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Gomez et al 2019 The online trade of Sun Bears in Indonesia

  • Monitor Conservation Research Society
TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 31 No. 2 (2019) 67
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora). Sun Bears have been completely protected
in Indonesia since 1973 under the Act of the Republic
of Indonesia No. 5 of 1990 Concerning Conservation of
Living Resources and their Ecosystems and Government
Regulation No. 7 1999 Concerning the Preservation of
Flora and Fauna. It is prohibited to catch, injure, kill,
keep, possess, care for, transport or trade protected
species, whether alive or dead. Violation of the law
carries a maximum penalty of ve years in prison and a
ne of IDR100 million (~USD7,100).
Cybercrime in Indonesia is governed by Act No. 11
(2008), Concerning Electronic Information and Trans-
actions, and to a lesser extent, Law No.7 (2014) about
Trade. These laws focus on managing trade and the
protection of electronic information and transactions,
with prohibitions on fraud. It is not a criminal oence
to post oers of illegal products for sale; only the sale
of such products is illegal. Further, authorities can only
take enforcement action against a person in possession
of protected species or when physically involved in an
illegal transaction, gambling, defamation and extortion.
Neither law specically addresses measures to regulate
online wildlife trade and related crimes.
Online surveys were conducted between 1 November
2018 and 31 January 2019. All oers of bears or bear
parts for sale obtained during this period were recorded
along with screenshots of each post. Online surveys were
focused on Indonesian Facebook wildlife trade groups
encompassing Closed (n=10), Public (n=3) and Secret
Groups (n=2) and consisted of four hours of research
per week. A Public Group and its posts can be viewed
by everybody; a Closed Group can be found by anyone
on Facebook but only members of the Closed Group
can see the Group’s posts; a Secret Group and related
posts are visible only to the group’s members. Facebook
search lters were used to narrow down searches by year
and month, and by trade group. The search dated back
Revealing the online trade of
Sun Bears in Indonesia
Lalita Gomez, Chris R. Shepherd and John Morgan
Sun Bears Helarctos malayanus are the only
native bear species in Indonesia and are split
into two subspecies—H.m. malayanus, which
occurs on mainland Asia and on the island of
Sumatra, and H.m. euryspilus, endemic to the
island of Borneo. Indonesia is an important stronghold
for Sun Bears, with one of the highest densities of this
species compared with other range States (Scotson et
al., 2017). Nevertheless, Sun Bears are far from safe
in Indonesia. Studies have shown that the country
has one of the highest rates of deforestation globally
(FWI/GFW, 2002; Margono et al., 2014), resulting in
diminishing habitat crucial for the species. Indonesia is
also a major centre of poaching and the illegal wildlife
trade is considered a prominent threat to a wide variety of
species, and Sun Bears are no exception (Meijaard, 1999;
Kurniawan and Nurashid, 2002; Nijman and Nekaris,
2014; Gomez and Shepherd, in prep.). The bears are being
killed to meet both a domestic and international demand
for gall bladders and bile for use in traditional medicine,
meat and paws for the exotic food trade, and parts (e.g.
claws, teeth, skin, skull) prized as talismans and trophies.
Live cubs are also traded as pets. However, the extent
and magnitude of the trade in Indonesia is unknown. In
2017, during a workshop organised by the IUCN SSC
Bear Specialist Group to develop a Conservation Action
Plan for Sun Bears, Indonesia was agged as a country
requiring further monitoring of and investigation into the
poaching and trade of this species so that eective law
enforcement and other conservation interventions can be
Increasingly, illegal wildlife trade is being conducted
on online platforms largely due to the low risk of detection,
global reach and the anonymity it provides (Derraik and
Phillips, 2009; IFAW, 2011; Lavorgna, 2014; Harrison
et al., 2016). According to WCS Indonesia, at least 40%
of wildlife traders in Indonesia use online platforms for
their transactions (Sinaga, 2017). Considering that much
of Indonesia’s wildlife trade is shifting from physical
markets to online markets, it is suspected that trade
in bears over the internet is also on the rise. Here, the
authors attempt to address the paucity of information on
the illegal trade of Sun Bears and related products by
investigating the trade occurring online and identifying
what action can be taken to reduce such demand and halt
the decline in populations of this species.
Sun Bears are classied as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red
List of Threatened Species (Scotson et al., 2017) and the
species is listed in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on
Screenshots of a Sun Bear cub and a pendant
carved from a Sun Bear tooth, for sale online.
