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Sulawesi’s Extinction Business

Producer: Will Reid

Reporter: Calliste Weitenberg

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Tonight….

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Calli/ How long has he been here?

Woman/ 18 months.

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VO: Sulawesi’s jungles up for sale in a rampant illegal wildlife trade…

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6.        

 

David/ We sell all sorts of things, like bats, wild boar, snakes….

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What’s driving the destruction and can it be stopped before it’s too late?  

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Billy: We are sleep-walking into an ecological disaster.

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Sulawesi’s Extinction Business

By Calliste Weitenberg and Will Reid

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Sulawesi’s forests are dubbed the Galapagos of Asia. 

 

00.19 /11.58/ Home to a melting pot of life, many of the creatures that live on this Indonesian island, are found nowhere else in the world. 

11.    

 

UPSOT/ Got it. I got one!

FRIEND/ It’s black… Black. And white. Black and white.  

REVAN/ I’ll wrap it up.

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This looks like a children’s game, but 10 year old Revan and his friend Wahyu are the innocent face of a murky and often illegal wildlife trade.

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Revan/ Because butterflies are my favourite animal. So I catch them to frame them. Then I earn money and save up to buy my school clothes.

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At the entrance to Bantimurung National park, thousands of butterflies are sold en masse by traders like Revan’s mum.

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SURIANI/ We have butterfly wall decorations. We have… pins…

C/ And key rings! There is absolutely everything in here right now and they’re all made of butterflies.

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Every butterfly here is essential to the forest’s food chain and its survival.

 

But Suriani sells them for just a few dollars.

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S/ The rarer the butterfly, the more expensive it is. Because it’s rarer.

Calli/ And so which butterfly in here is the rarest butterfly then? 

Suriani/ That’s the King… 

Calli/ This one up here, really!

Called a Rippon’s Birdwing, this butterfly is a protected species.

They’re more expensive because they’re a beautiful species and they’re hard to get. They don’t have them anywhere else. This is the centre. 

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Overseas, this butterfly can fetch close to $60 on the black market.

 

The fact it could soon become extinct isn’t a concern – Suriani has a family to support.

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C/ Why are the forests of Sulawesi so special do you think?

S/ What’s special about the jungle here is that it produces a lot of resources, including these butterflies. They can be used to make money.

S/ If we don’t make use of them, they’ll just disintegrate anyway.

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Far from the butterfly traders of Bantimurung, lies the frontline of this thriving illegal wildlife trade.

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In the north of Sulawesi – the town of Manado is a gateway to the rest of Asia.

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Manado is a place that’s very important because it’s a transit point for the smuggling of protected animals. Because we have two ports in Manado –the ports of Manado and Bitung.

 

Donnie Engka leads investigations as part of a specialised Indonesian government taskforce called Gakkum.

 

It’s his job to protect the forests and their animals.

 

DONNY/ In Indonesia it may be one of the largest transit points.

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At ports like these, Donny seizes animals from across the region as they’re smuggled in and out of the country.

 

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Recently he caught this trader smuggling 14 rare or endangered birds.

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Calli/ How many ports are there in north Sulawesi where animal trade is coming in and out? 

D/There are many ports in Sulawesi, because Sulawesi is surrounded by a fairly long coastline. So you really can’t count the number of traditional ports here.

Donny has just 26 officers for this entire region – and faces an enormous task.

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One animal is prized above all else. A rare variety of macaque or monkey that has human like features - called a yaki.

 

Out here they live side by side with locals.

 

 

CAL / So we’ve had a tip off that there is a yaki being kept illegally in somebody’s backyard – it’s critically endangered - and we’re not exactly sure why they’re they’re keeping it – but we’ve been told its in pretty bad condition.

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Calli / That’s the yaki.

The yaki is one of more than 900 species protected by Indonesian law – but many locals have no idea.

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CALLI/ Do you ever let him off the leash?

Woman/ No. 

Calli/ How long has he been here?

