Going Undercover to Arrest Elephant Poachers

By Arief Rubianto, Intelligence and Law Enforcement Unit, YABI

Translated by Inov

My name is Arief Rubianto, and after many years working in Rhino Protection Units, I now head our Intelligence and Law Enforcement Unit. My job is to lead investigations into illegal hunting and trading of endangered species in South Sumatra, like Sumatran rhinos, Sumatran elephants and Sumatran tigers, and to gather enough evidence to arrest and prosecute poachers and illegal traders.

One time, one of our RPUs received information about a group of local people willing to sell elephant ivory weighing more than 100 kg.  Our informant told us that the group living in SP6 Bengkunat village, in West Lampung. 

Elephant killed for its ivory

After gathering all the necessary information and preparing the proper police documents, I met with the RPU, the national park rangers, and police from Lampung Province to create a plan for catching the group and arresting the leader.  We decided that we needed to conduct an undercover operation in the village, pretending that we wanted to buy the elephant bones.  We agreed that one of the police would act as a “broker” and that I would act as the “boss” of the group that wanted to buy the bones.  After getting their phone number from informants, the “broker” arranged a meeting with the leader of the group, two days later, at 1:00 a.m. in Bandar Lampung.

As we had agreed, I went alone with the undercover police officer to the meeting.  We met with 6 people, including the leader the group.  I saw that each of them had a knife, dagger and sword on under their clothes.  This made me nervous and so I tried to delay making a deal to buy the ivory until I knew that all the units (RPU, rangers and police) would be in position and ready to make an arrest.  

After a half hour, the group brought many elephant bones to me, and they also said they could provide tusk and skin from Sumatran tiger later, if we wanted.  I took my time, pretending to check each bone one by one, waiting for our back up group to arrive.

Elephant ivory being sold by illegal traders

Finally, five minutes later, the rest of the unit (RPU, rangers and police) came into the house with their weapons drawn.  The sellers were surprised and panicked, and tried to run out of the house but they couldn’t because it was surrounded.  I told the RPU members to catch the man in front of me first, because he was the leader, but the lighting was very poor and they could not see him at first. While they were arresting other members of the group, the leader starting running out of the house. I tried to catch him and jumped on him, and he pulled a knife on me, but I was able to kick him first. I thanked god, because I knew that he would have tried to kill me.   

We were able to arrest all the members of the group, and with the evidence (the elephant bones they were trying to sell), we took them to the police to be processed. After that the case was out of our hands. The illegal traders were prosecuted, and they received 6 months in jail. I was disappointed with this sentence, but at least we were able to arrest them and they were punished – many other poachers still get away free.

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