RATCHABURI PROVINCE, Thailand (Reuters) - Two baby Sumatran orangutans rescued by border officials who foiled a bid to smuggle them into Thailand arrived at a wildlife center on Wednesday, to stay until Indonesia decides on their return, officials said.
Let out of their cage, the new arrivals rubbed noses with another pair of baby orangutans already resident at the center. They received a bath before exploring their new surroundings, holding onto each other all the while.
“Because they are still small, we have to keep these two inside a nursery enclosure as they need close attention,” said Banpot Maleehuan, director of the Khao Pratab Chang Wildlife Breeding Center in central Thailand.
The two-year-old animals, one male and one female, will live at the center until a court case is completed and Indonesia decides whether to take them back, he added.
The primates were among a group of animals rescued in June at the Padang Besar customs checkpoint on the border with Malaysia, and a Malaysian national was arrested for attempting to smuggle them, media said.
Orangutans, the world’s largest tree-climbing mammals, are classified as critically endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
They are native to Indonesia and Malaysia, and around 60,000 are left in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates, down from around 230,000 animals a century ago.
Deforestation and land clearing for pulp, paper and palm oil plantations has depleted the habitat of orangutans, which means “person of the forest” in Malay. Fires are often set by companies to clear the land.
Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Clarence Fernandez