. Tiger bones, for example, are believed to be healing and protective, while tiger leather is used to make clothing, decorative items, and more.
Thailand is an important market as well for Indonesian Tiger products. The demand comes from traditional medicine and culture. Tiger products also are used to create amulets or talismans that are believed to provide good luck and protection. The illegal trade of tiger products is also carried out in other countries worldwide, including Singapore and Malaysia. Illegal trade is a significant problem worldwide, with a demand that stems from traditional medicine practices, cultural practices, and status symbols. It is important to remember that tigers smuggled from Indonesia only sometimes end up in the abovementioned countries. The illegal trade in products derived from tigers is a very complex and dynamic problem. Routes, destinations, and traffickers’ tactics are constantly changing.
Tiger data highlights the widespread nature of tiger trafficking worldwide, with an essential concentration in Tiger Range Countries. Over 1,000 locations have experienced confiscations worldwide, with 81% occurring in TRCs. This includes Indonesia. This is happening in areas with wild tiger numbers at risk, indicating the problem’s urgency. The distribution and location of these significant seizure incidents are limited to specific hotspots. For example, areas near and in protected areas, tiger reserves, and other areas of poaching in countries including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.
An analysis of routes used by tiger traffickers over 23 years reveals how long the chain of trafficking is from source to market. Half the incidents involved route legs ranging from 220 to 2,700 km. The median distance was 1,050 km, and the outliers extended up to 12,000. This shows the vast reach and complex network used by traffickers to move tiger commodities across borders. India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia are all listed as the sources of tiger commodity traffic. The routes of reported trafficking are mostly domestic or occur along cross-border locations. These routes lead toward international consumption centers and gateways.
Methods of Sale
In Indonesia, those involved in the illegal Tiger trade rely heavily on anonymous payment methods. They also find them easy to use. Cash transactions tend to be used because they are untraceable, and it isn’t easy to tie payments to individual people. Other than cash, informal money transfer methods such as hawala are used. These systems allow money to flow between parties without needing to move the money physically. These systems rely heavily on trust and connections among individuals, usually family or friends. This allows them to bypass the formal bank system. Thanks to technological advances, criminals are now turning to alternative digital currencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and others. These cryptocurrencies provide anonymous, safe transactions which are difficult for criminals to track. This makes these cryptocurrencies attractive as a tool for illegal activities, including wildlife trafficking. Using prepaid cards or mobile-payment systems is also common, as these allow transactions without divulging personal information. One method criminal networks employ is wire transfers using shell companies. These companies disguise the true purpose of the transaction, making law enforcement challenging to track down the funds and identify the parties. In some instances, traffickers might barter or trade goods and services instead of using cash. This complicates the detection of such transactions.
For Indonesia to effectively address the issue of tiger smuggling and ensure wild tigers’ survival, a holistic approach that addresses all stages of the illegal trade must be adopted. Indonesian officials should prioritize intelligence-driven investigations to dismantle the criminal networks operating across the illegal trade chain. These investigations include cross-border cooperation and financial investigation. To ensure vigorous and predictable prosecution, the focus should be on increasing the probability of traffickers getting caught and being convicted. Investigative and prosecution skills must also be improved. Authorities must take immediate action to shut markets selling tiger parts and products both online and offline, as well as ensure that facilities breeding and holding captive tigers have robust laws, rules, and enforcement in accordance with CITES Resolutions. Transparency and accountability are essential to stop the laundering and leakage of stock.
Increased transparency in law-enforcement actions will allow more data-driven decisions to be made about tiger conservation, as well as foster greater collaboration between governments and civil society. Increased transparency in the law enforcement process will help to make more informed decisions on tiger conservation. It will also foster greater collaboration among governments and civil society. Indonesia will be able to effectively combat the multifaceted problem of tiger trading by implementing their recommendations. They can also contribute to the global effort to fight wildlife crime.
In conclusion, illegal trafficking in Indonesia of tigers poses a substantial threat to global tiger survival. The TRAFFIC document highlights the alarming growth in tiger seizures and calls attention to the urgent necessity for effective conservation measures. Illegal tiger trading in Indonesia is made possible by a complicated network of actors, including domestic and international criminal organizations. This illegal trade, fueled by a demand for tiger goods, including decorations, health products, magical talismans, symbols of wealth, and other items, is exacerbating risks to the remaining wild animals. Tiger farms contribute to the availability and demand for tiger parts. The availability of tiger parts and products encourages the poaching of wild animals, which puts wild tiger populations at greater risk. In order to combat this illegal trade, sophisticated smuggling systems that cross national borders are used. Also, the internet has been a key platform in the facilitation of the trade of tiger-related products. Social media and online marketplaces have enabled easier connections between buyers, sellers, and the tiger industry. Indonesia’s regional variations and trends in illegal tiger trading further complicate efforts at addressing the issue. Sumatran Island emerged as an important hotspot for poaching and traffic tigers, while the Javan Tiger became extinct from hunting and habitat losses. This illegal trade is fueled by the demand for tiger merchandise both internationally and domestically. But corruption among law enforcement officials, government agencies, and other stakeholders makes it difficult to combat. Indonesia has intensified its efforts to combat the illegal tiger trafficking. The government is enacting strict laws and regulations while cracking down on illegal traders and networks. Even with these efforts, the demand for Tiger products remains high. Furthermore, the illegal trade in tiger products continues to threaten wild tiger species in Indonesia. In order to deal with this complex issue, we need a multifaceted solution that includes strict law enforcement, international collaboration, and increased awareness among the public about the damaging impact of the illegal Tiger trade. By tackling domestic and international demand factors for tiger products, it may be possible to protect and preserve remaining wild tiger communities and contribute towards the global effort to save an iconic species.
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Hong Kong Customs, 2017. Hong Kong Customs seizes suspected rhino horns at airport.
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