Woman/ 18 months.

Calli/ Do you think this is the right place for him?

Woman/ He’d be better off in nature.

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Keeping a yaki like this could mean 5 years in jail or a hundred million rupiah fine.

Here, That’s more than 20 times the average monthly income.

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D/ In this case, the lady has been mistakenly keeping the yaki here because a relative gave it to her.

 

D/ That’s how people here are. They don’t know whether the yaki is protected or not. They don’t understand the rules. So unintentionally, they keep protected animals. Something that’s banned by the Indonesian government.

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Donni/ Tung!

-          Poor thing/

-          Luntung!

-          Put him in.

-          Go on…

-          Tung!

-          Poor thing…

 

With the help of a wildlife rescue team, Donny loads the yaki to be taken to a nearby refuge.

 

-          Get down…

 

-          Get down Lutung. Ouch!

 

As it’s her first offense, today, this owner escapes with a warning. 

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When an animal is seized, it’s brought here to the Tasikoki Wildlife Refuge.

 

It’s the only refuge of its kind in the region – and it’s almost at capacity.

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C: How many Macaques do you have here at Tasikoki?

B: Currently now, um there is 170 Macaques from five different species in Sulawesi and most are Macaca Nigra, critically endangered one… endemic to Minhasa

C: What condition do you think this little guy is in at this point?

B: It's in poor nutrition conditions.

 

 

B: Alright, be careful, we going to get quite close over there. So, they might grab your hair so be careful with that. 

C: Okay.

 

 

The refuge is enormous. Every kind of animal is here - from orang-utans to sun bears.

C: What's in here? 

B: It's crocodiles. 

And were they traded as well?

B/ Yes.

All of them have been taken from traffickers or people who kept them illegally as pets.

 

 

We're at the bird centre now.

B: And the Yellow Crested Cockatoos, Silver Crested Cockatoos, yeah. 

B: Many different species of parrots and cockatoos from Moluccan and Papua area. Which is smuggled from the wild to be sold as a pet. 

 

 

But there’s a surprisingly bigger threat than the pet trade. Many of these animals are also hunted to be eaten.

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Um, mostly they are being catched from the wild, from the forest is for the bush meat. So to be served on a plate as the food.

so the hunters take it back home, kill it as a food to be used as a food, when they have the babies, that's what they take as well as a pet. 

C: So what trade is having the worst impact and why?

B: If I have to choose, it's bush meat. Because it’s dead already you cannot send back to the wild.

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Wow that is an incredible view.

From a look out point… Billy tells me the scale of the bush meat trade will have impacts that reach far beyond this refuge.

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C/ So, how bad is this then?

B: This is bad because it's not sustainable. All of these species get caught from the wild, directly from the wild and if that keeps going on

BILLY: 80-90% of the wildlife in Sulawesi are facing extinction.

B/ We are sleep walking into ecological disaster.

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To find out more about the bush meat trade – I’m heading in land – to visit what locals call an “extreme market”. 

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Here in Tomohon – the taste for bush meat runs deep. 

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Steeped in local tradition, just about every kind of animal is for sale.

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David/ We sell all sorts of things, like bats, wild boar, snakes… We have wild rats, port, dog… What else? That’s about it.

Calli/ It’s a lot of meat to sell!

David and his family have been selling bush meat here for eight years. Mostly to Indigenous locals, called Minahasans.

Calli/ Why do people love bush meat so much? 

D/ It’s a custom that people have. Eating this or this is a Minahasan custom.

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But this trade is barely regulated -– every animal here has been caught from the wild – and is sold in huge quantities.

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Calli/ Is the rarer the animal, the better it is?

David/ Yes. The more expensive they are, the fewer there are. The more expensive the meat, the less the supply.

 Usually bat meat on JUST 50,000 TO 60, 0000R. But when it’s in short supply, it can cost up to 150,000K.

