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Tuesday April 11, 2006

Malaysians, Thais and Indons to decide fate of 54 orangutans


BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - The fate of 54 orangutans illegally smuggled into Thailand nearly two years ago will be decided at a meeting of Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian wildlife officials later this month in Bangkok, officials say. 

The move comes amid a campaign by international non-governmental organizations calling for sanctions against Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Saudi Arabia, which they accuse of failing to return more than 100 illegally smuggled orangutans. 

The two-day talks beginning April 21 in the Thai capital Bangkok are expected to produce an agreement that will pave the way for the primates to be returned to either Indonesia or Malaysia, once tests have determined their country of origin, Schwann Tunhikorn, deputy director of Thailand's National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, told The Associated Press. 

"We are doing all we can. We don't want to get stuck with these orangutans,'' Schwann said. 

A Thai wildlife protection officer cuts a hair sample from an orangutan for DNA testing to investigate the origin of more than 54 of the primates at a private zoo in Bangkok on Aug. 13, 2004. The fate of the animals, illegally smuggled into Thailand nearly two years ago, will be decided at a meeting later this month of Thai wildlife officials with counterparts from Indonesia and Malaysia - from where the orangutans might have come - officials said Monday. - APpic by Sakchai Lalit
"We want to send them back but we want to do it the right way ... That is why we need to discuss how best to determine which population these 54 orangutans come from.'' 

Thai authorities in 2004 confiscated more than 100 orangutans from the private Safari World zoo near Bangkok, where they were forced to perform in daily boxing matches. 

A court ruled earlier this year that 54 of the orangutans were illegally smuggled into the country.  

The remainder have since been returned to the zoo, after the owners proved they were purchased before Thailand amended its law in 1992 to make smuggling illegal. 

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, lists orangutans as endangered, meaning trade in the animals is tightly restricted. 

Orangutans are native to Indonesia and parts of Borneo island, but not Thailand, where questions have been raised about the origins of those held in private zoos.  

Some are believed to have been smuggled to Thailand, though others have been bred from legally imported animals. 

A Thai police officer counts orangutans during an investigation into the origin of more than 54 of the beasts at a private zoo in Bangkok, Aug. 13, 2004. The fate of the animals, illegally smuggled into Thailand nearly two years ago, will be decided at a meeting later this month of Thai wildlife officials with counterparts from Indonesia and Malaysia - from where the orangutans might have come - officials said Monday. - APpic by Sakchai Lalit
In March, 40 conservation groups called on CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers to implement sanctions against the four countries "who are blatantly disregarding the spirit, if not the rules, of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species.'' 

The groups singled out Thailand for delaying the return of the 54 orangutans, while accusing Cambodia of refusing to confiscate 22 others that are reportedly being forced to entertain tourists by cycling, boxing and skateboarding in daily shows. 

They also said Malaysia has failed to return an orangutan to Indonesia while one had disappeared after being confiscated in Saudi Arabia. 

"The smuggling of highly endangered orangutans is an appalling activity,'' Sean Whyte, coordinator of the Born To Be Wild Campaign, said in a statement. 

"Any country which condones this trade deserves to have sanctions brought against it by CITES.'' 

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