A group of smuggled orangutans were repatriated from Thailand to Indonesia Thursday, five years after the majority of them were discovered abandoned by the side of the road.
The joint operation between Thailand and Indonesia brings to close years of diplomatic wrangling between the two nations over who should pay for the upkeep of the animals.
Previous Thai governments wanted compensation from Indonesia for the cost of housing and treating the 14 apes but the junta government in Bangkok recently waived those demands and pushed ahead with the repatriation.
Indonesia sent a C130 aircraft to collect the animals, who were loaded onto the plane in metal crates.
“The flight has already taken off at around 10:00 am (0300 GMT) from a military airport on the northern outskirts of Bangkok and it will take five hours to arrive in Jakarta,” a wildlife official involved in the operation told AFP.
“Special care has been taken to ensure that the orangutans are ready to travel,” added Tuenchai Noochdumrong, director of Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation Office, in statement.
The apes have been in captivity for too long to be released in the wild and will be kept in conservation centres in Indonesia, Thai wildlife officials said.
Orangutans are native to the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra but they are often illegally smuggled throughout Southeast Asia, either for private zoos or as pets.
Despite their reputation as gentle animals, they are not suitable pets. One Thai man lost a finger when one of the rescued apes bit it off.
“It happened long time ago, not during this preparation of this repatriation,” the wildlife official told AFP.
“It was a male orangutan who is quite fierce,” he added. “They are six times stronger than human beings.”
Of the 14 orangutans, 11 were found abandoned in Phuket in 2010. One was rescued elsewhere while two were born in captivity to the rescued parents.