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article imageOrangutan kickboxing sparks Thailand tourism, angers critics Special

By Kim I. Hartman     Jun 13, 2010 in World
Bangkok - Kickboxing may be Thailand's number one sport but orangutan boxing is fast becoming popular. Hundreds of spectators pay to see the apes beat each other with boxing gloves, while other apes in bikinis perform as round card girls and bell ringers.
A safari theme park in Thailand that features orangutan kickboxing matches - complete with boxing gloves, spin kicks, and bikini-clad females of the species displaying cards with the round number - had drawn the glee of some tourists and the ire of animal rights activists.
Safari World, an attraction in the outskirts of Bangkok, has been offering a 30-minute show that has attracted hordes of tourists who enthusiastically cheer on two costumed apes as they act out a boxing match, reports the New York Daily News.
The practice had been featured at the park for decades, and part of the show reportedly involved an orangutan dressed as a doctor attending to one of the fallen athletes.
Safari World was banned by the government of Thailand from promoting and holding these exhibits of orangutans in the mock Rumble in Jungle show six years ago. But once again they are back at it with daily show times featuring the apes and their costumes.
In 2004, Thai police raided the park and seized 114 of Safari World's orangutans, after rumors surfaced that some of the animals had been smuggled into Thailand, and not bred in captivity as Safari World's owners claimed.
Orangutans can only be found in the wild in Malaysia and Indonesia, and because they are an endangered species (only 27,000 are left in the wild), strict laws prohibit their being removed from those countries.
DNA tests proved that 57 of them did not come from the breeding program, but had indeed been taken from someplace else, said NYU journalist Miriam Gross.
What the paying tourists don't see is what happens after the boxing match ends and the orangutans are then returned to their dark cages. It is not known how many orangutans have been captured and trained by Safari World and they will not respond to requests for information.
But while the display may seem cute and amusing to some, others have pointed out the darker side of the practice which is shown in this video of an orangutan boxing facility in Indonesia.
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The kickboxing Orangutan show at Safari World was first exposed by Monkey World Ape Rescue Center. Monkey World assists governments around the world to stop the smuggling of primates from the wild. The Center takes in rescued primates that have been abused, neglected and exploited by businesses like Safari World.
Organisers say what they are doing is legal but activists blame lax laws for that situation.
Animal rights groups, such as PETA, have dismissed the organizer's claims that the animals have been trained not to harm each other and only pretend to be knocked out, citing the abuse that some of the participating apes have endured.
The orangutans are rewarded during the show with treats to encourage them to continue to beat on each other and winners receive extra foods for their efforts in the sport of kicking that many tourists say is a hilarious animal show to observe with trained apes performing what has been taught to them by Safari World workers.
PETA disagrees and said "When you see these animals performing what are completely unnatural tricks…they're not doing it because they want to, they're doing it because they're afraid not to," according to Debbie Leahy, PETA's director of captive animals.
The word "orangutan," which means "man of the forest," may be evidence that the creatures are more suited to swinging on trees than fighting in the ring.
More about Orangutan, Boxing, Kickboxing, Thailand, Apes
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