68 TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 31 No. 2 (2019)
Commodity Posts No. specimens Price (IDR) Price (USD)
Claw 26 69 50–450,000 4–32
Claw (key chain) 2 2 100–500,000 7–35
Claw (pendant) 39 69 140–300,000 10–21
Live (adult) 2 2 - -
Live (cub) 40 45 6–13 million 424–918
Skull 1 1 450,000 32
Taxidermy (whole) 1 2 1.5 million 106
Taxidermy (paw) 1 1 - -
Teeth 27 49 175–600,000 12–42
Teeth (carved pendant) 5 11 1–1.5 million 70–106
Teeth (pendant) 20 26 250,000–1.2 million 18–85
Table 2. The price range for bear commodities observed for sale in Indonesia on Facebook.
The majority of prices were found in posts obtained between 2016–2018 (n=72 of 79 posts obtained; none in 2013 and 2014).
Note: currency conversion based on as of 11 April 2019.
Commodity 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total Total quantity
(posts) (specimens)
Claw 2 20 29 14 2 67 140
Live 1 3 18 12 1 5 2 42 47
Skull 1 1 1
Taxidermy (whole) 1 1 2
Taxidermy (paw) 1 1 1
Teeth 1 13 25 13 52 86
Total 1 3 21 45 57 33 4 164 277
Table 1. Bear commodities for sale in Indonesia on Facebook by year based on posts between
1 January 2013 and 31 January 2019. Note: n=158 Facebook posts, with several advertising more than one type of commodity.
to 2013 and was undertaken in the Indonesian language
using the key word “beruang”, which means “bear” in
Indonesian. Researchers collecting data were uent
in both Indonesian and English. Where possible, data
were extracted from each posting and included location/
base of operation of seller (if available), the type of
commodity on sale (e.g. live or parts—teeth, claws, skin,
skull, etc.), quantity, age, price of bears on sale, name of
the Facebook group, date of post, etc. No personal data
about the sellers were collected and no interaction with
sellers took place. The number of bears or parts being
oered for sale was extracted directly from the posts
when provided or was estimated based on the pictures
provided or otherwise estimated to involve a minimum
of one item/individual. Care was taken to omit products
that were obviously fake or likely parts of other animals.
However, due to the diculty in determining the
authenticity of a bear part on sale from the images alone
and considering some commodities had been altered (e.g.
bear canines were sometimes found painted, polished or
carved, for sale as pendants), it was generally assumed
that commodities oered were genuine. Care was also
taken to avoid ination of numbers, with each post cross-
checked to remove duplicate records.
A total of 158 posts (six of which oered more than one
item) oering either live bears or bear parts for sale were
reviewed on Facebook for the period January 2013 to
January 2019. This included 15 Facebook Groups and
111 individual sellers, of which seven were associated
with online outlets. The Facebook Groups comprised 10
Closed (n=143 posts), three Public (=9) and two Secret
Groups (n=6). Information on the location of the seller
was available in 149 posts with the highest number
originating from Java (94.6%), the majority of which were
reported to be based in Jakarta (n=75 posts), followed
by West Java (n=43), Banten (n=17), East Java (n=3),
Central Java (n=1) and Surabaya (n=1). The remaining
5.4% were based in Sumatra (n=6), Kalimantan (n=1)
and Sulawesi (n=1).
The main commodities recorded for sale in terms
of frequency and abundance were bear claws followed
by bear teeth and live bears (Table 1). Fig. 1 gives
a breakdown of the quantity of each commodity per
year based on the posts recorded, while Fig. 2 lists
a breakdown of the quantity of each commodity per
province based on data extracted from seller locations.
TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 31 No. 2 (2019) 69
sale online in violation of national law and
provides evidence of a continuing domestic
demand for bear parts (mostly teeth and
claws) for trophies and talismans. It also
reveals a high number of live bears are
being traded for the local pet trade, with
42 posts documented, representing 45 bear
cubs and two adult bears for sale. While the
posts oering live bear cubs for sale peaked
in 2015, with 18 posts amounting to 22
cubs (averaging two to three cubs/month),
in just the rst month of 2019, there were
at least two posts each oering a bear cub.
Continued monitoring of the online trade
in bears as pets is therefore warranted to
assess trends and the potential impact on
future wild bear populations in Indonesia.
