From: Reuters
Published September 14, 2006 12:00 AM

Thai Monkey Business Over as Orangutan Head Home

BANGKOK — One of the world's largest cases of great ape smuggling will draw to a close next week when around 50 orangutan rescued from a Thai amusement park fly home to their native Indonesia, a wildlife campaigner said on Thursday.

The trafficked animals, many of them forced to stage mock kick-boxing bouts at Bangkok's Safari World theme park, will be greeted on their arrival by the wife of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"It's a huge scandal and it's cost a lot of time and effort, so I'm really happy to see it coming it to an end after more than three years," said Edwin Wiek of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.

The orangutan, being held in an animal rescue centre west of the capital, would leave Bangkok on an Indonesian military transport plane on Oct. 23, Wiek said.

An Indonesian embassy spokesman confirmed the repatriation plan, but said only 41 of the long-armed, reddish-brown primates were on the manifest, rather than 53 mentioned by Wiek.

After a police bust in 2004, Safari World's owners said their 115 orangutan were the result of a successful domestic breeding programme.

However, DNA tests proved many of the apes had been taken from Indonesia, setting the wheels in motion for their eventual departure from Thailand, a hub of the international illegal wildlife trade.

After the deaths or disappearance of at least 27 orangutan and a string of legal battles involving Wiek, forestry police and the National Parks department, the first batch was cleared for take off.

Fewer than 30,000 orangutan are thought to be left in the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia and environmentalists say the species could become extinct in 20 years if the current rate of decline continues.

Source: Reuters

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