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Illegal Orangutan Trader Successfully Prosecuted For First Time In Indonesia (PHOTOS)

Posted: 02/24/12 04:56 PM ET  |  Updated: 02/25/12 03:31 PM ET

Illegal Orangutan Trade

Authorities in North Sumatra, Indonesia, have sentenced an illegal owner and trader of orangutans to a seven-month prison sentence, the first time an actual prosecution has taken place since orangutans were deemed a protected species in 1924, according to a press release issued today by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The illegal trader, a man from Mardinding in the province of North Sumatra, was allegedly trying to sell a three-year-old orangutan named Julius, according to the release.

Last July, wildlife rescuers from a number of a conservation organizations teamed up with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to conduct a raid on the man's home and confiscate Julius, who is now being cared for at an orangutan quarantine center along with 50 others.

The rescue effort was part of the National Orangutan Conservation Strategy and Action plan, launched in 2007 by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the majority of Indonesia's illegal pet orangutans were captured after the forests they called home were cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Others were sold by agriculture workers who caught them raiding crops in areas that had been converted to farmland.

There are only about 9,200 Sumatran orangutans left in their natural habitat, and experts believe that if current trends continue, the endangered species could become extinct from the wild within a decade, according to data from the Denver Zoo.

Overall, about 80 percent of the world's 50,000 to 60,000 wild orangutans live in Indonesia, according to the Jakarta Globe. But an increase in illegal logging over recent years has critically threatened their survival.

Much of the logging is being done to make way for Indonesia's palm oil industry, which is experiencing rapid growth. According to Bloomberg, output is expected to reach 25 million tons this year, up from around 23.5 million tons in 2011.

In response to the deforestation, a number of international organizations have called for a boycott on Indonesian palm oil. But President Yudhoyono has told the country's diplomats to push back against those mandating reform in the palm oil business, according to the Jakarta Globe.

Check out pictures of Julius and other orangutans rescued by the Wildlife Conservation Society below:

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Filed by Jocelyn Richard  |