Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Orangutans' DNA could send Thai businessman to jail

AFP , BANGKOK

The owner of a Bangkok zoo faces up to four years in prison after DNA tests revealed his park had smuggled endangered orangutans into the country for use in controversial kickboxing bouts, police said yesterday.

Forestry police said tests car-ried out on 50 of 102 primates at the zoo confirmed some had originated from outside Thailand and not through an in-house breeding program as claimed by Safari World owner Pin Kiewkacha.

Charges to Be Filed

"Investigators will file charges against the owner of Safari World for possessing orangutans which were obtained from another place," forestry police said in a statement.

There was no indication of how many had tested positive.

Police had previously said Pin would face up to four years in prison if convicted of smuggling the endangered animals.

The apes had been used in controversial kickboxing shows, halted since August, at Safari World which has been at the center of an inquiry over claims it smuggled the animals from Borneo or Sumatra.

Powerful Protectors

The investigation has been fraught with allegations that Thai officials were grappling with powerful forces inside and outside government who were intent on blocking the repatriation.

Thailand last month promised to return to Indonesia more than 100 orangutans from Safari World if the DNA tests confirmed they were smuggled.

Endangered Species

About 1,000 orangutans are smuggled out of Indonesia each year, including 300 or more through Thailand, according to environmental group Wildlife Friends of Thailand.

The conservation agency WWF believes fewer than 30,000 orangutans remain in the world and the species, which faces rampant habitat loss due to human encroachment, could become extinct in as little as 20 years if the decline continues.

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