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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Road gangs turn to monkey business

Road gangs turn to monkey business

road.jpg
road.jpg

Tracey Shelton

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

and snaring.

"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

as 100,000.

"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.

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