4. Law-enforcers

The law enforcers in Indonesia face a tough time in their battle against poaching. Government officials admit that they are fighting a losing this battle because Indonesia has so little money set aside for public education campaigns and only 12,000 rangers to cover nearly 50 million acres of dense forest. Inevitably, poachers often have the luxury of acting as they wish.

“Nobody wants to see this. People see magazine pictures of gorgeous, colourful birds and exotic animals and they ask, ‘Why can’t you stop this?'” said Tonny Soehartono, the former director of biodiversity conservation with the Forestry Ministry. “It comes down to money. There is a market for these animals that draws organized-crime syndicates,” he said. “The jungle is a difficult place to enforce the law.”

Truly, it is tough regulating a land so big with so little resources. This also goes to show the importance that the central government places on the problem of poaching since its priorities clearly lie elsewhere. Even when the poachers are captured, many cases end in with the suspects being given light sentences and do little or no jail time.

“Many people still do not take this issue seriously,” Irma Hermawati said. “Indonesia already has so many problems with its people,” Hermawati said. “They ask, ‘Why should we care about animals?’” This is very telling about what the people and government think about the situation and is probably one of the biggest dilemmas for the government. Still, what they do not see is that ignoring the plight of the biodiversity of the country is akin to ignoring the future plight of the people. Sadly, some law-enforcers have even come to commit the very crimes they guard against because the lure of monetary gains is just too great. Activists said that one Forestry Ministry officer in northern Sumatra was recently found to be moonlighting as an animal smuggler.

Once again, this does not necessarily make him a bad person. He probably had some sort of moral compass within him but upon weighing the pros and cons of the situation, monetary gain still trumped doing the right thing. It is likely that he justified his actions by telling himself, “So many people have done it, my partaking will not have such a great impact. Besides, there are just animals. So what if they go extinct? There’ll just be fewer animals in the forest. How bad can that be?”. Most people can easily explain themselves out of moral dilemmas. Law-enforcers are humans too and their social responsibilities do not always protect them from  the tendencies of human-ness.

We now perceive ourselves as so far removed from the rest of “wild” nature that we do not realise that we belong to the same community. The collapse of the “wild” nature would most certainly impact us in ways that most of us never thought about, even if we are already experiencing it. As humans, we tend only to put links between consequences and their direct causes. For example, it is easy for us to link spoilt food with the illness we come down soon after but it is harder for us to understand that our actions can accumulate or its consequences may surface only years from them. We also think we have much more control over chance than we really do, like people who believe in lucky rituals. This is not in itself a bad thing because without these, our mental health might suffer through low self-esteem and depression, among other things. However, it is also a pitfall for us since reality is nothing like that.

With such little resources allocated to fighting the poachers, park management capacity, staff morale and general political will is decreasing, according to http://www.rhinos-irf.org/waykambas/. When those combating the wildlife trade face ever mounting failures and disappointments, coupled with little help from the central government, it is inevitable that they should see their efforts as a waste of time. According to an author, Higgins, people have different regulatory focuses. When people focus on their desired end-state (end to poaching, here) or on the avoidance of an undesired end-state (the continuation of poaching, here), failure to attain their goals would lead them to feel dejection and disappointment (when they have a promotion focus) and agitation, tension or anxiety (when they have a prevention focus).

Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals are entrapped and removed from the forest to supply an underground market that activists say reaps between $10 million and $20 million yearly. Although there have been laws put in place to prohibit such poaching and sales, enforcement is weak and, in many places, even nonexistent. With such large amounts of money involved and such a boundless area to govern, it certainly would be hard trying to eradicate poachers unless more emphasis is placed on it.

However, it is equally important for law-enforcers to realise that stopping the poachers on the ground is not going to be the most effective way to handle the situation. They have to also work on the demand for the exotic animals in the first place. If they can reduced the demand for or increase the barriers for consumers to get them, this would greatly aid in the clamping down of wildlife trade. After all, no poacher would continue poaching, going through all the hassle of finding and capturing and shipping these animals only to have no one want them. Other than laws regulating poachers, consumers should also have to bear the punishments that come with obtaining these exotic animals.