Apriadi Gunawan, Medan – The Environment and Forestry Ministry's rapid response team for the environment, the Leopards, has thwarted alleged attempts to smuggle hundreds of protected typical white-eyes that were illegal caught in Mount Leuser National Park in Aceh.
The team, under the North Sumatra Environment and Forestry Protection and Law Enforcement Agency, secured 1,266 birds that are locally known as pleci as they were allegedly being smuggled in a public bus heading to Medan, North Sumatra.
Leopard team chief Agus Siswoyo said the authorities received a tip from local residents on the alleged transportation of protected wild animals using a public bus from Takengon, Banda Aceh, to Medan.
The team members then combed busses heading to Medan, finally stopping one that carried packages filled with the protected small passerine birds in Babalan district, Langkat regency in North Sumatra on Thursday.
"We found hundreds of birds inside 30 cardboard boxes that do not have official documents. We seized all the birds," Agus told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.
Of the 1,266 birds, 556 had died inside the sealed boxes. The team released the remaining birds into the wild in the Sibolangit area in Deli Serdang regency on Friday.
Agus said the birds were caught by illegal hunters and were about to be sold in birds market in Medan. The team also arrested two men allegedly involved in the smuggling.
The executive director of bird conservation group FLIGHT Protecting Indonesia's Birds, Marison Guciano, said bird poaching remained rampant in Mount Leuser National Park's protected areas.
The group has recorded more than 14 million bird smuggling attempts from Sumatra, including Mount Leuser, to various bird markets in the country, especially in Java.
"If we let the illicit practices take place, it can bring harm to the ecosystem and the bird population in Mount Leuser," Marison said, adding that birds played a pivotal role in their natural habitat by helping the regeneration of plants and balancing the food chain.