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A juvenile komodo dragon, seized by authorities during an anti-smuggling operation, is seen in a cage during a press conference announcing the seizure of trafficked exotic animals in Surabaya. - AFP

JAKARTA: Indonesian police on Wednesday arrested nine men suspected of trafficking Komodo dragons, the largest living species of lizard, as well as other endangered birds and wild cats destined for use in traditional medicines.

An environment ministry official said it was the first time he had heard of the trafficking of Komodo dragons, which are only found in the wild in eastern Indonesia, and have become a tourist attraction.

A juvenile leopard cat, seized by authorities during an anti-smuggling operation, is seen past suspected smugglers during a press conference announcing the seizure of trafficked exotic animals in Surabaya. - AFP

The men detained in the city of Surabaya told police they had sold more than 40 Komodo dragons for 500 million rupiah (US$35,000) each, said Rofiq Ripto Himawan, a police commissioner in East Java.

“These animals are sold for traditional medicine. Komodo dragons could be used to make an antibiotic,” Himawan said by telephone, explaining that they were usually sent abroad to Asian buyers.

Police seized five Komodo dragons along with other animals mostly originating from eastern Indonesia, including pangolins, a wild cat and birds, such as cockatoos.

A stuffed exotic bird, seized by authorities during an anti-smuggling operation, is seen past suspected smugglers during a press conference announcing the seizure of trafficked exotic animals in Surabaya. - AFP

Police were working with vets and conservation and wildlife agencies to ensure the animals are cared for, Himawan added.

Environment ministry official Wiratno, who uses only one name, also said traffickers were using new tactics by turning to social media to advertise animals.

Cockatoo parrots, seized by authorities during an anti-smuggling operation, are seen in a cage during a press conference in Surabaya. - AFP

Indonesian law prescribes jail for up to ten years and a fine for trafficking endangered animals. Despite the penalties, the trade is still widespread across parts of the Indonesian archipelago. --Reuters

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