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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Safari World fined over apes

Safari World fined over apes


Despite the fine levied against Koh Kong Safari World, the oragutan shows continue. The apes box in comedy boxing matches, ride bicycles and dance in bikinis among other unusual crowd pleasers.


he Forestry Administration has fined a business owned by one of Cambodia's most

powerful tycoons nearly $57,000 for illegally importing 36 orangutans from Thailand

to Koh Kong Safari World.

The administration made Heng San, the deputy director of Koh Kong Duty Free Shop,

responsible for the fine on behalf of the company owned by Ly Yong Phat, who also

owns Koh Kong Safari World.

Ty Sokun, director general of the Forestry Administration (FA), levied the fine on

July 15 at the direction of the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister Hun Sen,

according to documents obtained by the Post.

The zoo was charged under Article 96 of the Forestry Law with illegally importing

the orangutans, which are classified as endangered under Article 49 of the same law.

San was given 15 days to pay the fine and must also pay for DNA testing to determine

whether the orangutans were bred in captivity or taken from the wild.

While the Forestry Administration recommended seizing the endangered apes, the final

decision letter did not mention confiscation and no date was set for DNA testing.

If testing reveals that the orangutans were taken from the wild, Cambodia will be

obliged under international conventions to confiscate and return the apes.

On July 19 a representative from Koh Kong Duty Free Shop traveled to Phnom Penh to

pay the 227 million riel ($56,746) fine into the state budget held at the National

Bank of Cambodia, according to a receipt from the bank.

Many view the breakthrough in the long-running controversy over the orangutans as

a positive step for the government and a welcome improvement in the enforcement the

Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).

"This decision alerts present and would-be dealers in the wildlife trade that

smuggling will not be tolerated by the government, and perpetrators of this crime

will face prosecution," wrote Michelle Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan

Survival Foundation.

"If Cambodia can successfully close its doors against international smuggling

of wildlife, it will be a significant break in the chain," Desilets wrote in

an e-mail.

The importation of the orangutans to Koh Kong was described at a major CITES meeting

in Bangkok in October 2004 as a "very serious incident of illicit trade",

and was raised again during a top-level gathering of CITES officials in Geneva from

June 27 to July 1.

"This is the first occasion that the Secretariat has brought such an incident

in Cambodia to the attention of the Standing Committee," wrote John Sellar,

from the CITES's anti-smuggling, fraud and organized crime department, by email on

July 26.

"We are aware that the matter has been brought to the attention of the Prime

Minister," wrote Sellars. "The Secretariat will report formally on this

subject at the next meeting of the Standing Committee, which takes place in late


A receptionist at Koh Kong Safari World who identified himself as "Para"

said on July 28 that park manager Amphoun Phan, a Thai national, was "absent"

and there was no other manager available.

When asked whether orangutan shows were continuing, he hung up the phone.

However, another receptionist said by phone later in the day that the orangutans

were still being displayed to the mostly Thai tourists who visit the zoo.

The controversy over the apes dates back to early 2003, when Koh Kong Duty Free Shop

requested permission from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishers (MAFF)

to import 22 orangutans from Thailand. Minister of MAFF, Chan Sarun, agreed, but

only on the provision that the company cooperate with CITES and FA to ensure the

transfer was legal.

The 22 orangutans cost between $487 for a 6 year old and $1,097 for a 10 year old,

according to receipts. It is unclear when the additional 14 orangutans were imported.

The orangutans were brought in without consulting FA or CITES and put to work at

Koh Kong Safari World entertaining tourists in daily shows that included boxing,

bicycle riding and skateboarding.

Similar shows involving orangutans have been banned at the Bangkok Safari World.

In November 2004, Thai police confiscated about 150 illegally acquired orangutans

from the zoo and returned them to Indonesia.

However, the wealth and connections of Ly Yong Phat caused some Cambodian government

officials to proceed gently with investigations in Koh Kong.

The orangutan issue simmered until November 2004, when the CITES Secretariat wrote

to its Cambodian office requesting an investigation. CITES also asked Interpol to

investigate, because of concerns the illegal importation was authorized by a government

agency, according to minutes from the October 2004 CITES meeting in Bangkok.

Lobbying from conservationists added to the mounting pressure on the government to

act, according to a source involved with the issue, with Chan Sarun reportedly receiving

36 separate appeals and King Norodom Sihamoni receiving nine appeals from concerned

groups and individuals.

The paperwork that forced the breakthrough in Cambodia's orangutan saga began on

June 15 when Chan Sarun wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for his advice on

how to proceed with the case.

A June 23 letter from the Council of Ministers advised MAFF to go ahead with the

penalty and order DNA testing. It was signed by Bun Uy, secretary of state at the

Council of Ministers, and noted that the PM had seen and approved the letter.

"[It is] proposed that Okhna Ly Yong Phat cooperate on related work as soon

as possible," the council of Ministers letter stated.

On July 12 and 13, a four-person team from FA and CITES visited the zoo. They were

accompanied by Heng San, according to a source who was at the meeting.

The team reported their findings to the FA and on the next day, July 15, Ty Sokhun

issued the letter penalizing Koh Kong Safari World.

The move to prosecute illegal wildlife traders is seen as a boost to conservation

efforts in Cambodia. A new sub-decree on the International Trade in Wild Animal and

Plant Species is currently being drafted by the local CITES office with funding from

conservation group TRAFFIC Southeast Asia-Indochina.

The sub-decree will be part of a plan to implement the CITES convention that will

be assessed in September by Marceil Yeater, head of the legislation and compliance

unit of the CITES Secretariat.



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