54 illegal orangutans seized in Thailand

Fifty-four orangutans siezed two years ago after being illegally smuggled into Thailand are believed to be predominantly from Indonesia , a wildlife conservationist said Tuesday, as officials pledged to send them home once DNA tests confirm their origin. Steven Galster, director field operations for conservation group WildAid-Thailand, has worked closely on the case and said several orangutan experts have concluded that they are from Indonesia 's Kalimantan province.

Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian authorities will meet Friday and Saturday in Bangkok to discuss the fate of the orangutans and further DNA tests to determine their country of origin. Indonesia and Malaysia are the only two countries where wild orangutans are found.

"I think all or most of them are going to go back to Indonesia , not to Malaysia ," Galster said after a news conference in Bangkok . "Most of the experts have taken a look at them, without even doing DNA, and they have said these are from east and west Kalimantan . They can just tell," he said.

Schwann Tunhikorn, deputy director of Thailand 's National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, said Thai authorities could not yet confirm the orangutans' native country but were prepared to send them home. " Thailand has been working closely with the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia to find a proper way and proper procedure to repatriate the orangutans back to their geographical origin," Schwann said. "We have no intention of keeping these orangutans."

Thai authorities in 2004 confiscated more than 100 orangutans from the private Safari World zoo near Bangkok , where they were forced to perform in daily boxing matches.

A court ruled earlier this year that 54 of the orangutans were illegally smuggled into the country. The remainder have since been returned to the zoo, after the owners proved they were purchased before Thailand amended its law in 1992 to make smuggling illegal.

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, lists orangutans as endangered, meaning trade in the animals is tightly restricted.

Orangutans are native to Indonesia and parts of Borneo island, but not Thailand , where questions have been raised about the origins of those held in private zoos. Some are believed to have been smuggled to Thailand , though others have been bred from legally imported animals, reports the AP.

N.U.