A long-tailed macaque, like those that environmentalists say are being captured by the Golden China Group rebuilding Route 7 from Kratie north through Stung Treng to Laos.
The roughly 200-km section of Route 7 from Kratie to the Lao border is under massive
renovation. A bumpy drive north from Kratie town, through the heavy forest of Kratie
and Stung Treng provinces, finds bridges, embankments and drainage systems all in
some stage of construction. Stops are frequent, heavy equipment rumbles along the
roadside and work camps have sprung up along the way to accommodate local laborers
and their families.
But according to environmental activists, local authorities and government officials,
the Chinese construction company hired to complete the renovation has entered into
some most unfunny monkey business-specifically the illegal trade of long-tailed macaques.
Two months ago the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) cancelled
a contract with the Golden China Group (GCG) and claimed that the Chinese firm has
broken its agreement by engaging in illegal wildlife trading, a senior Forestry Administration
(FA) official told the Post.
Besides its road development projects, Golden China has had permission from the MAFF
to purchase macaques and crocodiles for breeding since 2005. Golden China has macaque
breeding farms in Pursat, Kandal and Kampong Thom provinces.
"Macaques bred in captivity can be legally traded. We are told they are used
for scientific research. Golden China says the countries involved in buying them
legally are China, Vietnam and the US," said Nick Marx, animal husbandry specialist
for NGO WildAid.
"We have long suspected the macaque farms as being a front for illegal trade.
Whether the farms are behind it we don't know."
According to local residents and provincial officials, Golden China officials are
hiring rural farmers living along the highway to capture wild macaques, which are
smuggled directly to China, Laos and Vietnam. The prospect of receiving as much as
$70 for a live, adult macaque has led many poor villagers to abandon farming and
take up the wildlife trade full-time. WildAid has condemned the practice as disastrous
to the local environment.
"The people here have stopped making farms and turned to catching monkeys because
they can make more money," said a taxi driver named Loy who travels daily between
Stung Treng and Siem Pang district, near the Lao border. "I know hundreds of
hectares of forest that have been cut down."
Loy claimed that each week he transports 50 or 60 macaques for traders who are selling
them to a stockyard at Kontuy Kor near Stung Treng.
"We have sent our officials to study the effects of this trade and we will send
the report to the MAFF soon," said Men Phymean, director of wildlife protection
for the Forestry Administration. "There is to be no macaque capturing in Stung
Treng. If we find any wildlife smuggling, we will make arrests."
Long Phall, first deputy governor of Stung Treng province, said that provincial authorities
have questioned three macaque dealers for trading in the animals without informing
local authorities. According to Phall, the traders have sold more than 300 macaques
to the firm for prices between $45 and $60. He said that in April alone, the FA siezed
mnore than 200 macaques and released them into the wild.
"We decided to stop them because it is damaging the forest," Phall said.
"I don't think they are being honest when they say the monkeys are only for
breeding. They are exporting these animals to other countries for business."
Marx said that the most common methods for capturing macaques are small-scale logging
"There are several methods for hunting. First, macaques are isolated in a tree
or a small group of trees and surrounded by hunters with nets. Then the trees are
cut down and the macaques are forced to run. They are quickly caught by the nets,"
Marx said. "The macaques are also caught in snares. The snares are extremely
cruel. The animals die of starvation, dehydration and they can lose a limb even if
they are snared for a short time."
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the long-tailed macaque,
also known as the crab-eating macaque, as "globally near-threatened."
"There has been a major rise in the trade of illegal macaques. This is huge
business, we're just getting the tip of the iceberg," Marx said. "In the
trade now everybody is earning: the traders, the transporters, the dealers. When
the macaques are wiped out then the people will go back to farming. This practice
is completely unsustainable."
A document obtained by the Post reports that on February 15, 2005, the Golden China
Group made a request to the MAFF to buy 7,000 macaques in Stung Treng and Kratie
provinces for breeding in the firm's farms.
On April 25, 2005, Kom Saron, MAFF director general wrote a letter on behalf of the
Minister of the Forestry Administration allowing Golden China to buy 5,000 monkeys.
Of these, 3,000 could be purchased in Stung Treng and Kratie and another 2,000 bought
from the provinces along the Tonle Sap. The letter also ordered Golden China to pay
$10 to the government for each macaque.
Kong Vimean, first deputy governor of Kampong Thom-where Golden China has maintained
a macaque breeding farm since 2003-said three years ago the company had just a small
number of macaques for breeding. But today, after several years of technical breeding,
he estimates the number of macaques now in Golden China's farms could be as high
"The firm has exported thousand of monkeys to China every year," Vimean
said, "I haven't seen the company do anything beside breeding."
Chou Pi Chhoura, chief of Stung Treng penal police, said that macaque dealers catch
monkeys from various districts in the provinces and transport them not to the farms,
but to Stung Treng and Snoul where they are smuggled to China through Vietnam.
"We try to stop people, but the activity of catching and smuggling monkeys is
still spreading out," said Chhoura, who has conducted several crackdowns on
illegal wildlife traders. "The poor people don't care about destroying wildlife
or forest, they are thinking about how they are living."
Officials from Golden China's office in Phnom Penh, refused to answer questions or
give their names to the Post.