A two-year-old orangutan looks on as vets draw blood samples from him at Kao Pratubchang Conservation Centre in Ratchaburi, Thailand. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Two new reports have raised concern about Thailand’s inability to stop its illegal trade in orangutans and other non-native apes.

One report, produced by the wildlife trade monitor TRAFFIC and based on a survey of 57 wildlife attractions across Thailand, recorded 51 orangutans on display but found records for only 21 in the 2014 International Studbook of the Orangutan.

The numbers of non-native apes observed were also much higher than those recorded as being legally imported. The database of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has only five orangutans being imported into Thailand since 1975 and no records of the Western Gorilla or 14 crested gibbons found during the survey.

According to the study, Apes in Demand, “at least some of these animals arrived in captivity illegally.” Thailand’s laws, it says, are failing to protect wildlife from outside the country.

According to a separate analysis of Thai legislation produced by TRAFFIC, which is run jointly by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “Anyone found in possession of such wildlife does not currently have to show how they acquired it; rather the State must prove that the animals were illegally imported in order to be able to take any subsequent enforcement action.”

These loopholes leave enforcement agencies largely powerless to act against those in possession of non-native apes such as orangutans and chimpanzees, or control domestic trade in these species after they have been illegally imported.

TRAFFIC’s Claire Beastall, an author on both studies, said: “Illegal wildlife traffickers are fully aware that Thailand provides a safe haven for their activities. Until these loopholes are slammed shut, this situation is unlikely to change.”

The reports recommend a range of steps to fortify Thai wildlife laws, including increased penalties and extending legal protection to cover species currently omitted. The authors also call for the establishment of a reliable and transparent system for tracking the births, transfers and deaths of apes in zoos and wildlife attractions.

“The origins of all apes in captivity in Thailand should be ascertained and facilities found to be in violation of laws relating to the sourcing of apes should have their permits and licences revoked,” said Beastall.

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