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While David makes most of his money selling bats snakes and boar…

…monkey meat – like the yaki - is also considered a local delicacy.

Calli/ What about yaki - can you sell yaki?

David/ There were two people who sold it. They’d occasionally sell one animal, two at the most.

D/ I feel sorry when they kill yaki, because they look like humans. 

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Right now, there are meant to be legal limits to the amount of wild animals traders can sell – but they’re mostly ignored.

 

A recent study found that bats are totally wiped out in some communities of North Sulawesi – and at risk of vanishing in others nearby.

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David/ The problem is they’re limited. They’re numbers are limited. At some stage there’ll be a shortage.

Calli/ So David where are these bats coming from? 

David/ A long way. It’s a three or four day journey.

Calli/ So Why can't you source these bats locally 

David/ There aren’t many left because people here can’t bear to see a bat this big flying around. They’ll try to catch it to eat. 

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David’s caught up in a dilemma.

If he doesn’t sell bats he can’t support his family, but if he continues  - a time may come, when his grand children won’t even know what a bat looks like.

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David/ As it stands now, I feel like I’m helping cause extinctions because, I’m one of the people who sells it. And when you think about it, it’s people who cause extinction. It’s what people want. They want bat meat.

David/ If there are none left or they’re extinct… all we’ll be able to do is show children pictures, like dinosaurs. “This is a picture of a bat.” “Bat’s looked like this.” Or…  maybe they’ll just be a memory.

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For now eating bat is tradition and the bush meat trade shows no sign of slowing down.

 

But unlike David - not everyone is abiding by the law….

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Coming up...

 

CALL/ Wow. And is there meat under that ice. And there’s more meat under there. 

 

The activists cracking down on an illegal trade.

 

C/ Was this being sold openly in the market or under the table? D/ Yes mostly they are sold under the table and usually only to the local residents.

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AD BREAK

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In Sulawesi - protected species like yaki - a type of monkey - aren’t sold openly at the local market.

 

But I’m told there is a lucrative trade on the black market.

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CALLI: Right now it is 3:30am in the morning here and we are outside Tomohon’s  biggest slaughter house. Um, this is where all the produce from across the country comes, before entering the bush meat market and I am waiting for a group of activists who are going to help me get inside. 

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CALLI / Hello Delano how are you…What’s your name? Aldo. And Nicky…

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Calli/ Delano what are you looking for when you go inside? 

D/ We're going to see… if there are any protected animals… that are being traded here.

C/ Alright lets go and have a look.

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Delano says protected species are also being sold AS traditional medicine and authorities aren’t doing enough to police the supply chain.

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D/ Government w enforcement agencies should do this  - but can’t… do their jobs perhaps for some reason or whatever.  So it’s mostly organised like this one or our partner who do this work.

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CALLI/ What’s this? Bats….

Today – he’s taking matters into his own hands…. Looking for any illegal species to report to police.

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D/ And this is snake – python.  And here that’s bats too… with ice on it.

C/ How many bats are in there right now? I think more than 100. In one box. 

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Trucked in from across the country - there are hundreds of animal parts here ….

CALL/ Wow. Right. And is there meat under that ice. And there’s more meat under there. 

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But there’s no sign of anything protected.

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Calli/ Do you have any yaki here? 

Man/ No… No.

Cal/ No Yaki?

Man/ It’s forbidden. No, it’s forbidden. Yaki is banned. It’s forbidden.  

C/ When was the last time the gov checked this place? 

Man/ From the gov, about three or four months ago. 

 

The owner admits the only authorities checking what he sells are from the health department.

Man/ The thing people worry about is that their meat might be preserved with formalin.

C/ So they're not necessarily checking the species that are here.

D/ No just how they pack the animals.

C/ Just the packaging.

D/ Yeah.

C/ So do the forestry or environment police ever visit here? 

Man/ No.... No. 

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C/ Wow. So these are photos you've taken

D/ Yes this one in the middle is yaki or macaque negre.

