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Last Stand of the Orangutan

Illegal International Trade in Live Orangutans


A by-product of forest clearing and the timber trade is the illegal international trade in live orangutans. A UNEP special mission team learned in 2006 that many illegally-caught orangutans, destined for illicit international trade, are removed from forest areas on the river-boats that carry timber that has been legally and illegally extracted. These orangutans are bought by the boats’ crews and conveyed either directly to other countries or to major ports in Indonesia, where they will be transferred to other vessels operated by foreign crews and owners. Orangutans are also sometimes sold to the crews of foreign fishing vessels, such as boats from Thailand. This illicit trade includes an opportunistic element, as well as involving illegal traders who deliberately seek out orangutans (CITES/UNEP 2006).

The increase in oil palm plantations and general reduction of orangutan habitat increases the frequency of opportunistic capture of young orangutans.

A fraction of the apes that are taken from the forest find their way are brought to “rescue” or “rehabilitation” centres. In Borneo alone, this number is close to 1 000 orangutans in 2006 (CITES/UNEP 2006). Many of the others find their way to zoos, “Safari World”-type facilities and private ownership. Recent cases involving Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have come to the attention of the CITES secretariat. In 2006, orangutans confiscated in Thailand and Malaysia were repatriated to Indonesia.