Ivory tusk smuggler caught again

KOTA KINABALU: Indonesian authorities have finally caught up with a woman who was detained and let go in Kalimantan on Jan 13, despite being found with ivory tusks believed to be from poached Borneo Pygmy elephants in Sabah.

According to officials, the 37-year-old Indonesian woman, who had been living in Sabah, was arrested upon her return to Nunukan via the state’s border town of Tawau at about 10pm on May 3.

A Kalimantan wildlife official, Subhan, said the woman was currently held at the Nunukan prison while the five ivory tusks earlier seized from her was in the safekeeping of the Natural Resource Conservation Centre in Samarinda, East Kalimantan.

She is being investigated for smuggling ivory from Sabah to Nunukan.

Subhan said that under the country’s Conservation of Biological and Natural Resources law, the woman now faced up to five years in prison and a fine of 100mil Rupiah.

The tusks were found on her days after reports emerged of three elephants, including a rare sabre-tusked animal whose rescue from a Tawau plantation in August was featured in newspapers, were found killed in Sabah.

However, the woman disappeared after she was let off by Indonesian Customs officials when they seized the tusks found in her bag.

Subhan said that on Jan 13, the woman had arrived on a ferry at Nunukan port from Tawau with the tusks, which were found after a scan by Customs.

“Customs officials explained that they released the woman because they had to check if the tusks were genuine. After it was found that these were genuine, we started to look for her but she refused to come back.

“We sought the help of the Indonesian Consulate for her to be deported. Eventually, she returned and she was arrested,” Subhan was quoted as saying by the Indonesian media.

However, he said Indonesian authorities had yet to find out where she got the tusks from and those behind the smuggling, adding that investigation was ongoing.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said it had been trying to check the DNA of the tusks seized.

“We have communicated (with the Indonesian authorities) but they are not responding,” he said.

“We are hoping that they (Indonesia) will work with us to conduct the DNA (testing) on the tusks,” he said, adding that the department also hoped to get leads on those behind the illegal trade in Sabah.