Sunday, 25 January 2009

Tourists claim Phuket zoo smuggled in orang-utans


Tourists claim Phuket zoo smuggled in orang-utans


Published: 22/01/2009 at 12:00 AM

Newspaper section: News

A wildlife conservation group has accused a Phuket private zoo of smuggling in 10 young orang-utans and other wild animals.

The group has filed a complaint with the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department.

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand secretary-general Edwin Wiek said he had received complaints from local and foreign tourists who suspected the young orang-utans had been smuggled in.

He said the ape population had risen by just two in November, but this month there was an increase of 10.

"We tried to check the import licences with the department and found that there were none," Mr Wiek said.

"So we would like the department to urgently investigate the case." He said other animals at the zoo that could not be accounted for included gibbons, langurs and tigers.

The orang-utan is listed with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) which only allows for the exchange of animals for research purposes.

Orang-utans, an endangered species, are mostly found in Borneo and Sumatra.

Mr Wiek said the illegal wildlife trade had expanded into many tourist attractions such as Phuket and Ko Samui.

On Samui, many tourists pay to have their pictures taken with young gibbons on the beach.

Chatchawan Pisdamkham, director of department's Wildlife Conservation Office, said he would send a team to investigate the case soon.

"We can't say at the moment whether it is legal," he said. "Our investigating team will travel to the zoo. If zoo officials have conducted their business illegally, the animals will be confiscated."

He said it was difficult to return confiscated animals back to the jungle, saying there must be strong evidence to verify their original habitat.

Most of confiscated wildlife will be sent to breeding centres around the country.

In a bid to stop the illegal wildlife trade, the department has introduced a programme which will use informants to notify officers about the wildlife trade, especially in restaurants.

"It will be very useful for us to get new information from our network," he said.

Meanwhile, wild elephant calves along the Thai-Burmese border run a grave risk of being hunted for illegal sale overseas, according to Alongkorn Mahannop, a veterinarian at Chitralada Palace.

Mr Alongkorn said there was no end in sight for the smuggling of wild elephants, especially young calves along this border area.

Elephant calves can fetch 800,000 to a million baht locally, but the value increased to between 10 million and 20 million baht on overseas markets.