Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Kick-boxing orangutans head home from Thailand
Nearly 50 smuggled orangutan rescued from a Thai amusement park began the long trip home to their native Indonesia on Tuesday as one of the world's largest cases of great ape trafficking finally drew to a close.
Two years after a raid on Bangkok's Safari World theme park, where many of the endangered apes had to stage mock kick-boxing bouts, 48 orangutan were loaded into special metal cages at a rescue centre in Ratchaburi, 125 km (80 miles) west of Bangkok.
Indonesian officials wearing T-shirts inscribed "Welcome Home" watched the loading.
The orangutan were to be taken by road to the Thai capital to be put onto an Indonesian C-130 military transport plane for the flight to Jakarta. They are due to feted on arrival by the wife of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
For Thai and Indonesian wildlife officials, their departure is a moment they thought would never happen as investigations into the background of the increasingly endangered reddish-brown primates became mired in the courts, corruption and delay.
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 of them had been taken illegally from Indonesia.
The test results set the wheels in motion for their eventual departure from Thailand, a hub of the international illegal wildlife trade.
However, at least 27 of the animals died or disappeared from custody and a string of legal battles involving wildlife activists, the forestry police and the National Parks department threatened to delay their departure indefinitely.
They had been due to leave in September, but a military coup against Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra scuppered those carefully laid plans.
"We've had to wait for a long time for the long process of courts, quarantines and DNA tests, but it's a great success," said Pornchai Patumrattanathan, head of the Khao Pratubchang Wildlife Breeding Centre, where the animals have been housed.
Indonesian officials said the apes would spend two months in quarantine before undergoing a rehabilitation programme of up to two years prior to their release back into the jungles of Borneo.
Posted by C. at 2:41 PM