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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 09:33 GMT
Boxing orangutans welcomed home
An orang-utan boxer at Safari World 01/08/04
Controversial orangutan boxing was stopped in 2004
Forty-eight orangutans who have spent much of their lives performing boxing matches in a Thai zoo have finally been returned to their native Indonesia.

The wife of the Indonesian president was at the airport to welcome the animals, who were confiscated from Bangkok's Safari World two years ago.

They were due back in September, but a Thai military coup thwarted that plan.

They are now heading to a jungle reserve on the island of Borneo, where they will undergo medical tests.

The orangutans, sporting boxing gloves and brightly-coloured shorts, had been a feature at the Safari World park for decades.

Orangutans leave Thailand
The animals are heading for a reserve in Borneo

But the practice was stopped in 2004 as international pressure mounted, and the animals were confiscated shortly afterwards.

Five other animals belonging to the original troop have remained in Thailand for medical treatment, but are also due to return home.

"We are very happy to get the orangutans back," said the president's wife, Kristiani Yudhoyono. "They belong to our vast nation, therefore we have to take them back to their habitat in a proper way."

Under threat

Experts estimate that there are only 60,000 of the animals left in the wild on Borneo and Sumatra.

Forestry clearance and illegal trading seriously threaten the species, and some estimates suggest those remaining could all but disappear in the course of the next decade.

Forest fires, which some believe are a direct result of clearing the land for oil palm plantations, are also taking their toll.

Earlier this month, animal protection workers said that up to 1,000 orangutans may have died in blazes which have been raging across Borneo for several months.

The orangutans when they were first rescued

Orangutans perish in Borneo fires
07 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Thai orangutan fights suspended
04 Aug 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Orangutans 'may die out by 2025'
12 Jan 04 |  Science/Nature

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