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Gloves come off for 'Thai' boxing orang-utans

Reuters Alert Net


The fur is flying in Thailand over claims from conservationists that a troupe of more than 100 kick-boxing orang-utans at a Bangkok amusement park are victims of a smuggling racket from nearby Indonesia.

Forestry officials from Jakarta say Safari World is involved in Indonesia's biggest ever case of orang-utan smuggling, even though the zoo insists all its animals were acquired through the proper channels, or bred in captivity.

Indonesia wants DNA tests to determine the apes' provenance -- and then wants them back. Meanwhile, some of the highly endangered animals have mysteriously started to disappear.

With Thailand keen to present a 'green' image in the run-up to a major CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) meeting in Bangkok in October, police have been ordered to get to the bottom of all the monkey business. Until the end of police investigations, the show, in which orang-utans dressed in silky boxing shorts and bright red gloves pretend to slug it out to the delight of the audience, is over.

"The monkey boxing shows have been ordered to stop because they are evidence in the law suit," Chatchai Thammavichai of the Forestry Police told Reuters on Wednesday.

Safari World bosses would also be hauled in for questioning later in the week to explain why they originally declared 115 orang-utans to police, but a search of the zoo by wildlife officers uncovered only 69, he said.

Officials of the amusement park were not immediately available for comment.

Wild orang-utans are now only found in the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia and conservationists are confident DNA tests will reveal if any animal was born in the wild, and allow them to pinpoint its place of birth to within a few hundred kilometres.

"From the genetic testing, we will absolutely 100 percent be able to prove that these orang-utans cannot have been bred in Safari World, that this is a lie," said Willie Smits, head of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, and part of an official Indonesian delegation to visit the zoo last week.

Safari World's owners deny any wrong-doing and insist their orang-utans are the result of a successful breeding programme, even though conservationists say the numbers and ages of the apes involved represent a biological impossibility.

"I don't have anything to do with smuggling," managing director Pin Kewkacha was quoted as saying in the Bangkok Post. "I have nothing to confess."

Indonesian diplomats have also jumped to the defence of what is a national icon, urging speedy resolution of the spat.

"As long as they have been proven to come from Indonesia, the Indonesian delegation requests that they go back to Indonesia," an embassy spokesman said. (Additional reporting by Sasithorn Simaporn)

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