JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities said Wednesday (Mar 27) they had seized five komodo dragons and dozens of other animals being sold on Facebook, as the country battles to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade.
Five smugglers, identified only by their initials, were arrested in Semarang and Surabaya on Java island for allegedly trafficking the komodos - the world's biggest lizard - along with bearcats, cockatoos and cassowary birds.
"The suspect VS sold the komodos online through Facebook," East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera said in a statement.
The dragons, which can only be found in their natural habitat on a cluster of islands in eastern Indonesia, were sold for between 15 and 20 million rupiah (US$1,000-US$1,400), Mangera said.
An environment ministry official said it was the first time he had heard of the trafficking of Komodo dragons, which have become a tourist attraction.
"These animals are sold for traditional medicine. Komodo dragons could be used to make an antibiotic," Rofiq Ripto Himawan, a police commissioner in East Java said by telephone, explaining that they were usually sent abroad to Asian buyers.
In a separate case, three other people were arrested in East Java over the alleged online sale of otters, leopard cats and pangolin, Mangera said.
Police were working with vets and conservation and wildlife agencies to ensure the animals are cared for, Himawan added.
Indonesian law prescribes jail for up to 10 years and a fine for trafficking endangered animals. Despite the penalties, the trade is still widespread across parts of the Indonesian archipelago.
The haul of komodo dragons comes just a day after authorities seized more than 5,000 endangered pig-nosed turtles from smugglers in Indonesia's easternmost province Papua.
The pig-nosed turtle - which has a distinctive snout-like nose and webbed feet - is only found in Australia and New Guinea, an island shared between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and is protected under Indonesian conservation laws.
Authorities in Bali, a popular holiday island, last week arrested a Russian tourist who attempted to smuggle a drugged orangutan out of Indonesia in his suitcase to keep as a pet.