Thousands of pig-nosed turtles released

Thousands of pig-nosed turtles released

The Jakarta Post, Timika, The Archipelago
Markus Makur

The Papua Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) recently re-released over 10,000 pig-nosed turtles, an endemic species of the province, in to the Otakwa River in the Lorentz National Park.

The turtles were seized by the Mimika Police and members of the BKSDA team in Timika on Feb. 12. They were poached in East Mimika district in Asmat regency and were to be smuggled out of the province.

The pig-nosed turtles (Carettochelys insclupta) are protected under Law No. 7/1999 on preserved plant and animal species, local BKSDA head Prianto said in Timika recently.

Prianto said police had handed over the turtles to the BKSDA to save the animals. It later coordinated with PT Freeport Indonesia to place them temporarily under its care before they were released into the wild, as it lacked the necessary holding facilities.

"The turtles were kept temporarily at the reclamation pool area at Mile 21, thanks to PT Freeport Indonesia's environmental division," Prianto said.

Prianto said the protected turtles could only be found in areas around Timika and the southern parts of Papua. A local syndicate had intended to smuggle them to Taiwan and Thailand, where they are eaten.

He added that poaching was rampant in the southern parts of Papua, including in Merauke, Asmat and Mappi regencies, due to the high price pig-nosed turtles can fetch on the black market overseas.

"We believe they would be shipped to Java before being smuggled out of the country. Police have arrested three people who were transporting the turtles to Timika without proper documents," he said.

Prianto said his office lacked the means to return the turtles to the Lorentz National Park so it had coordinated with the company's environmental division to assist it in transporting and releasing them back in to the wild.

Manager of PT Freeport Indonesia's environmental division Andi Mukhsia told reporters that the initiative to release the turtles into their habitat was part of a cooperation agreement between the Papua BKSDA, the Lorentz National Park, the local forestry office, the police and the company.

"We responded seriously to the request by the BKSDA to temporarily keep the turtles for the sake of saving the endemic species of Papua. We are always committed to protecting and helping the government in rescuing rare and protected species in Papua. We are also committed to conserving Papua's endemic wildlife species," Mukhsia said.

He added that PT Freeport Indonesia had released as many as 3,000 pig-nosed turtles, returned from Java, to their natural habitat in Omawita and Fanamo villages in Far East Mimika district in 2006, which have since multiplied successfully thanks to routine care.

In 2007, PT Freeport Indonesia also returned a group of ground kangaroos to the Wasur National Park in Merauke regency.

"We are seriously committed to working together with the government to save rare species of Papua. We have also conducted a survey of various species of butterflies and birds in Mimika and will soon launch a book on crabs in Mimika," Mukhsia said.