Smuggled Orangutans Arrive in Indonesia

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 22, 2006; 5:09 AM

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Dozens of orangutans trained to box each other in a Thai amusement park returned home Wednesday to start a new life in a jungle reserve on their native island of Borneo, officials said.

The 48 orangutans were flown to the capital, Jakarta, on board an Indonesian military transport plane and welcomed at the airport by the wife of Indonesia's president.

"We are very happy to get the orangutans back," Kristiani Yudhoyono said at a ceremony. "They belong to our vast nation, therefore we have to take them back to their habitat in a proper way."

The orangutans' plight has highlighted Southeast Asia's thriving black-market animal and plant trade, which officials say generates some $10 billion in revenue each year _ behind only the illicit arms and the drug trades.

While much of the animal trade goes on behind closed doors, many markets across the region sell rare or endangered animals, from parrots to black bears to gibbons that often end up in safari parks or circuses.

The animals were seized from the private Safari World zoo near Bangkok in August 2004 and have since been kept in a wildlife breeding center. Five other Indonesian orangutans taken from the zoo remained in Thailand for medical treatment, said forestry ministry official Mashyud, who uses a single name, like many Indonesians.

Southeast Asia's Sumatra and Borneo islands are the orangutans' last homes, and environmentalists say the estimated 60,000 animals remaining could disappear from the wild within the next decade.

The rescued orangutans were due to fly to a rehabilitation center and wildlife reserve on Borneo, said Aldrianto Priadjati, an orangutan conservationist who helped organize the homecoming.

He said the animals were in good condition, but will need medical tests and will have to be kept in cages at the center for about a month.

"Our struggle has not finished yet," he said. "Their return is only the first step."

The orangutans were to have been repatriated Sept. 23 but the generals who staged a military coup against the Thai government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra refused to allow a foreign military airplane to land in Thailand at that time.


On the Net:

International Fund for Animal Welfare:

Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation:

© 2006 The Associated Press