What is delaying the promised release of 72 dolphins illegally captured in Indonesia?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2011:

–Jakarta Animal Aid Network attorney Romy Daniel Tobing advised media on September 7,  2011 that JAAN is ready to pursue “the necessary legal enforcement measures” to ensure that the Indonesian forest ministry honors a memorandum of understanding to return 72 illegally captured dolphins of the wild.

“The commitment, which was signed in October 2010,  was to involve a joint effort by JAAN,  the forest ministry,  and Earth Island Institute to implement a five-year plan for dolphin protection,  rehabilitation and release,”  summarized Ismira Lutfia of the Jakarta Globe.

This largest-ever planned release of captive dolphins remains “caught in a net of delays,”  as Jakarta Post Central Java correspondent Maria Kegel put it three months ago.  That was already three months after Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry,  representing Earth Island Institute,  announced that the confiscation and release of the dolphins was imminent.

Said O’Barry,  “We have identified 72 ‘blood dolphins’ who were captured illegally from the Indonesian national parks.” Praising the cooperation of the Indonesian Foresty Ministry,  O’Barry told ANIMAL PEOPLE that the dolphins would soon be impounded in groups of three to five.
Seventy dolphins were taken from Karimun Jawa National Park in Central Java,  and two more  dolphins from Ujung Kulon National Park in Banten,  O’Barry said.

After signing the MOU,  JAAN founder Femke den Haas told ANIMAL PEOPLE,   JAAN and the Dolphin Project built facilities at Karimunjawa in which to prepare the dolphins to return to the wild.

Unlike the temporary sea pens used in previous Dolphin Project releases,  the sea pen at Karimunjawa was built to last,  in expectation that successfully rehabilitating and releasing so many dolphins might take years.  “Since dozens of dolphins are kept illegally in captivity here, there is a need for permanent rehabilitation facilities here,”  den Haas told Kegel.

Elaborated O’Barry,  “It can hold six to 10 dolphins.  We want to select dolphins that we can let go as a group.  Nothing has ever been attempted anywhere like this,”  O’Barry said,  “where a permanent facility is built for so many dolphins on such a big scale. It will be a constant revolving door for dolphins released back into the wild,”  O’Barry hoped.

But something  went wrong.

“On the day of the first planned raid,  in March 2011,”  JAAN founder Femke den Haas told ANIMAL PEOPLE,  “government officials cancelled the raid at the last moment.   While more meetings have taken place,  it is clear,”  den Haas charged,  “that the circus owners have pressured the officials who are supposed to protect the animals from harm. Seven months after the agreement with the Indonesian government was signed,  the animals are still used in shows and no action has been taken by the authorities.”

Since then,  wrote Kegel,  “Every day team members at the Dolphin Rehabilitation Center wait for news of when the first marine mammal participants will be brought to the center.  But no word has come,  and the 30-meter-by-30 meter sea pen built for the rehabilitation program remains empty.”

The dolphins are in possession of Wersut Seguni Indonesia, identified by an Indonesian government tourism web site as a “water conservation society,”  directed by one H. Denny Charso,  who presents performing shows and dolphin therapy programs.

“Wersut Seguni Indonesia has the last traveling dolphin circus in the world,”  says den Haas.  “The animals are moved by truck from city to city and kept in small plastic tanks and cages. The traveling shows also include baby sun bears,  clawed otters,  and yellow crested cockatoos.  The animals are forced to do unnatural tricks.  The circus performs in each town for about one month.  The conditions are extremely poor.  The transportation is so stressful for the animals,”  de Haas alleges,  “that many dolphins die due to stress and lack of proper care.”

In addition to three traveling companies,  den Haas told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “WSI has a holding facility where more dolphins are kept to replace the animals who die.”

Wersut Seguni Indonesia “claims legal status by using a loophole in Ministry regulations which permit traveling shows with protected animal species when they are used for educational purposes,”  den Haas said.

Since the first dolphin confiscation was called off in March, den Haas said,  “The circus owners have repeatedly threatened us. They posted our pictures around as wanted.   They call us in the middle of the night saying abusive things.”

Under activist pressure to proceed,  Indonesian officials in May 2011 reportedly threatened to return the dolphins directly to the sea,   purportedly to ensure that the rehabilitation-for-release program could not be used by activists for fundraising purposes. Then,  after the threat produced  online petitioning by some independent activists against the release plan,  Indonesian forest ministry conservation chief Darori,  who uses only one name,  told Agence France-Press that “We’ll consider the concern of activists to put the captive dolphins in a rehabilitation program.”

According to the MOU with JAAN,   say O’Barry and den Haas, that was supposed to have been a done deal ten months ago.

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