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Thailand Returns Rescued Orangutans to Indonesia

A group of smuggled apes were repatriated, five years after the majority of them were discovered abandoned by the side of the road.

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.

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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.

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"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.

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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.

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"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.

Shown is a cage containing confiscated orangutans at Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia.

On January 7, this shaggy little bundle of joy was delivered by Caesarean section at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. Her mom is a 27-year-old Sumatran orangutan named Mariska, from the

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

in Saint Paul, Minn. We thought you'd enjoy having the baby girl brought to your attention.

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It was mother Mariska's second required C-section, both of which were performed at the university's medical center. "C-sections are very rare in that there are only about a dozen recorded within the International Orangutan Studbook that has tracked more than 1,200 births in captivity throughout history," said Como Zoo's primate keeper Megan Elder.

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The new arrival weighed in at a spry 3.45 pounds.

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She and her mom certainly drew a crowd. The obstetrical team boasted more than a dozen professionals -- from the disciplines of human and animal neonatal intensive care, human maternal-fetal medicine, veterinary surgery, veterinary anesthesiology, and nutrition.

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The newborn should be proud. Her mother Mariska is considered one of the most genetically valuable female Sumatran orangutans in North America and was recommended for breeding by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Orangutan Species Survival Plan.

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The little girl of the hour was bottle fed by Como Zoo staff while her mom was recovering from the surgery. She and Mariska would soon be reunited at Como Zoo.

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About 200 orangutans are currently on exhibit in zoos throughout the U.S., Como Zoo notes. In the wild, they're found primarily in Sumatra and Borneo. Orangutan populations have tumbled downward and the species is under the threat of extinction. Commercial logging, agriculture, hunting and poaching all have contributed to the animal's decline. So it's always happy news when a baby gives a small ray of hope to a species in trouble.