Four years ago, Ung Aing and Natalee were captured as babies from the jungles of Jambi in Indonesia’s Sumatra province, and sold as part of the growing transnational illegal wildlife trade; this week, the pair – along with several other orangutans – will return home to their natural habitat, from neighboring Thailand. 

The two Orangutans will join dozens of others who have been transported back under a wild repatriation programme led by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF), with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) 

With their high level of intelligence and incredibly mobile nature, Orangutans are arguably the most important species in South-East Asia’s tropical rainforest. The apes are known as forest engineers, capable of spreading seeds across vast swaths of land, making them critical to forest regeneration. 

“An orangutan lost to poaching is a loss to its mother but it’s also a loss to forest regeneration,” said Wiratno, Director General of Conservation and Natural Resources Ecosystem of the MOEF, adding that these losses also result in a reduction in sustainable sources of food, medicine, the environment and the planet at large. 

Since 2006, MoEF has repatriated wildlife from six countries in the region. So far, 165 mammals, reptiles and birds have been seized by law enforcement. At least 72 orangutans have been returned, 68 of which from Thailand. Wild repatriation programmes ensure animals are returned to their natural habitat 

The illegal wildlife trade is linked to money laundering, fraud, corruption, customs and breaches of quarantine laws. It is estimated that countries lose up to USD 600 million a year due to these illegal activities. At the global level, illegal wildlife trade costs between USD 8 to 10 billion per year. 

“In the past five years, MoeF has carried out more than 1,400 animal and plant rescue operations, of which 350 cases were related to IWT. Protection, prosecution and strengthening of monitoring and patrol capacity are continuously carried out, including through cyber patrols,” said Rasio Ridho Sani, Director General of Law Enforcement, MoEF during remarks at the Orangutan repatriation ceremony in mid-December.

The Government of Indonesia has addressed the issue of illegal wildlife trade by adopting innovative approaches in combating the practice. UNDP with financial support from the GEF is working with MoEF and partners to strengthen national frameworks as well as create enabling environments to bolster coordinated efforts among law enforcement agencies and effective utilization of resources for reducing IWT and loss of globally significant biodiversity in Indonesia. 

For UNDP, protecting wildlife and combatting illegal wildlife trade is part of its core mission to achieving the SDGs in resource-rich Indonesia. The South East Asian giant is home to some of the richest biodiversity in the world, including a vast sanctuary for the dwindling colony of Orangutans.

The UN has pointed out recent research which paints a dire picture of the state of the world’s wildlife and biodiversity resulting from human activities. According to the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, close to a million species—a quarter of all known lifeforms—could face extinction in a matter of decades as a direct result of human overexploitation, climate change and habitat degradation. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report also ranks biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as one of the top five threats humanity will face in the next ten years. 

For more information, contact: 

UNDP Indonesia, Communication Specialist, suryo.tomi@undp.org

Iwan Kurniawan, Programme Manager, UNDP iwan.kurniawan@undp.org

Achmad Pribadi, National Project Manager Achmad.pribadi@undp.org.

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