Back at Delano’s headquarters, he shows me proof protected species like yaki are being illegally traded by other vendors.

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C/ Is that at Tomohon market?

D/ Yes, Tomohon extreme market.

C/ Was this being sold openly in the market or under the table?

D/ Yes mostly they are sold under the table and usually only to the local residents. Local people. 

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C/ So what's the biggest problem then with the bush meat trade do you think? 

D/ Our main issue or problem here is the weakness of law enforcement. As we know in Indonesia there’s already so much legislation to protect these animal species. But without good law enforcement that’s all pointless. 

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Investigations by several NGOs found one of biggest reasons behind Indonesia’s illegal animal trade was a lack of effective law enforcement.

 

To show me what this looks like, Delano is taking me to a forestry police checkpoint.

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C/ So what is this Delano?

D/ This is a checkpoint for jungle products. A checkpoint for jungle products.

It’s 10am on a Friday – one of the busiest days of the week for deliveries to Tomohon’s bush meat market…

Calli/ And so where is everybody? 

Delano/ It's empty. No ones here. ?????  

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Back in Manado, I’m meeting up again with forestry officer Donnie Engkar to see if he thinks his unit is doing enough to stop the wildlife trade.

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Calli/ Why do you think law enforcement has such a bad reputation? 

Donnie/ How can I answer that.... The community… wants us to be like Superman. The community wants any case that contravenes the law to be dealt with immediately. That’s hard for us to achieve.

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Donny insists the forestry police are making an impact…

 

Donnie/ For this year, we have conducted seven investigations, five of them have already gone to trial, there are two still awaiting trial. 

 

But in spite of his best efforts, he can’t explain the checkpoint.  

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Calli/ When I was in Tomohon we visited checkpoints and there were no police there -why is that? 

Donnie/ That’s different. That post isn’t ours. That post… But I don’t feel comfortable explaining that.

 

C/ Have I made you nervous Donnie?

 

D/ Yes you’re making me nervous.

D/ You’re questions… you’re too smart.

 

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The UN claims the wildlife trade is now the fourth biggest illegal industry in the world. After drugs, arms and human trafficking.

 

Sulawesi’s officers hope to put more traffickers behind bars, but that alone won’t stop the decline of wildlife.

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Local attitudes need to change.

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Calli/ What is the green gospel mission? 

P/ Well it's basically to spread the conservation messages through biblical approaches.

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Christianity is quite a big part of what Sulawesi is of who Sulawesi is and we figure that if maybe the law wont' work on them - then we're hoping that maybe the bible will. 

 

Prisi isn’t part of the church – she’s a conservationist. But she knows Sunday schools are a powerful tool for change.

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P/ So all the activities in the syllabus relate to Bible verses. The ones that deal with nature conservation.  

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Through a simple crossword – this activity is teaching children the difference between pets and wild animals.

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Vo: It’s not just kids learning something new.

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Leatherback turtle… That’s him!

-          Got it!!!

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C/ What do you think of this?

M/ It's good for teaching kids about animals, so they know.

C/Why?

Man/ Because… children are the next generation. It’s educating the next generation to know about animals. Because animals are God’s creations.  

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This event is a starting point, but i wonder if it’s enough to really turn the tide

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CAL: What do you think is at stake if the green gospels doesn’t work?

 

Prisi/ To give it to you straight then, continuation of population decline - of many endangered endemic species of north Sulawesi.

 

And these people the community are in the centre of it all

 

So if we don't protect it, then, there they go, you know. Then we lose a lot of precious things. And I don't want that for my home town.

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With each generation environmental degradation increases.

 

In just 50 years, the world’s animal populations have dropped by an average of 60%.  

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Will this just become a generation’s new normal or will they wake up before its all lost?

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C/ What happens if the butterflies disappear one day?

R/ I don't feel good. Because there's no more butterflies that can be framed.

C/ Would a butterfly be happier in a shop or a forest?

R/ Kiosk.

 

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