Tuesday January 15, 2013
Tasty but tainted
By TAN CHENG LI
The delectable civet coffee has an unsavoury side.
IF YOU love kopi luwak, you might be contributing to the decimation of populations of the common palm civet, which are increasingly being netted from the wild in Indonesia to stock farms that produce the prized coffee beans.
Surveys by Traffic, a body which monitors the trade in wildlife, found the wild cat to be openly sold in Indonesian markets for the production of kopi luwak or civet coffee. Kopi luwak is made from coffee beans that have passed through the gut of a civet and are later picked from the faeces, and is considered to be the rarest and most expensive coffee in the world.
“This coffee has become increasingly trendy and as a result, civets are being increasingly captured from the wild and fed coffee beans to mass produce this blend,” wrote Chris Shepherd, Traffic’s deputy director in South-East Asia, in a recently released report, Observations of small carnivores in Jakarta wildlife markets.
He had made three visits to each of the four largest wildlife markets in Jakarta – Pramuka, Barito, Kartini and Jatinegara – between July 2010 and June 2012 and found the civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) to form the bulk (25 individuals) of the 47 small carnivores of six species being offered for sale.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed hunting and trade as a threat to the common palm civet. The species is killed as a pest and for consumption, or captured for trade as pets throughout its range. Indonesia has a quota of 270 civets for trade annually, specifically as pets. But the quota is largely ignored by hunters and traders and is not enforced by authorities, according to Shepherd.
At the same time that Shepherd surveyed the markets in Jakarta, other researchers visited the wildlife market in Denpasar, Bali, and observed 25 common palm civets for sale. The dealer said that the animals were used to make kopi luwak.
“The impact of the demand for this fashionable coffee on wild civet populations is yet unknown but may constitute a significant threat, and appears to be in violation of the quota set for pets,” wrote Shepherd.
He also found other carnivores on sale in the markets: leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis (seven individuals), Javan ferret badger Melogale orientalis (five), small Asian mongoose Herpestes javanicus (five), small Indian civet Viverricula indica (four) and small-toothed palm civet Arctogalidia trivirgata (one).
Of the six species being traded, only the leopard cat is protected under Indonesian law.
Shepherd pointed out that little is known about the Javan ferret badger, which is endemic to the islands of Java and Bali.
Given the restricted range of this species, and the potential threats of both habitat loss and trade, he suggested that Indonesia consider protecting this species.
“Generally, wildlife markets in Jakarta are unregulated. Despite laws in Indonesia protecting many species, and controlling trade of others, these laws are largely ignored and traders in the wildlife markets openly sell a wide variety of species, regardless of their legal status,” wrote Shepherd.
He urged for scrutiny of the trade in small carnivores, with the information used to detect and analyse trends, and to identify conservation concerns.
“Information should be regularly provided to the authorities who should be urged to enforce Indonesia’s laws and take action to shut the illegal trade down, and to prosecute people found violating the laws. Legal issues and conservation impacts of the growing civet coffee industry should be carefully examined and monitored.”
Lastly, he said efforts should be made to raise public support for conservation in Indonesia, and ultimately to reduce significantly the demand for these species.