Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Alleged smuggling of monkeys by Thai zoo investigated

Intense campaigning by conservation groups has so far failed to pressure the Thai Government to resolve the alleged smuggling of some 100 orang utans by private zoo Safari World in Bangkok.

Groups such as the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), its Thai counterpart the Wildlife Friends of Thailand (WFFT) and ProFauna of Indonesia have demanded that the Asian great apes be returned to Indonesia, where they were likely poached from.

Visitors are entertained to kickboxing fights between orang utans at Safari World animal park. An international animal rights group has called on Thailand to ban this activity which is held daily at the Bangkok wildlife park.

WFFT director Edwin Wiek said, however, that there has been a glitch in DNA analyses to determine the origins of the apes. Early last month, a government lab failed to identify the genetic code of 50 orang utans, citing insufficient tissue samples. Fresh ones would have to be collected, causing further delay.

Trade in orang utans is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) and the questionable high ratio of young animals in the zoo-cum-amusement park challenges the owner’s claim that the orang utans were born in captivity. Of the 115 orang utans seen during the initial Forestry Police raid on Safari World early last November, 101 were juveniles and babies.

Safari World director Pin Kewkacha insisted that there had been a 20-year breeding programme, and it had registered seven births every year.

Scientific analyses of the birthrate, however, shatter that claim. Dr Willie Smits, an orang utan expert at BOS, said it was biologically impossible for 31 babies aged between two and four years to have been conceived by Safari World’s three female adults given the species’ birth intervals of between three and four years.

“There is no theoretical way to explain how the 115 orang utans can be there legally,” said Smits, who was enlisted by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to assist in the investigation. He also said the orang utans belong to three different subspecies, which suggested that they were likely poached from the wild.

Full story here.

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