A baby Javan gibbon, born in the wild to parents rescued from the pet trade, has been the cause of jubilation among conservationists. Conservation International says that the birth of this baby is a boost to the future of these apes on the Indonesian island of Java. The baby was born in a secured forest in West Java. The project has now released 17 gibbons into the area.
However, illegal trade lurks large and remains a huge threat to the species. It is increasingly moving online. An investigation by researchers in UK revealed that the law protecting these ape species was being openly “flouted”.
Researchers based at Oxford Brookes University also showed videos on BBC News of the protected species being advertised by pet traders on social media platforms.
Conservation International (CI) and the Javan Gibbon Foundation have rehabilitated the released animals and rangers now patrol the site at Mount Malabar, monitoring the animals and checking for any poaching activity. It took almost 10 years to bring the two adults back to the forest.
“It’s a long, long process,” explained Anton Ario from CI. “The poachers that capture gibbons target babies, because they are cute and easy to sell. When we find them, they’re often living in a cage and cannot move around at all. They need to learn to live in the trees.”
To ensure the re-released animals are able to survive, the researchers introduced them to potential mates while they were in captivity and ultimately released pairs or family groups of the animals.
The new birth brings renewed hope for a primate that is rapidly losing its habitat in Java, which has less than 5% of pristine forest left in its steep, tropical mountains. While programmes like this can bring some animals back to the wild every year, many more are being bought and sold as pets.
A search on social media channels will reveal pet shops and sellers, many based in South East Asia, openly advertising baby gibbons for sale.
“They are flouting the law and no one is being punished,” says Prof Vincent Nijman, from Oxford Brookes University, who has carried out investigations of the illegal trade in endangered ape.
The trade is not confined to gibbons. Orangutans and slow lorises are also being “plucked” from the wild.
Prof Nijman’s recently published investigation revealed that, while more than 400 illegal pet orangutans had been seized by law in Indonesia in the last two decades, those confiscations had led to only seven prosecutions.
BBC News reported a post to Facebook that advertised a baby gibbon for sale. In response, the company said it had removed the post and was “investigating the page where it was posted”.
“We’re committed to helping tackle the illegal online trade of protected wildlife and will remove any content that violates our community standards when it is reported to us,” Facebook said in a statement.
Instagram has also responded after the BBC alerted it to the sale of gibbons on the site. In a statement sent to BBC News, the company said that the accounts in question had been removed, adding that the illegal trade or sale of animals was “prohibited on Instagram”.
Prof Nijman pointed out that the numerous threats to endangered apes in Indonesia were not all problems that people had the power to tackle. “Orangutans, in particular, face huge threats. But curbing the pet trade is within our control,” he said.