BANGKOK: Police have found dozens of rare orangutans that a scandal-hit private zoo claimed had been cremated after dying from pneumonia, according to reports yesterday.
The 36 animals were found alive in small cages at the Safari World here during a police probe into claims they had been smuggled from Borneo or Sumatra for staged kickboxing bouts at the zoo.
The fights which saw the animals dressed in boxing gloves and Thai boxing shorts have been stopped and zoo owner Pin Kiewkacha has been charged for illegally importing the animals. He faces four years in jail if found guilty.
A police swoop last week uncovered only 69 of the 110 suspected smuggled animals.
Zoo officials claimed the 41 missing animals were cremated after they died of pneumonia but police believed they had been spirited away to hamper the probe.
Pin later led police to 36 orangutans kept at a special quarantine section at the zoo and claimed the saga of the missing animals was down to a big misunderstanding, according to the Bangkok Post. He said the other five had died.
Police believed they had been brought back from hiding places around Thailand, Colonel Wichit Nuntawong was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Thailand says it is intent on stamping out the illegal trade ahead of a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference here later this year.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has claimed fewer than 30,000 of the red-haired apes remained in the world and they could become extinct in as little as 20 years if the decline continued.
It blames the shrinking population on commercial logging, clearance for oil palm plantations and agriculture, hunting and poaching and forest fires. AFP
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