Cambodia has endured a lot. Its people have suffered over 20 years of almost continuous
warfare. Peace has almost been forgotten, and even when it draws near, few are confident
that it will last-they have learnt not to expect too much. Yet now, a fragile semi-ceasefire
that may be the best chance Cambodia has had for national reconciliation in decades
is bending in the wind, fragile like a straw but strong like the people.
As unfortunate as their past has been, their future may not be much better. Massive
amounts of environmental destruction and the social problems that invariably follow
have come with the opening up of the country.
Private businessmen and multi-national corporations are eyeing Cambodia with keen
interest. The country's impoverished state and abundant natural resources means potentially
big profits for logging companies and other businesses, and while the country has
banned the export of raw logs for the time being, investors seeking quick profits
are expected to move back in once the doors reopen after the first elected government
in Cambodia takes the reins of power later this year.
In 1992 before the U.N.-enforced log export ban came into effect on December 31,
a virtual free-for-all was taking place in the forest. All the factions in Cambodia,
including the genocidal Khmer Rouge, were getting involved. But even now, months
after the ban, Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean and Thai sawmills hastily set-up inside
the country are consuming massive amounts of logs to export after processing.
And with the destruction of these forest ecosystems has also come the wholesale destruction
of the wildlife that lives in them. Primates are no exception.
Large quantities of wildlife parts and live animals are reportedly being exported
to Cambodia's neighbors, especially Thailand and Vietnam.
Small markets selling an assortment of wild animals and their parts have sprouted
up along the country's borders. For example, there are several shops dealing particularly
in wildlife and their derivatives at Poipet, a town across the border from Thailand's
Aranyapathet. Thai tourists and businessmen commonly take day shopping trips to Poipet,
returning with live white-handed gibbons; langurs; monkeys; tiger, leopard, and bear
skins and other animal products that are now illegal to possess in Thailand.
Koh Kong Island also has a market where wildlife products can be found, near Thailand's
Trat province. The list goes on and on and smuggling is widespread and rarely actively
discouraged by either Thai officials or their Cambodian counterparts.
Along Vietnam's border with Cambodia there is believed to be a very active animal
trade, possibly even bigger than the one with Thailand. Vietnamese loggers are known
to be trafficking in wildlife and the logging trucks moving between the two countries
are believed to be taking large quantities of wild animals out of Cambodia.
Professional hunters and traders have also learned that the animal markets in Ho
Chi Minh City (Saigon) are good places to sell Cambodian wildlife, thus further increasing
the border trade, which is totally out of control and possibly even supported by
the governments of both countries, although there is still very little information
about the trade.
While the wild animal pet trade in Cambodia is small amongst Cambodians, who can
rarely afford such "luxuries" to begin with, it is deplorable that a large
number of rhesus macaques, stump-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques, crab-eating
macaques, and white-handed and concolor gibbons are being bought up by the expanding
community of Westerners in the country who are working with the U.N. and various
NGOs and aid agencies.
These guests in the country may be working hard to help Cambodia lift itself out
of the dumps, but supporting the wildlife trade by buying primates for their pleasure
alone is certainly not the way to do it. In fact, it has the opposite affect! A part
from supporting the needless killing of wild primates in the hunting process used
to get babies from their mothers in the wild, it is also setting a terrible example
for the Cambodians, many of whom are looking for leadership in the Westerners after
becoming discouraged with their own leaders.
Despite Cambodia's increasing animal exports, and the growing trade in primates for
foreigners living in Cambodia, there appears to be a relatively small amount of internal
trading going on in Cambodia.
While samba deer, barking deer, monitor lizards, and other locally consumed animals
and birds are often sold at rural markets in Cambodia, many of the larger cities
in the country have only very small amounts of animal trading going on in them. Obviously
high valued rare species and live animals can fetch more money in the markets in
Vietnam and Thailand. For example, there are no large live animal markets in Cambodia's
capital city, Phnom Penh.
However, on 166th street, near the O Russei market in the center of Phnom Penh, there
are a number of shops owned by Chinese Cambodians where traditional medicines and
a wide variety of wildlife products are sold. Wildlife trophies and skins are also
available in many of the shops. The products are being openly offered for sale, and
the shop keepers don't seem at all concerned about the environmental damage the trade
they are involved in may be causing Cambodia.
The government does not appear to be doing anything to prohibit or set limits on
the species that can be traded at this market.
Although no monkey, gibbon, or languor parts were seen for sale on 166th street,
about 200 dried slow lorises stretched out on sticks were being offered for sale.
Apparently some Cambodians believe dried slow lorises offer a form of cure for cancer,
although this remedy is apparently unknown and unproved outside of the country.
Although slow lorises are one of the more common primates in Southeast Asian forests,
their large-scale harvesting may be affecting certain local populations of the species.
Still, the trade has previously never been documented and little is known about how
many are consumed a year in the country. Nevertheless, in one shop two boxes with
over 150 animals in them were seen, indicating that they are being hunted on a commercial
scale. They were offered for sale at only U.S. $4.25 per dried animal. The trade
certainly deserves more attention by Asian conservationists.