Indonesia catches Russian smuggling an orangutan

AFP, DENPASAR, Indonesia

Sun, Mar 24, 2019 - Page 4

A Russian tourist attempting to smuggle a drugged orangutan out of Indonesia in his suitcase to bring home and keep as a pet has been arrested in Bali, police said yesterday.

Andrei Zhestkov was late on Friday detained in Ngurah Rai International Airport while passing through a security screening before a planned flight back to Russia.

Suspicious officers stopped him and opened his luggage to find a two-year-old male orangutan sleeping inside a rattan basket.

“We believe the orangutan was fed allergy pills which caused him to sleep. We found the pills inside the suitcase,” Bali conservation agency official I Ketut Catur Marbawa said.

“[Zhestkov] seemed prepared, like he was transporting a baby,” he added.

The 27-year-old also packed baby formula and blankets for the orangutan, Marbawa said.

Police also found two live geckos and five lizards inside the suitcase.

Zhestkov told authorities that the protected species was gifted by his friend, another Russian tourist who bought the primate for US$3,000 from a street market in Java.

He said his friend, who has since left Indonesia, convinced him he could bring the orangutan home to keep as a pet.

The Russian could face up to five years in prison and US$7,000 in fines for smuggling, Marbawa said.

Orangutans are a critically endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with only about 100,000 remaining worldwide.

Plantation workers and villagers in Indonesia often consider the apes pests and sometimes attack them, while poachers capture the animals to sell as pets. A string of fatal attacks on the apes have been blamed on farmers and hunters.

Four Indonesian men were arrested last year over the killing of an orangutan shot about 130 times with an air gun.