Indonesian authorities have found four foetuses of the protected Sumatran tiger as well as the hide of the endangered species in two police raids carried out against suspected animal poachers and traffickers, the Environment Ministry said on Monday. The foetuses, which were kept in plastic jars, and the hide were found on Saturday in two separate places in Riau province after the police received a tip-off about the suspected poachers, the Ministry's Director of Biodiversity Conservation, Indra Exploitasia, told Efe news.
Five people have been arrested and three of them were charged with trafficking of protected animals.
Sumatran tigers are found only on the Sumatra island and are listed as critically endangered in the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Animals, with just around 400-600 specimens believed to be surviving in the wild.
Exploitasia said the police were investigating possible connections of the accused with prospective buyers, who generally seek organs and other body parts of tigers to make amulets for decorative use or as a form of traditional medicine.
If convicted, the suspects face up to five years in prison and fines of up to 100 million rupiah ($7,100) Riau, situated on the eastern coast of Sumatra, is a province that has seen increasing man-tiger conflict with the destruction of the animal's habitat due to industries and agricultural expansion especially the establishment of palm oil plantations.
Indonesia is among the countries with the greatest biodiversity worldwide and is home to hundreds of endangered species, such as the orangutan, Sumatran elephant, and the Sumatran rhinoceros.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), most tigers in Sumatra are killed deliberately for commercial gain. Citing a survey from TRAFFIC, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, the WWF says poaching for trade is responsible for almost 80 percent of estimated Sumatran tiger deaths - amounting to at least 40 animals per year.
Despite intensified conservation and protection measures in parts of Sumatra and some success in curtailing markets for tiger bone, there is little evidence that poaching has declined significantly on the island since the early 1990s, according to the WWF.
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