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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Safari World embroiled in animal trafficking controversy, again

Safari World embroiled in animal trafficking controversy, again

The Safari World animal park in Koh Kong Province - which has a checkered track

record dealing with wild animals - has been asked to apply for retroactive

import permits for 22 orangutans allegedly smuggled in from Thailand, or risk

having the animals confiscated.

On November 10, the Cambodian office for

the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and

Flora (CITES), sent a letter to Ly Yong Phat, the owner of Safari World's parent

company Koh Kong International Resort Casino, inviting him to begin the

application process.

If there is no response, a second and third letter

will be issued before the animals are confiscated by the Forestry Administration

(FA) and conservation NGO WildAid, said a Cambodian CITES officer, who asked not

to named.

In January last year the park received a letter from the

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Chan Sarun, giving a general

approval for the orangutans' import but requested the Forestry Administration

and CITES be involved in transporting and caring for the animals.

"After

they got the approval they do themselves s they just ignore the process," said

the CITES officer about the "illegal import."

The orangutans currently

perform various tricks for mostly Thai tourists, including a boxing routine that

was recently banned in a similar park outside of Bangkok.

Thai police

visited Indonesia in late November to return an unknown number of orangutans

from Bangkok Safari World after authorities found that most of the park's 150

primates had been illegally acquired from Indonesia.

Bangkok Safari World

has different owners than the Koh Kong park, said Nokkaew Weerapun, assistant

manager for Koh Kong Safari World, but conservationists believe the same animal

trainers work in both parks.

Animal rights activists have appealed to

Thai and Indonesian authorities to look into several cases of illegal

importation, including the Koh Kong Safari World.

"The Cambodian CITES

authorities have repeatedly confirmed to us that 22 orangutans were smuggled

into Cambodia from Thailand earlier this year," said a November letter from

Edwin Wiek, the Thailand representative of Borneo Orangutan Survival

Foundation.

Amphoun Phan, manager of Koh Kong Safari Park, refused to

speak about the orangutans, passing on a message through her personnel

supervisor Cha Veasna: "If you want some information of animals we could not

give it to you. It's up to the president."

Repeated attempts to contact

Ly Yong Phat have been unsuccessful, with staff saying he is overseas but not

knowing when he will return or how he can be contacted.

Government and

NGO inspectors have been denied access to animals and information at Safari

World in the past, and the vast influence of wealthy businessman Ly Yong Phat

has some government officials reluctant to probe too deeply into his affairs.

The park has a record of controversy, with general manager of the

casino, Ra Phin, confirming to the Post in October that the death of eight

endangered Irrawaddy dolphins had gone unreported for nearly two years.

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