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Last Stand of the Orangutan

Law Enforcement Responses to Illegal Forestry Activities


Several government agencies share the responsibility or authority to enforce Indonesia’s wildlife-related laws, including Customs, the Forest Department, the police, the military police and the Quarantine Service. However, the agencies with primary responsibility for such work are the Directorate of Biodiversity Conservation, Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation and the Ministry of Forestry, also often known as the Department of Forestry.

The Forest Department has an Animal Protection Unit, within which there is a general wildlife crime unit and four species-specific units for the protection of tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans. However, rangers face major logistic challenges in Indonesia, given the extent of the national park network. 

To improve overall effectiveness, the government in 2004 launched a Ranger Quick Response Unit (SPORC – Satuan Khusus Polisi Kehutanan Reaksi Cepat), an elite unit of rangers trained to confront illegal loggers. The Forestry Ministry has expressed an ambition to train a total of 1 500 SPORC personnel before 2009. It plans to assign them to regions prone to illegal logging. Most of the first 299 SPORC personnel were recruited from existing forest rangers and they underwent 38 days of special training in shooting, self defence and ambush skills.

In addition to their rapid response duties, SPORC personnel also undertake patrol duties to detect and deter illegal logging, poaching and illegal trade. Some SPORC staff will also be deployed to guard posts situated at the entry and exit points to protected areas and on the rivers that flow through many forest areas. It appears that SPORC units will often become involved in the confiscation of animals (including parts and derivatives) or timber that is possessed or being traded illegally.

Although SPORC units and other Forest Department staff will respond to information received from local people, NGOs and other sources, they currently have limited resources in terms of covert work, surveillance and intelligence gathering. Forest Department staff has no access to any reward scheme to either recruit or pay informants. They are not currently available in sufficient numbers to prevent heavily organized intrusions into the parks. And yet, these units represent the greatest on-the-ground opportunity to stop illegal logging and agricultural encroachment in protected areas.

As in many other parts of the world, forest and wildlife law enforcement staff in Indonesia receives less in the way of salaries, training and equipment than the armed forces and regular police units. Consequently, these rangers have very variable levels of training and background. Even well trained staff receives little training in patrolling or combat skills, which is required to take on the massive well-organized intrusions into the park. There is also a general lack of vehicles, aeroplanes or helicopters, boats and arms. Neither does their ordinary training include the military long-range patrol skills or combat training required to take on the massive well-organized intrusions into the parks. Their counterparts working for logging companies, however, include security guards, sometimes with a foreign military background, automatic weapons and tactical training. When making encroachments into parks, they are often present in large numbers, bringing heavy machinery deep into the protected area. Ordinary rangers face high and sometimes lethal risks in confronting these organized invasions.