Orangutans Returned

Fifty-four orangutans seized two years ago after being illegally smuggled into Thailand will be sent home once DNA tests confirm their origin a Thai official said on Tuesday.

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 wants to do it properly and through the proper channels," Schwann told a news conference.

Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian authorities will meet on Friday and Saturday in Bangkok to discuss the fate of the orangutans and further DNA tests to fully determine their country of origin.

Indonesia and Malaysia are the only two countries where wild orangutans are found.

Steven Galster, the director field operations for conservation group WildAid-Thailand has worked closely on the case.

"If the Indonesians, Malaysians and Thais can actually sort out an agreement this weekend that spells great hope for the new regional network," Glaster said, referring to conservationists' efforts to protect the endangered species.

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.