In Bali, Prominent Official Faces Backlash Over Illegal Pet Gibbon
October 7, 2021
An elected official in Bali surrendered a baby gibbon to conservation authorities last month after a social media post showing him playing with the animal at home caused outrage among animal rights advocates and conservationists, the latest in a long line of similar incidents in the mega biodiverse country.
On Sept. 14, I Nyoman Giri Prasta, the head of Bali’s Badung district, posted a video to Instagram of his baby siamang, a type of gibbon. “This is Mimi, I take good care of her,” he says in the video.
The district chief’s video was quickly deleted, and the next day, a new video uploaded to his account showed him handing over the siamang to the head of Bali’s conservation agency. In it, Giri Prasta says he gave up the animal so that it could be rehabilitated and released into the wilds of its native Sumatra.
In March, authorities confiscated nine eagles, all of them protected species, from the home of the deputy governor of Aceh province. Later that month, conservation authorities were “attacked” while trying to recover a pet orangutan from a “paramilitary leader” in North Sumatra province, according to Panut Hadisiswoyo, the head of the Orangutan Information Center, a group that combats the illegal wildlife trade. Neither of the perpetrators has been punished, Panut said.
Agus Budi Santosa, the head of the Bali conservation agency, said the siamang would be rehabilitated at a facility in West Sumatra province before being released into its natural habitat. He said he was focused on returning the animal to the wild and hadn’t thought about punishing Giri Prasta for breaking the law.
Gede Nyoman Bayu Wirayudha, the founder of the Bali Wildlife Rescue Center, where the siamang was initially transferred after its confiscation, said baby gibbons that are presumably taken from their mother in the wild to be kept as pets are at high risk of developing stress-related problems.
The siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) is an arboreal, black-furred gibbon who is native to the forests of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. This species is the only species in the genus Symphalangus and is endangered due to such factors as illegal pet trade, poaching, and habitat loss.
Habitat fragmentation of siamangs occurs due to plantations, forest fire, illegal logging, encroachment, and human development. Palm oil plantations have removed large areas of the siamang's habitat in recent decades, and it replaced much rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the siamang originally lived. Another major ground is human intervention, namely, infrastructure development in many areas, including roads, which now divide conservation areas and have caused forest fragmentation and edge effects.
Primates are hunted to their meat in some parts of Asia, but not in Indonesia. Rather, they are hunted in Indonesia for the illegal pet trade. In Indonesia, the siamang is legally protected, and keeping a protected species as a pet is penalized by imprisonment for up to 5 years under the 1990 Conservation Act, however, even the prosecution of such crimes remains non-enforceable.