KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysian wildlife authorities have rescued three baby orangutans believed to have been smuggled into the country, following raids on a zoo and an ostrich breeder, a report said Tuesday.
The three young apes were among a smuggled group of five, and a search is under way for the remaining two, Department of Wildlife and National Parks deputy chief Misliah Mohamad Basir told the Star newspaper.
One of the orangutans was discovered in a raid on an ostrich breeder in central Selangor state, who then revealed that the other two were being kept at the Taiping Zoo in Malaysia's north.
"All orangutans at the zoo are microchipped but these specimens were without microchips, hence we are able to ascertain that they are of dubious origin," Misliah reportedly said.
Zoo officials defended their actions, saying the orangutans were sent to them by "anonymous people" and that the raid was carried out before they could notify the authorities.
"We accepted them because we wanted to save the animals out of compassion, that's how they ended up with us. If we said no, the people might have traded them," zoo director Kevin Lazarus told AFP.
"We have got nothing to do with this (smuggling)," he added.
Local laws require a special permit to keep orangutans -- native to Malaysia's eastern states on Borneo island -- which are under threat of extinction because of poaching and habitat destruction.
The report said that DNA samples of the rescued apes were taken to determine their origin.
Wildlife officials have said that wildlife trafficking has hit alarming levels in Malaysia.
Experts say there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in neighbouring Indonesia and the rest in Malaysian's eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak.
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