Orang utans among 400 animals saved as Malaysia foils high-seas smuggling bid

More than 400 exotic animals, including orangutans, crocodiles and rare birds from Indonesia, were intercepted by Malaysian customs, according to media reports on Friday.
Royal Malaysian Customs Department director-general T. Subromaniam (second from left) looking at a seized baby orang utan during a press conference in Perlis, Malaysia, on Sept 24, 2018.
Royal Malaysian Customs Department director-general T. Subromaniam (second from left) looking at a seized baby orang utan during a press conference in Perlis, Malaysia, on Sept 24, 2018.PHOTO: AFP/ROYAL MALAYSIAN CUSTOMS
Royal Malaysian Customs Department director-general T. Subromaniam (left) looking at a seized baby orang utan during a press conference in Perlis, northern Malaysia, on Sept 24, 2018.
Royal Malaysian Customs Department director-general T. Subromaniam (left) looking at a seized baby orang utan during a press conference in Perlis, northern Malaysia, on Sept 24, 2018.PHOTO: AFP/ROYAL MALAYSIAN CUSTOMS

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - A pair of young orang utans, baby crocodiles and rare birds were among over 400 animals rescued from a boat off Malaysia as they were being smuggled from neighbouring Indonesia, officials said on Monday (Sept 24).

Three suspected Indonesian traffickers were arrested after customs officials thwarted the bid to transport the animals to Thailand in an operation last Friday off the Malaysian holiday island Langkawi.

The unusual cargo included two "frightened-looking" orang utans and dozens of baby saltwater crocodiles, Malaysian wildlife official Mohamad Zaki Rahim told AFP.

There were also about 350 sugar gliders - a type of small marsupial - cockatoos, parrots and parakeets found in boxes on board, he said, adding that the smugglers intended to sell all the animals as pets.

The smugglers were seeking to transport the animals under cover of darkness in a cargo vessel from the vast, jungle-clad Indonesian island of Sumatra, through the Malacca Strait to Thailand, customs chief T. Subromaniam told The Star newspaper.

But Malaysian customs officers received information about the boat and intercepted it, Mr Subromaniam said.

The arrested Indonesians, who were on the vessel when it was stopped, are expected to be charged in court for breaking wildlife laws and could face up to 10 years in jail, Mr Mohamad Zaki said.

Ms Elizabeth John, spokesman for wildlife trade watchdog Traffic, said that the number and variety of animals seized showed "how tremendous the pressure is on wildlife due to demand for pets".

The authorities in Malaysia, which is home to many rare species, regularly thwart smuggling attempts, but finding 400 animals at the same time is unusual.

In June 2017, Thai authorities nabbed a Malaysian trying to smuggle two juvenile orangutans and some 60 other animals in a taxi through the country's southern border.