Immigration officials in Bali have detained a Russian tourist who was caught trying to smuggle a baby orang-utan he had drugged and stuffed into a suitcase.
The 27-year-old Russian national Andrei Zhestkov was stopped at Ngurah Rai International Airport on Friday night after a scan of his luggage revealed a two-year-old male orang-utan asleep inside.
“At first, we thought it was a monkey. The officers were afraid to open the basket as they thought the monkey would be aggressive and run loose in the departure area,” airport quarantine spokesperson Dewa Delanata told The Jakarta Post.
“When it was taken to the examination room and we opened it, we were shocked to find an orang-utan.
“The Russian deliberately used an inhumane method to take the orang-utan to Russia,” Delanata said, adding that Zhestkov also had injections and drugs in his bags that he planned to re-administer when he transited in South Korea.
Zhestkov claimed the orang-utan was a gift from another Russian tourist, who bought it for $4200 at a market on the neighbouring island of Java and had since left Indonesia.
Zhestkov also claimed he intended to take the orang-utan home as a pet.
But the discovery of two gecko and four monitor lizards inside the same suitcase suggests he intended to sell the animals to private collectors as part of an international smuggling ring.
Irrespective of his intentions, Zhestkov is being held in remand and could be slapped with a $10,000 fine and up to five years in Bali’s infamous Kerobokan prison if successfully prosecuted for wildlife smuggling.
Orang-utans, which means ‘men of the forest’ in the Indonesian language, are listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
A century ago there were 230,000 orang-utans living in the wild, predominantly on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
Today less than 120,000 remain, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The primary cause of the demise of these apes that share 96.4 per cent of our DNA and are highly intelligent creatures is not poaching by smugglers but habitat destruction.
In the past 50 years, more than 716,000 square kilometres of virgin rainforest – an area three times the size of Victoria – has been logged or burned for palm oil production in Indonesia.
Many plantation workers in Indonesia and the Malaysian part of Borneo consider orang-utans a pest and sometimes hunt them for food – or sport.
BKSDA Aceh berhasil evakuasi 2 orangutan Sumatera (Pongo abelii) di kebun warga Ds Bunga Tanjung Kec. Sultan Daulat Kota Subulussalam (9/3/2019). Induk OU terluka parah krn benda tajam & ditemukan 74 peluru senapan angin ditubuhnya. Anak OU akhirnya mati kekurangan nutrisi parah. pic.twitter.com/UlaSHVFFZX
— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (@Sutopo_PN) March 13, 2019
Only nine days before Zhestkov’s arrest, the face of Indonesia’s disaster management agency Sutopo Purwo Nugroho shared heartbreaking images from Sumatra on Twitter of a female orang-utan that had 74 air rifle pellets impaled in her body. There was also images of her severely malnourished baby who died shortly after being rescued.
On February 2, AFP reported that the body of a decapitated orang-utan who had been shot 17 times was found floating in a river in Borneo.
Two men who claimed they butchered the animal in self-defence were arrested and, like Zhestkov, could face up to five years in prison.
The two-year-old orang-utan the Russian tried to smuggle out of Bali is fortunately in good health and now being cared for by the Bali Natural Resources Conservation Agency.