High prices and lax law enforcement have created a booming transnational trade in otter skins, where the endangered mammals are hunted in the wild to be sold on to buyers in neighbouring countries, according to a new report.
“In Cambodia, the general level of illegal hunting is also severe because of high prices for wildlife products on the market and low levels of enforcement,” the report, released by the International Otter Survival Fund, notes.
Dr Richard Thomas, spokesman for the anti-wildlife-trade group Traffic, said in an email that “there is evidence otter fur is in very high demand, particularly for fur hats in China”.
The skins can sell for about $200, the authors write.
In one example cited in the report, a hunter said he caught and sold 23 hairy-nosed otters over a four-year period.
Hairy-nosed otter cubs have been kept as pets although they rarely survive in captivity. A single rescued male, the only known captive survivor, lives at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Takeo province.
The proceeds of the $200 billion global illegal wildlife trade have been shown to fund other forms of criminality, including terrorism.
“Like any other high-value wildlife products, it is very likely that the [otter] trade is controlled and run by well-organised criminal syndicates,” Thomas said.