Sumatran orangutans Ung Aing and Natalee return home after three years

A Sumatran orangutan on his way to Indonesia, photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
A Sumatran orangutan on his way to Indonesia, photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Two critically endangered Sumatran orangutans smuggled into Thailand three years ago were returned to Indonesia on Thursday. They will undergo a rehabilitation program at a center in Sumatra before being released into the wild.

Ung Aing and Natalee, both four-year-old orangutans, were seized on the Thai-Malaysian border in 2017. After their smugglers were prosecuted, Thailand agreed to send them back to Indonesia.

The pair were taken from a wildlife rescue center in Ratchaburi province to Bangkok’s airport before being put on a flight to Indonesia.

“This is the fifth repatriation of orangutans back to Indonesia since 2006,” Prakit Vongsrivattanakul, an official at Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said at the airport.

Prakit said the action demonstrated Thailand and Indonesia’s “strong collaboration in combating wildlife trafficking of endangered species.”

“In the past, Thailand has repatriated 69 orangutans back to Indonesia and today, we are sending back two more – making the number of the repatriation 71,” Prakit said.

Even though the two orangutans are now on their way home, their future is still insecure. There are less than 15,000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Sumatran orangutans’ habitat has drastically shrunk over the past few decades from logging, palm oil plantations and mining.

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