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Orangutangle : Wildlife: Orangutan smuggling is a lucrative but damaging trade. The global battle against it involves Southern Californians.


Bojovic sought the immediate release of "monkeys confiscated from Mr. Schaefer" on Feb. 20, and promised that airline transportation would be taken care of "because we already have paid all the transport expenses."

In late March, however, Bojovic wrote the International Primate Protection League, which had alerted the Orangutan Foundation about the orangutans, that he was "surprised by the suspicion that our zoo has been involved in smuggling (and Yugoslavia too)." Bojovic added that all that he knew about "K. Schaefer" was "from your letters. We have no further informations. We would gladly help you if we only could."

The orangutans, although originally from Indonesia, had arrived in Bangkok via Singapore.

To trace the Singapore connection, Dr. Shirley McGreal, president of the International Primate Protection League and the individual who had first alerted Galdikas of the orangutans' plight, called Marjorie Doggett, a 67-year-old retired nurse who serves as contact for the organization in Singapore.

Doggett, a resident of Singapore for 40 years, said in a telephone interview that she went to the address of a pet store listed as the shipper of the orangutans.

"It was definitely a hairdressing salon," she said.

In Miami, Matthew Block, owner of Worldwide Primates Inc., acknowledged he had done business with Schaefer but denied that his firm had anything to do with the orangutan smuggling attempt.

"That is completely false," he said. "The people who made that statement will be hearing from our legal people. Worldwide Primates is involved in the supply of primates to the biomedical field. We have been in business for over 10 years.

"In Thailand, we know one of the people who is involved--Kurt Schaefer--but we have other dealings with him and beyond that we have no comment. . . . Yes, I know there were some faxes back and forth. They had to do with other business."

Though initially reluctant to speak, Schaefer did acknowledge his involvement in the foiled smuggling attempt. He also was critical of McGreal and her organization.

"I protect more primates in my life than she ever did," he asserted. "She sends them back to Asia and they are going to go back to the black market. . . . If you want to buy them tomorrow, you go with me and for $600 to $800 we can buy them. . . . Even (in) Jakarta, you can get them. . . . Everybody is corrupt and nobody is going to change the system."

Schaefer confirmed that there is an active trade in orangutans, estimating between 50 and 100 a year are smuggled out of Indonesia. "I can tell you exactly where they go. Eastern (European) countries. They go to to Arab countries and they go to South America. Usually, they go to zoos."

(Conservationists say dealers can charge zoos between $50,000 and $100,000 for orangutans. Galdikas said that each baby orangutan smuggled out represents as many as 15 orangutan mothers and babies who have been killed or died in captivity.)

Asked if zoo officials are aware of the illicit origins of the orangutans, Schaefer replied, "They know, they know. Sure, they know."

West German wildlife authorities are reviewing the case to see if there is legal authority to charge Schaefer for acts committed outside West Germany. It would not be his first violation. In 1981 and again in the mid-1980s, Schaefer confirmed that he had paid fines for smuggling Australian cockatoos into Germany.

The abortive smuggling attempt has become big news in Bangkok and Indonesia.

"Every television station has been out here a few times," said Snow. Said Galdikas: "This has been front page in Indonesia."

In a ceremony Friday, the orangutans, along with the two gibbons, were handed over to Galdikas and Gatot Suwardi, the Indonesian ambassador to Thailand, by Thai Agriculture Ministry officials.

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