Luh De Suriyani, Denpasar, Indonesia – 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 backlash was swift. "We are so [disappointed] to see a baby siamang, a protected, endangered and very sensitive primate openly promoted as a pet," the Jakarta Animal Aid Network wrote on the image-sharing site. "We hope he/she is well despite these conditions and can be reunited with his/her own species." Indonesian singer and actress Sherina Munaf also weighed in, writing, "Wild animals are NOT pets #wildanimalsarenotpets."
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.
The siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) is an endangered species, under threat from the illegal pet trade and habitat loss as the rainforests it calls home are cleared for development.
In Indonesia, keeping a protected species, like the siamang, as a pet is punishable by up to five years in prison under the 1990 Conservation Act. But in practice, perpetrators are rarely, if ever, prosecuted.
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 have 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.
Law enforcement in such cases is still weak, according to Bayu. "I'm sure there are many more officials" keeping protected animals as pets, Bayu said.