Thursday, March 13, 2014

Indonesia's Islamic Clerics Issue a Fatwa Against Poaching and the Illegal Wildlife Trade

A mother Sumatran orangutan and its offspring.

It has recently been reported that Islamic clerics in Indonesia drew attention from conservation groups by declaring a fatwa against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade last week. The Indonesian Ulema Council, which is the top Muslim clerical body in the country, issued the fatwa on Tuesday proclaiming the illegal wildlife trade to be haram and forbidding Muslims from "all activities resulting in wildlife extinction." Furthermore, the fatwa is meant in part to help promote current national laws protecting endangered species which are poorly imposed and have done little to prevent such wildlife crimes. It also called for the Indonesian government to reassess permits that have been given to companies that are deteriorating the environment. The idea for the fatwa came when members of the Indonesian Ulema Council visited Tesso Nilo National Park on the island of Sumatra in September last year. There, they spoke with conservation groups, government officials, and local communities that have come into conflicts with elephants and tigers. News agencies such as the National Geographic called the action extraordinary - the first ever fatwa issued against the illegal wildlife trade. Indonesia's conservation groups also praised the council's decision and hope the move will help support current efforts to protect the wildlife. However, it is not known whether the fatwa will have a powerful impact on the policy against wildlife crimes in Indonesia. That is, it is not legally binding and while the Indonesian Ulema Council called on the government to take serious action in protecting endangered species, such religious decrees rarely result in policy changes. Nonetheless, an anonymous source within the Ministry of Forestry indicated last week that it would make a concerted announcement on the fatwa with the Indonesian Ulema Council on Wednesday.
A pangolin fetus served as a delicacy, which spells tremendous jeopardy to the species and other endangered wildlife in Indonesia and other parts of Asia

It is really amazing to see how groups of people unaffiliated with conservation in general are becoming well-aware about the damages being implemented on the biodiversity of different places around the world. One example was reported in Indonesia, where Islamic clerics attempted to draw attention about the dangers of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade by issuing a religious decree in an effort to help support existing laws designed to protect endangered wildlife and ensure stiff penalties for those involved in wildlife crimes. In Indonesia, anyone found guilty of illegally trafficking endangered species could face a five-year prison sentence or a fine of Rp 100 million. Unfortunately, despite this law being put into place, poachers and operators of the illegal wildlife trade virtually operate with impunity and crimes against wildlife are rarely prosecuted. This means that those who are charged face lighter sentences, compared to what the law states. A survey in 2009 by the environmental group ProFauna discovered 183 protected species being trafficked in seventy bird markets around Indonesia, including rare parrots, songbirds, birds of prey, and even primates and other mammals. In addition, extensive deforestation and palm oil expansion has also tremendously affected the country's wildlife. For example, last month, seven critically endangered Sumatran elephants were found dead on illegal palm oil plantations in Tesso Nilo National Park, suspected to have been poisoned by the plantation staff. In the last ten years, nearly 130 elephants had been killed in Indonesia's Riau province.
Sumatran elephants

The examples given above indicate how Indonesia has and continues to prove to be ineffective in the battle against the growing threat of poaching and illegal wildlife trade threatening to decimate its endangered wildlife. Even with strict laws guaranteeing the consequences for conducting illicit activities in the country, perpetrators are able to find themselves on a safe side by serving only a minimum sentence before they are released from prison to continue carrying out their crimes against wildlife. Furthermore, such crimes are rarely prosecuted which gives these criminals more advantage and power over the government and conservation groups. This is why it is extremely crucial that groups of people who are not associated with conservation or environmentalism should make their stand against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade by convincing the public about the dangers these threats pose to the endangered wildlife. Conservation groups alone cannot do the job of keeping the world's wildlife safe; the public should also pitch in to help make a difference by collaborating with conservation groups and other such organizations committed to put an end to poaching, wildlife trade, deforestation, and numerous other environmental threats affecting the world's biodiversities.

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