A stuffed tiger, a frozen tiger carcass, a tiger skin, several sea turtles, a stuffed sambar deer head, a stuffed timor deer head, 28 python skins, a monitor lizard skin, two pieces of ivory, and a rhino horn were burned in the city of Medan, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, on January 10.
Government authorities and the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) organized the burn as a way to destroy high-value evidence from wildlife crimes to ensure the items don’t find their way back onto the black market. Once a trial is over, says Dwi Adhiasto, of WCS Indonesia’s Wildlife Crimes Unit, there’s no need to keep the products in storage.
“The products just consume office space and could create disease,” he said in an email. More importantly, he added, there aren’t strong record-keeping and monitoring procedures for confiscated wildlife products in government custody, so it’s not difficult for these valuable items to go “missing” without anyone noticing. To prevent their leaking out of custody and back into illegal trade, “the products must be destroyed,” he said.
Some scientists argue against the destruction of such evidence, saying it precludes them from doing research. Adhiasto sees the value in sending occasional specific items to universities or museums, but overall, he said, “Even I never heard that these products contribute to research so far.”
Public destruction of evidence is also a good way to raise awareness, Adhiasto said. It “shows the public that law enforcement is complete; that the suspect was sentenced.” The burns drum up public support for the fight against the illegal wildlife trade and show the public that wildlife crimes in Indonesia will be published, he said.
And as for that funny-looking tiger with the gaping teeth in the video above? Kanitha Krishnasamy, the acting regional director of the Southeast Asia office of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring organization, says stuffed tigers are seem to hold special appeal for Indonesians.
A total of 1,081 stuffed tigers and mounted tiger skins were registered with the government in 1990 when it passed new legislation regulating protected species of wildlife, including at least a hundred owned by government officials and businessmen in the province of South Sumatra alone, according to a TRAFFIC report.
This particular stuffed tiger that was destroyed in the Medan burn had been voluntarily handed over by its owner who possessed it illegally, Adhiasto said.
Wildlife Watch is an investigative reporting project between National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners focusing on wildlife crime and exploitation. Read more Wildlife Watch stories here, and learn more about National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at nationalgeographic.org . Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.