Animal activists were overjoyed when Milo, a 13-year-old female orangutan was found unharmed in a locked cage in the middle of a Phuket jungle after being abandoned by her owners from the Phuket Zoo.

The large primate had been kept illegally for two years in horrific conditions without a proper zoo license. However, when government officials came to investigate on February 19th, 2016, they found that Milo had mysteriously vanished, her cage empty and all her tourist selfie pictures taken down.

Surapong Chanthaweewong, the zoo owner claimed that Milo had been taken away by his zoo staff and “released” in a local national park around 20 miles away from the zoo. However, when Milo was found 24 hours later by local villagers, she was locked in a small cage without a key in sight.

When interviewed by Phuket News, Khun Surapong admitted that Milo had been kept without a zoo license because she had miraculously been discovered on the premises two years ago.

Activist Edwin Wiek from Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand believes that the owners hid the animal to avoid prosecution and is calling for the Department of National Parks and the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment to arrest them and revoke their zoo license for breaking Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)law for illegal trafficking of an endangered species.

Save Milo

The campaign Save Milo was initiated by passionate local animals rights activist Vicky Kiely after she witnessed the shocking conditions Milo was kept in. The primate spent most of her time in a darkened concrete box and was only  allowed out in the day time to pose for tourist selfies. Without proper diet and sufficient space to exercise in, Milo was grossly overweight and appeared depressed. Ms. Kiely began visiting her regularly, documenting her compassionate interactions with Milo on social media.

The campaign which simply called for better living conditions for Milo attracted more than 12,000 signatures in two days, also cast yet another unfavorable spotlight on how the Thai tourism industry treats wildlife.

Legal Loopholes

It is not the first time that orangutans have been unceremoniously dumped in Phuket. In 2008, 12 orangutans were found on the side of the highway between Phang Nga and Phuket, presumably dumped by the owners of another ill-reputed zoo. Fortunately, these animals have been returned to Indonesia but only after a lengthy and expensive seven-year transit at the government animal center. Their previous Thai zoo owners, however, were never convicted.

CITES  strictly prohibits trade in orangutans for member countries. Yet many are being smuggled out of Indonesia and Malaysia to neighboring South East Asian countries for use in degrading zoo shows and as exotic pets for status seeking private individuals.

In Thailand, this is further complicated by a legal loophole in the local Wildlife and Reservations Protection Actwhich essentially protects wildlife listed under CITES against importation and exportation but not the domestic trade of non-native species. This leaves ample room for illegal wildlife trade activity within the kingdom.

Leaving Milo in the jungle may have  therefore been more of a calculated way to dodge the law than a rash act of guilt.

What About Milo’s Cruel Treatment?

Thailand recently passed a law against animal cruelty, however, this does not cover wildlife. Government agencies and NGO’s have been pushing hard to amend these laws but the process has been lengthy and laborious.

“Even if the law were to protect wildlife species, there is also no clear definition of what cruelty actually means,” said Edwin Wiek.  “Many people still believe that for an animal  like Milo, the zoo is actually enhancing her life”

Things Are Looking Up

“There has been a vast improvement in the speed at which Milo’s case was handled,” reflects Edwin. “Compared to the situation in 2008, it only took two days for Milo to be found and rescued by the authorities. I hope that this time that they will keep Milo in better conditions than they did the  other 12. It is something that WFFT is willing to fund if the government is agreeable.”

As for the orangutan, she may very well be on her way to join her 12 rescued cousins and return home  soon to Indonesia.

“I am in touch with the authorities in Indonesia and they are willing to receive Milo as soon as it is logistically possible. I really hope this will be a speedy process.”

Milo’s heartwarming rescue was borne out of compassion from one caring activist, but her plight also highlights the need for Thai legislators to strengthen and harmonize legislation to protect all wildlife from further exploitation and illegal trade. Thereby, sending a clear signal to the rest of the world that keeping an animal purely for human entertainment is cruel and unjust.

Show your support and compassion for Milo’s story and all other animals like her by signing this petition.