From: Telly Nathalia, Reuters
Published November 23, 2006 12:00 AM

Home-Bound Indonesia Orangutans Given VIP Welcome

JAKARTA — Forty eight orangutans rescued from a Thai amusement park were given a VIP reception on Wednesday hosted by Indonesia's first lady, Kristiani Yudhoyono, to mark the endangered apes return to home soil.

The animal cargo arrived in an Indonesian airforce C-130 transport plane at the capital's Halim military air base, where U.S. President George W. Bush had also touched down during an official visit to Indonesia on Monday.

"This is a joy of its own for the Indonesian nation with the return of the lost children", said Yudhoyono, who was clutching an orangutan doll.

"I would like to express my gratitude to the government of Thailand over this orangutan homecoming to Indonesia."

The smuggled animals were recovered two years after a raid on Bangkok's Safari World theme park, where many of them had to stage mock kick-boxing bouts.

Safari World's owners said originally the 115 orangutan seized by wildlife police were the result of a successful domestic breeding programme, even though DNA tests eventually proved many had been brought illegally from Indonesia.

"The biggest threat to the orangutan habitat is hunting and illegal trafficking, turning them into pets," said Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban, who was also among the dignitaries to welcome home the reddish-brown primates, whose name mean "person of the forest".

The first lady entered the plane to view the orangutans, which were loaded into metal cages in the hold of the camouflaged plane for their trip from a rescue centre in Ratchaburi, 125 km (80 miles) west of Bangkok.

The orangutans had been due to leave Thailand in September, but a military coup against Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra scuppered those carefully laid plans.

"It's the first time they're flying, maybe not for some who were smuggled in by plane. But they were quite excited but we have a whole programme during the night to keep them busy", said Edwin Wiek, director of Wildlife Friends of Thailand.

The orangutans will fly onto the jungles of Borneo island to a rehabilitation centre in Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan province. Indonesian officials said the apes would spend two months in quarantine before undergoing a two-year rehabilitation programme prior to their release back into the wild.

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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