Thailand returns 14 smuggled orang utans to Indonesia

Orang utans at the Khao Pra Thab Chang Conservation Centre in Ratchaburi on Nov 11.
Orang utans at the Khao Pra Thab Chang Conservation Centre in Ratchaburi on Nov 11. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Fourteen orang utans smuggled into Thailand illegally were sent back to Indonesia on Thursday (Nov 12), but the operation was not without incident - one of the powerful apes tore a wildlife officer's finger off when he tried to put them in cages.

Twelve of the orang utans were smuggled into Thailand as babies and rescued seven years ago by police and sent to a wildlife breeding centre in Ratchaburi, 80 km west of Bangkok. Two of the great apes were born at the centre.

"The animals were still babies when we got them and they should have been sent back right away," Edwin Wiek, director of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand told Reuters. "Now it's too late for them to go back to the wild."

Documents from Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conversation said the orang utans originated from the island of Borneo in Indonesia.

The illegal trade in endangered orang utans sees the great apes poached from Indonesian forests for food, to obtain infants for the domestic and international pet trade, or for traditional medicine. Between 2006 and 2007, Thailand returned 52 smuggled orang utans to Indonesia.

The latest apes to be returned to Indonesia were sent to Bangkok's international Don Muang airport on Wednesday and put in cages ahead of their five-hour journey to Jakarta, a department statement said.

One tore an officer's finger off when he tried to put them in cages, the department said.

Around five years of age, an orang utan has the strength of an adult male human, and by maturity will be as strong as five to seven adult male humans.

The orang utans will spend 60 days in quarantine at a Jakarta safari park and will be moved to a rescue centre in Borneo, home to 2,000 orang utans.