14 orangutans smuggled into Thailand sent home to Indonesia

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Fourteen orangutans that were smuggled out of Indonesia and believed to have been put to work at tourist attractions in Thailand were sent home Thursday.

Indonesia's air force sent a C-130 plane to transport the apes, each in a metal cage, for the five-hour trip from Bangkok to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

Indonesia's minister of environment and forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, welcomed the orangutans at Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma Airbase and expressed excitement and gratitude for their return.

"This afternoon, we received back part of Indonesia's treasure, 14 orangutans from Thailand's government," she said, adding that it brought to 68 the total number of smuggled orangutans returned from abroad since 2007.

Most of the 14 orangutans returned Thursday were rescued six years ago on the Thai resort island of Phuket and were sent to an animal sanctuary and breeding center outside Bangkok, where two of the animals were born.

"We believe they were smuggled into Thailand and put in private zoos or tourist attractions around Phuket," said Tuenjai Noochdumrong, director of Thailand's Wildlife Conservation Office.

Many private zoos in Thailand have animal shows where orangutans perform Thai kick boxing and other acts.

Thailand is trying to shed its image as a hub for black market wildlife trading and has been cracking down on violators.

Over the past 10 years, Thailand has returned 52 orangutans to Indonesia as part of a program to fight the illicit wildlife trade and send animals home to their countries of origin, Tuenjai said.

Indonesia is home to about 90 percent of the orangutans left in the wild, but half its plush rain forest has been cleared in the past half-century in the rush to supply the world with timber, pulp, paper and more recently, palm oil.

As a result, most of the roughly 60,000 remaining apes live in scattered, degrading forests, putting them in frequent and often deadly conflict with humans.


Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.