Thailand: Abandoned Orangutan Being Treated at Wildlife Rescue Center

Stephen Fein
Songkhla, Thailand
2016-02-24
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160224_TH_milo_620.jpg Officers at a wildlife reserve in Phang Nga province assist rescued orangutan Milo, Feb. 24, 2016
Courtesy of Vicki Kiely

A female orangutan is recovering at a wildlife reserve in Thailand’s Phang Nga province after being discovered locked in a cage in the jungle Sunday, two days after vanishing from the Phuket Zoo.

Activists who had been pushing for the animal’s release and wildlife officials went to the zoo Friday and found no trace of her, they said.

Two days later, officials at the Khao Phra Thaeo Non Hunting Zone found the orangutan, Milo, in a jungle about 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of the Phuket Zoo, in Phuket’s Thalang District.

“The cage was locked. She couldn’t get out,” said Edwin Wiek, director of the Wildlife Friends of Thailand (WFFT).

Officers hammered off the padlock and Milo is now being housed and cared for at the Phang Nga Wildlife Breeding and Rescue Center, he said.

Police investigating

Prior to her disappearance, Milo was kept in a “dark concrete box” at the Phuket Zoo and “forced to take photos with tourists,” according to a petition for her release posted on the website Change.org by animal activist Vicki Kiely in January.

Zoo officials were not available to comment on Milo’s disappearance.

“We’ve had many requests for interviews about this case from many media outlets, so we have to ask for written requests in order to schedule interviews at times that are convenient for both sides. We are sorry for any inconvenience,” an operator at the zoo told BenarNews.

An email request to the address on the zoo’s website was not answered.

Police are investigating the case and collecting evidence to determine who was responsible for Milo’s disappearance, according to Surapong Chaweepak of the Department of National Parks CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Management Authority.

“If they are unable to find the responsible party within five years, the orangutan will become state property, after which time DNA tests will be conducted to determine if she is from Sumatra or Borneo. After that, we will begin the process to repatriate her,” he said.

Black market value

Orangutans exist in the wild only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where populations are listed as critically endangered and endangered, respectively. Sumatra is in Indonesia and Borneo is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

CITES lists orangutans as a protected species that cannot be kept without a license. Thailand is a signatory to the agreement.

A young orangutan like Milo has a black market value of about 250,000 to 300,000 baht ($6,990 to $8,390 U.S.) on the Thai black market, which is why it is unlikely the zoo would abandon it, Wiek said.

“If they really wanted her to disappear they could have sold her,” he added.

In November 2015, Thailand returned 14 orangutans, including two born in captivity, to Indonesia after the Thai government dropped its demand to be compensated for caring for the animals, Agence France-Presse reported.

Past efforts to charge smugglers and private zoo owners with possession, sale and disposal of CITES-listed species had failed because of a loophole in Thai law. Thailand’s law on the matter applies only to species native to Thailand and African elephants, according to Wiek.

Wiek said his organization is working with the Department of National Parks to draft a revised law that would give orangutans and other CITES-listed species similar protection. The WFFT has rescued more than 100 orangutans since its establishment in 2003 when it rescued 78 baby orangutans from the Safari World tourist attraction in Bangkok.

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