A Russian man was arrested at Bali’s Denpasar Airport when authorities found a drugged orangutan in his luggage. On March 22, Andrei Zhestkov, 27, was attempting to smuggle the endangered animal to a friend in Russia. The friend intended to keep the animal as a pet.
Zhestkov said he purchased the orangutan at a market on Indonesia’s largest island of Java. He said he paid $3,000 for it. Travel to Bali from Java is possible via land and ferry, so this was probably Zhestkov’s first attempt to fly with the primate.
Animals found in Zhestkov’s luggage
Officials found the drugged orangutan asleep in a rattan basket with a blanket under him. An ornate fish decoration and wooden spoon were attached to the inner sides of the basket. Zhestkov had used packaging tape in several spots to keep the basket closed.
— John (@eljohn88) March 23, 2019
Zhestkov was also traveling with two geckos and five lizards in his suitcase. He had placed those animals in individual socks. All of the animals in Zhestkov’s luggage were alive.
Zhestkov’s smuggling plan
He said he used allergy pills mixed with milk to put the orangutan to sleep. He was planning to feed the animal the drugs again in Seoul during his layover en route to Russia. When interviewed, Zhestkov said the pills would put the animal to sleep for two to three hours. However, the flight time from Denpasar to Incheon, South Korea, is six and a half hours.
As the orangutan would have needed more drugs during the flight to remain asleep, Zhestkov’s smuggling plan was less-than-perfect. Other passengers likely would have noticed the primate in the basket which would have led to an interesting in-flight experience and almost certainly a flight diversion.
Up to five years in prison
If charged, the Russian national could face five years in prison for purchasing and attempting to smuggle the animals. Currently, Indonesian police are investigating the incident and checking into any possible links to international wildlife smuggling. Police have made no official charges yet.
Airport officials handed over the two-year-old orangutan to the Bali Natural Resources Conservation Agency where he is receiving treatment. Authorities have made no announcement on what future plans for the orangutan include.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature list orangutans as a critically endangered mammals. Critically endangered is one category away from being extinct in the wild and only found in captivity.
Zhestkov was scheduled to fly on Garuda Indonesia flight number 870 with service from Ngura Rai International Airport/Bali to Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea. Airport security noticed the animals on X-ray scans around 10:30 p.m. Garuda Indonesia 870 departs Bali at 1:30 a.m.
Ngura Rai International Airport is Indonesia’s second busiest airport in the country serving the tourist island destination of Bali.