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Orang utans die in fire to clear land

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Three female orang utans, including a baby, were burned to death in central Indonesia.

They were apparently caught in a fire believed to have been started illegally to clear land for farming, an official and protection group said yesterday.

The charred bodies of the endangered Bornean orang utans were discovered among fire-blackened remains of trees in Bontang, in the Indonesian part of Borneo island, close to Kutai National Park.

The animals' limbs were outstretched and there were grimaces on their faces. They are believed to be a mother and her two daughters.

Park officials began investigating after seeing pictures of the animals circulating on social media, said park staff member Dede Hidayat.

"We went to the scene about one kilometre outside the national park and found the orang utans lying on the ground, badly burned," she told AFP.

Wildlife authorities and police are investigating the case.

No one has been arrested, but if convicted, a perpetrator could face up to five years in jail for breaking wildlife protection laws.

The Bornean orang utan is classified as endangered by the protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Environmental group the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP), which is helping authorities investigate the case, believes the fire was illegally started by a farmer to clear a small area of land for cultivation.

COP, which runs an orang utan rescue centre in Borneo, carried out an autopsy on the apes, which were discovered last month.

The group found that the three were female, aged around 20 years old, 10 years old and less than one year, said COP founder Hardi Baktiantoro.