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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wildlife meat-eaters face jail

Wildlife meat-eaters face jail

Dining on exotic wildlife cuisine could land you in jail. That is, if you are caught

sampling the meat of one of the Kingdom's protected wildlife species from September

1.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF) is targeting restaurants

across the kingdom with a notification warning them to cease offering specialty dishes

composed of protected wildlife animals like pangolin, iguana, turtle, python and

bear.

Sun Hean, Deputy Director of MAAF's Wildlife Protection Office (WPO), said making

consumers of illegal wildlife products legally liable for their actions was justified.

"The buyer of wildlife [meat or other products] is as much a criminal as the

restaurant owner or supplier [of the wild game]," he said, adding that the notification

proposed to invoke the relevant clause of the existing forestry law of 1988, called

Decree No. 35 on Forestry, that clearly prohibits not just hunting, sale or transport,

but also the purchase of any wild animal or animal products. A prakas issued by the

government in 1994 further added a list of animals that fell in the protected species

list to ensure their more effective protection.

Under the existing law, even those who kill or transport animals that are not classified

as endangered require written permission of provincial forestry MAFF authorities,

a condition that is rarely complied with due to widespread corruption.

Those few arrested for violating the existing legislation are routinely released

upon payment of "fines", allowing professional hunters and traders in wild

animals to continue operations with impunity. Wildlife experts blame legal loopholes

and the focus of authorities on wildlife trafficking for the booming exotic cuisine

market.

"A major drawback [of the old law] is that it is too general in nature...with

no clear terms of reference on wildlife protection," said Seng Teak, Programme

Coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Programme at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

"Moreover, it completely failed to address the needs of tribal people and villagers

living among the forests, such as what animals they can use in a sustainable manner

for their own consumption, [a technicality] that was exploited by illegal poachers."

A new Wildlife Protection Law, drafted with assistance of the British government,

is designed to plug such loopholes and strengthen the legal clout against illegal

exploitation of wildlife. The new law, in conjunction with training by wildlife conservation

NGOs such as Wildaid, World Conservation Society, Flora and Fauna International and

the WWF, is aimed at boosting the technical capacity of authorities.

Sun Hean says that the latest notification will be followed by spot checks of restaurants

by mobile law enforcement empowered to search and seize protected wildlife. A pubic

education campaign is also planned, including banners and the erection of two billboards

on National Routes 4 and 6A warning the patrons of specialty restaurants that consumption

of protected wildlife species could invite a jail term.

"Strictly under the existing legal framework, we can raid the restaurants and

arrest [restaurant owners and patrons] even now. But we want to give [them] some

time to set their record straight and publicize the fact that even eating the meat

of protected animals is illegal... so that they don't say they were not warned before

a crackdown," Sun Hean said,

This would include even those who are legally permitted to deal in certain animals

[like common deer] would have to obtain licenses and keep records of the number of

animals received.

Kit Whitney of Save Cambodia's Wildlife (SCW), however, feels mere notifications

and billboards may not help.

"As long as there is demand, the supply will continue in one form or the other,"

she said, suggesting special awareness programs that attach "social or spiritual

stigma with killing endangered animals".

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