It is also consistent with other identied
markets in the region (e.g. Malaysia and
Thailand) which found a high number of
live animals for sale on Facebook (Bouhuys
and Scherpenzeel, 2015; Krishnasamy and
Stoner, 2016; Gomez and Bouhuys, 2018).
The claws oered for sale were either described as bear claws (n=26) or
as pendants (n=39) and key chains (n=2). Similarly, teeth were for sale
(n=27) or as pendants/necklaces, some of which were carved (n=25).
The live bears oered for sale represented 47 individuals, mostly bear
cubs (n=40 posts; 45 individuals), with two posts each oering one
adult Sun Bear.
The Facebook posts obtained covered a period between 1 January
2013 and 31 January 2019. The majority were obtained for 2017 (n=57)
followed by 2016 (n=45) and 2018 (n=33) and primarily involved bear
teeth and claws. Posts oering live bear cubs for sale were mainly
observed in 2015 and 2016. Prices for the dierent bear commodities
were available in 79 of the 158 posts obtained. It is unclear how prices
are determined for the various bear parts on sale as the range varies and
overlaps between the dierent commodities (Table 2). Nevertheless,
the most expensive commodity on sale were live bear cubs, with
prices ranging between IDR6 million and IDR13 million (~USD424–
Illegal wildlife trade in Indonesia is widespread and online platforms
are used to buy and sell myriad live animals and their parts and
derivatives. This study shows that Sun Bears are being oered for
Fig. 1. The quantity of bear
commodities for sale on Facebook
in Indonesia by year based on posts
between 1 January 2013 and
31 January 2019.
Fig. 2. The quantity of bear
commodities for sale on Facebook in
Indonesia by province based on posts
between 1 January 2013 and
31 January 2019.
70 TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 31 No. 2 (2019)
No gall bladders or bile-based products were observed
for trade online. Bear seizure data for Indonesia were
recently analysed for 2011 to 2018 and the ndings were
similar to this study, with domestic demand primarily
involving bears as pets and for bear parts (claws and
teeth) for ornamental purposes (Gomez and Shepherd, in
prep.). However evidence was also found of bears being
killed for food and for their parts used in traditional
medicine which were being traded locally as well as
to foreign markets, namely Cambodia, China, Kuwait,
Malaysia and Viet Nam (Gomez and Shepherd, in prep.),
despite legislation in place prohibiting such practices.
Such activities were not apparent on the Facebook
groups investigated in this study, perhaps due to the
fact that demand for bear bile , which is used primarily
in traditional Chinese medicine, serves a more niche
market. A study in 2002 found that 78 of 124 outlets
selling traditional medicine surveyed in eight large cities
across Indonesia sold bear gall bladders and derivatives
(Kurniawan and Nurashid, 2002).
The online trade appears to be occurring predominantly
on the island of Java where the species has long been
considered extinct (Scotson et al., 2017); this suggests
illegal trade links with Sumatra and Kalimantan where
Sun Bears do occur (Scotson et al., 2017). Java has been
identied previously as the main hotspot for online trade
for other species, including live Ploughshare Tortoises
Astrochelys yniphora (endemic to Madagascar and
assessed as Critically Endangered by IUCN) (Morgan and
Chng, 2017; Lauteriz and Pedrono, 2008), otters (Gomez
and Bouhuys, 2018) and Sulawesi tortoises (Morgan et
al., in prep.). With Java’s dense human population, its
relatively central location and long-established trade
routes with other islands, a long cultural tradition of bird-
and animal-keeping, and with animal markets found in
almost every major city, it is no surprise that much of
the online trade in wildlife appears to be focused here
too. Due to weak legislation and lax enforcement, illegal
trade in wildlife ourishes in Java, with well-organised
networks of traders operating openly, taking advantage
of high prot margins and a low risk of detection and/or
Screenshots of raw and worked Sun Bear teeth and claws for
sale online, featuring some items fashioned into jewellery.
In 2013 and 2014, online posts on Facebook for Sun
Bear commodities were still fairly low (n=1 and n=3
respectively). In 2015, a sharp increase in the number
of posts (n=21) was observed, which continued to rise
until it peaked in 2017 (n=57), before decreasing slightly
in 2018 (n=33). This rapid growth in wildlife trade on
social media after 2014 is consistent with other studies
of online trade in Indonesia (Morgan and Chng, 2017;
Morgan et al., in prep.) and Malaysia (Bouhuys and
Scherpenzeel, 2015; Krishnasamy and Stoner, 2016) and
probably coincided with improved internet accessibility,
the introduction of smart phones and the huge popularity
of social media in Indonesia, especially Facebook and
Instagram (Scheepers et al., 2014). Furthermore, during
2015 and 2016, following a
string of law enforcement
eorts targeting illegal wildlife
trade in physical markets,
including a raid in February
2016 on Jakarta’s Jatinegara
animal market (PN Jakarta
Timur, 2016)—notorious for
openly trading in protected
species—it is likely that some
traders switched to the safer
option of online trade.
