World-renowned dolphin activist Richard O’Barry has praised Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan for agreeing to help end the dolphin trade in Indonesia.
The minister met with O’Barry and the Jakarta Animal Aid Network on Tuesday following a discussion last week on dolphin protection.
Zulkifli on Wednesday traveled to Bali to investigate dolphins being kept inside Akame restaurant, which were captured by the travel show company Wersut Seguni Indonesia.
“I think he’s a hero. He never knew about the issue and as soon as he did he moved to action,” O’Barry said. “He’s going to get lots of positive international public attention for what he’s doing.”
O’Barry, who stars in the Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove,” first came to Indonesia after hearing about what he believed to be the last traveling dolphin circus in the world. At Tuesday’s meeting, the minister said he was shocked to learn about traveling dolphin shows and that he wanted to work with the JAAN to protect dolphins.
In 2010, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the JAAN and the Forest Ministry to protect, save and rehabilitate captured dolphins in Indonesia.
However, since March 2011, following a change in the director of the ministry, the discussions stalled.
JAAN co-founder Femke den Haas alleged that local levels of the forestry agency prevented the minister being informed about the issue, as they were receiving kickbacks from the traveling dolphin shows. She added that JAAN had been trying to reach the minister for two years.
Zulkifli said that he had not received letters sent to him about the issue and was not aware that an MoU had been signed.
“It was hidden from him because people were looking for profit, not protection,” she said.
O’Barry said he was confident the minister did not know the true depth of the issue until last week’s discussion.
“I’m 73 and I’ve learned to be able to read people’s body language. When I gave him the MoU [at the discussion], I could tell he was reading it for the first time,” he said.
The JAAN hopes the captive dolphins at the Bali restaurant will be the first candidates to go to a dolphin rehabilitation center in Karimunjawa, Central Java. The center is currently empty, but is ready to admit dolphins. O’Barry said it was not common for dolphins to be rehabilitated.
“When they get captured, they rarely get another chance at life,” he said.