HONG KONG — Officers on the Indonesian resort island of Bali found a primate the size of a human toddler curled up in a rattan basket this weekend — in the middle of an international airport.
“At first, we thought it was a monkey,” Dewa Delanata, the head of the quarantine office at Bali’s international airport, told the Jakarta Post newspaper. The officers were afraid to open the basket, he added, because they assumed that the animal “would be aggressive and run loose in the departure area.”
It turns out that the 2-year-old primate was a sleeping orangutan.
Officials say it was drugged and then smuggled into the airport on Friday by a Russian tourist. “The Russian deliberately used an inhumane method to take the orangutan to Russia,” Mr. Dewa said.
The Associated Press identified the suspect as Andrei Zhestkov. He told the Indonesian authorities that he had purchased the orangutan for $3,000 from a market on Java, the country’s main island, after a friend said he could bring it home as a pet.
Mr. Zhestkov’s suitcase contained allergy pills wrapped in plastic. He said he had fed the animal allergy pills mixed with milk, causing it to lose consciousness for up to three hours, Ketut Catur Marbawa, an official with Bali’s conservation agency, told reporters.
Mr. Marbawa said on Sunday that the suitcase also contained two live geckos and five live lizards. Mr. Zhestkov, 27, could face up to five years in prison and $7,000 in fines for smuggling, he said. He has not yet been charged, because the police are still investigating whether he had ties to wildlife trafficking syndicates.
Orangutans, which live on the Indonesian and Malaysian sides of the island of Borneo, as well as the Indonesian island of Sumatra, are an endangered species. Only about 13,400 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild, The A.P. reported.
A study last year found that nearly 150,000 Borneo orangutans — about half of the animal’s population on the island — had died between 1999 and 2015. The steepest decline in population density occurred in areas that were deforested or altered for industrial agriculture, including the production of palm oil, one of Indonesia’s major exports.
This month, an orangutan that had been stabbed and shot 74 times by an air rifle was found blinded and near death on an oil-palm plantation in Sumatra, along with her month-old baby.
The baby died on its way to the clinic, but the mother survived. Rescuers named her Hope.