Facebook and other social media platforms are
more dicult to monitor and regulate. Fake accounts
can easily be set up to maintain traders’ anonymity, and
closed and secret trade groups make it dicult for law
enforcement authorities to collect evidence and take
action. Face-to-face meetings between the seller and the
buyer are no longer required: payment can be transferred
via online banking and the goods shipped direct to the
buyer’s address. Commonly, traders specify in the posts
that they will only accept payments via “REKBER”
(Rekening Bersama), which involves the payment being
sent to the bank account of a trusted third party. When
the payment has been made, the goods will be shipped.
The REKBER payment system makes it more dicult
to police money transfers and connect the buyer and the
seller, which could later be used as evidence in court.
It is not a criminal offence
to post offers of illegal
products for sale in
Indonesia, only the sale of
such products is illegal.
TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 31 No. 2 (2019) 71
In April 2019, a new feature appeared on Facebook
that enables users to report “Unauthorised Sales” and
“Endangered Animals”. This appears to have had an
immediate impact, with numerous wildlife trade groups
swiftly deleted by Facebook. However, early anecdotal
indications suggest that many trade groups have migrated
to other social media platforms.
This study shows that live Sun Bears and their parts are
persistently being oered for sale in Indonesia although
it was not possible to ascertain how many oers resulted
in sales. There are no known bear farms in Indonesia, and
certainly none that are registered with the authorities; all
live bears or their parts being oered for sale are therefore
likely sourced from the wild. Given the relative ease with
which the illegal bear trade was detected in Indonesia,
it is clear poachers and wildlife traders are not fearful
of enforcement action or prosecution. Findings from an
analysis of bear seizure data for Indonesia between 2011
and 2018 showed that only 32% of incidents resulted in
successful prosecution and only one of those cases came
close to the maximum penalty aorded by the law, and in
that particular case frozen pangolins were included in the
seizure (Gomez and Shepherd, in prep.). More eort from
enforcement agencies is clearly called for if this trade is
to be signicantly reduced and if the negative impact of
poaching for commercial trade is to be addressed.
The fact that bears are for sale on social media points
to a fundamental aw in the wildlife legislation. It is not
a criminal oence to post oers of illegal products for
sale (or it is at least deemed as insucient evidence to
bring charges), only the sale of such products is illegal.
Further, authorities can only take enforcement action
against a person in possession of protected species
or when physically involved in an illegal transaction.
The monitoring and detection of illegal activities on
social media already pose signicant challenges for
enforcement authorities. One means of meeting some of
these challenges would be to improve wildlife laws and
policies concerning the regulation of online wildlife trade
that supports and empowers enforcement authorities to
investigate and take action against illegal wildlife traders
operating online.
The authors thank Hauser Bears for their constant support
and Kim Lochen, Kanitha Krishnasamy, Sarah Stoner
and Lu Gao for invaluable comments on an earlier draft.
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Lalita Gomez, Chris R. Shepherd and John Morgan,
Monitor Conservation Research Society, PO Box 200,
Big Lake Ranch, BC, V0L 1G0, Canada
Editor’s note: The Coalition to End Wildlife Tracking Online, launched in March 2018, is a collaboration of 34 global e-commerce,
tech and social media companies working to reduce wildlife tracking online. Facebook has been a key partner, and over the past
18 months, has made substantial eorts to tighten its global wildlife policies, streamline the reporting of illegal wildlife activity, and
develop a sta wildlife detection training programme with the guidance of TRAFFIC, WWF and IFAW.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Online Trade in Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises in Indonesia and Malaysia: Legality Index of Online Trade and Legislation Awareness Index Among Traders
  • J Bouhuys
  • M Scherpenzeel
Bouhuys, J. and Scherpenzeel, M. (2015). Online Trade in Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises in Indonesia and Malaysia: Legality Index of Online Trade and Legislation Awareness Index Among Traders. Van Hall Larenstein, University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands.