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Jakarta Post

COVID-19 won’t stop Indonesia from conserving endangered wildlife treasures

  • Made Anthony Iswara
    Made Anthony Iswara

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, April 22, 2020   /   12:59 pm
COVID-19 won’t stop Indonesia from conserving endangered wildlife treasures A female Sumatran tiger named Corina rests at a local rehabilitation center in Dharmasraya, West Sumatra on April 6. Corina is among other Sumatran tigers that were rescued from wire traps set by hunters in the forest. (-/Courtesy of the Environment and Forestry Ministry)

Five-year-old Sumatran tiger Corina had one of her legs stuck in a wire trap for at least three days at a forest in Teluk Meranti, Pelalawan, Riau before she was found by a rescue team on March 29.

The wires had slit her leg close to the bone, completely tearing her leg muscles. Doctors say animals like her often get their legs amputated because it is extremely difficult to recover from such severe wounds.

“But she is lucky that her tendons are still in good condition, so there is a chance she will recover, provided the recovery process goes smoothly and there are not any secondary infections,” the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s biodiversity conservation director Indra Exploitasia said in a recent statement.

Corina is among around 600 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, Population Viability Analysis data by the ministry showed. While under intensive care, Corina can now be seen sleeping, eating, licking her wounds and bathing in a small pool at a local rehabilitation center in Dharmasraya, West Sumatra, according to authorities.

Corina’s story reflects one of many attempts to preserve Indonesia’s diverse biodiversity despite mobility restrictions implemented as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, with Indonesia having the sixth-highest number of "threatened" species globally with 1,654 species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.



But other Sumatran tigers were not as lucky. A female Sumatran tiger was found dead on February 19 in a wire trap in a forest in Seluma, Bengkulu, in yet another incident that has drawn attention to the already critically endangered species.

In Aceh, local authorities are investigating the death of an endangered Sumatran elephant found at an oil palm plantation in Ranto Peureulak on April 15.

The elephant was found just one day after a Sumatran elephant was brutally killed in Kelayang in Indragiri Hulu, Riau. The elephant’s face was severely mutilated, though its tusks were still intact. Environment authorities suspected that the elephant had been considered a pest by locals as it had been separated from its herd, which lives in the Southeast Tesso elephant area of Riau's Tesso Nilo National Park.

Read also: Elephant found dead, mutilated in Riau

Illegal trade and human-animal conflict have largely caused people to hunt endangered species, raising calls to end wildlife trade and improve investigation into illegal trade.

"We need to be more introspective and vigilant in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem during the COVID-19 situation. Wildlife has an important role to play in the environment and therefore we need to preserve nature and its contents,” Indra said.

Far from the jungle, zookeepers in Bali continue taking care of five Komodo dragons and nearly 1,200 birds in Bali Bird Park despite having no visitors as a result of social distancing efforts and flagging tourism.

The zoo has been temporarily closed to the public since March 23 and will remain closed until further announcement, Bali Bird Park general manager Pande Suastika said recently. Pande said the zoo had to put a portion of its expenses on "pending" to sustain the business, maintain its employees and take care of its wildlife.

The zoo now employs 10 out of 35 caretakers daily in alternating shifts to take care of and feed the animals. He said the zoo had implemented safety protocols, such as disinfecting the area two to three times a week, since avian influenza first broke out years ago and it will continue to do so during the current COVID-19 outbreak.

“Because we are a conservation institution, we have to protect the nation's assets because wildlife is the country’s asset, not ours,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Jakarta’s Ragunan Zoo, staff are taking care of at least 2,100 animals despite the zoo having been closed to the public since March 14 in light of the pandemic. Ragunan business promotion and development manager Ketut Widarsana said on Thursday that the zoo would remain closed until further notice.

Caretakers, who now work in alternating shifts, are also wearing masks while feeding the animals or cleaning zoo cages and surrounding areas with disinfectant and carbolic acid. Zookeepers have also been spraying disinfectant once a week, more often than only once a month under normal conditions, Ketut added.

Read also: Covid, Quarantine among names suggested for newborn animals in Colombian zoo

Responding to the news on a tiger at New York's Bronx Zoo in the United States that tested positive for COVID-19, Ketut ensured that veterinarians had checked the zoo animals and reported that all of them were in a healthy condition as of Thursday.

In a broader context, the pandemic has reignited calls to stop wildlife trade that has been a hotbed for zoonotic disease transmission, including in Indonesia. The Bronx Zoo case has also raised concerns about whether humans can transmit the virus to animals.

Various studies showed that human encroachment on natural habitats had allowed infectious zoonotic diseases to transmit between wild animals and humans, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) microbiology researcher Sugiyono Saputra said.

Yet at least 60 percent of infectious diseases were derived from animals, and more than two-thirds of them came from wildlife, he said on Tuesday.

"What is clear is that, when these [human activities triggering zoonotic diseases] are still very common, the risk of new diseases emerging will still be present," Sugiyono said.

In Indonesia, a 1990 law on natural resources conservation stipulates that anyone involved in “trading, keeping, distributing or killing protected species” is liable to five years’ imprisonment with a fine of Rp 100 million (US$6,410). But environmentalists have criticized the provision for being too lenient as most offenders received less than a year of prison time.

The government and the House of Representatives agreed to revise the 1990 law in 2016 to place heavier sanctions on hunters and traders. But the government later backtracked its effort as it told the House to omit the bill in the priority list of the 2020-2024 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas).