From: Reuters
Published December 16, 2004 12:00 AM

Thai Zoo To Be Charged over Illegal Orangutan

BANGKOK — The owners of a Bangkok amusement park will be charged with importing endangered animals illegally after DNA tests confirmed a group of orangutan had not been born in Thailand, forestry police said on Thursday.


The tests showed that 12 young apes were not bred at Safari World as the zoo had claimed, they said.


"On Monday, we will inform Safari World of charges of breaking endangered species and customs laws," Colonel Vichit Natawong of the Forestry Police told Reuters.


Safari World owner Pin Kiewkacha had admitted previously to possessing 45 of the apes illegally and the new tests took the number of smuggled animals to 57.


Animal activists have long alleged that the orangutan, which were used in mock kickboxing shows at the zoo, were smuggled from Borneo or the Sumatran forests of Indonesia.


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Conservationists and Indonesian authorities have called on the Thai government to return the primates in what has become a high-profile case of wildlife smuggling.


"The orangutan is a national symbol for Indonesia and they deserve to get their national resources back," said Edwin Wiek of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.


Wiek criticised Thai authorities for failing to shut down Safari World despite police investigations and a raid on the property more than a year ago.


Officials had left the orangutan at the zoo, where they continued to live in small cages, he said. "It's outrageous," he said.


The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment maintains that Safari World is best equipped to care for the orangutan during the investigation.


"It's not that the department has nowhere to keep them, but we think they are better off where they are," said Schwann Tunhikorn, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Bureau.


"At the zoo they already have the keepers and the food. If we move them, we think the change of environment will cause them emotional strain," he said.


Police said they expect to hand the case to prosecutors this month but Wiek said he worried the case was moving too slowly.


"The only thing we're worried about is that the case will take years to get to court and be resolved. This means that the orangutan will continue to stay at Safari World, which is completely unacceptable," he said.


Source: Reuters


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