Authorities on Monday opened packages of more than 280 lion bones seized in December at the Phnom Penh International Airport as the case progresses against the suspected owners who remain behind bars, said NGO Wildlife Alliance.
It said the shipment of 281kg of suspected lion bones smuggled from South Africa was opened on Monday while two Vietnamese suspects remained in jail. Cambodian Customs officials were investigating the case, it noted.
“Cambodia is a well-known transit country in the illegal wildlife trade for products heading to Vietnam and China. It is suspected that the lion bones were intended to be transported to Vietnam where they are popular in traditional medicines.
“Wildlife Alliance is pleased to once again be working with our colleagues in Customs in another major Africa-Asia wildlife trafficking case,” the NGO said.
Last December, joint forces from the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Counterfeit Products Committee, Customs officials, Camcontrol officials and a Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor seized the lion bones at the airport and arrested two Vietnamese nationals.
Court spokesman Kuch Kimlong, the Anti-Counterfeit Products Committee and Wildlife Alliance could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Last year, the Ministry of Environment warned souvenir vendors of trafficked goods made of exotic bones and wild animals that they would face legal action similar to those involved in money laundering and financing terrorism.
The notice came after 32 businesses in Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk province were found to be selling souvenirs made from rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory.
In February, UK-based Traffic, an NGO working on anti-wildlife trade, released a report saying Cambodia had seized more than 17,000kg of ivory from 2009 to 2018, including a seizure of more than 3.2 tonnes of ivory in 2018 that came from Mozambique.
It said more than 780 ivory products were recorded in 10 shops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in 2015, with hundreds more recorded in 2019. It said almost 25,000 live mammals, birds and reptiles were seized from 2007 to 2015.
The NGO said the challenges for Cambodia in combating wildlife crimes were low penalties for criminals which did not serve as deterrents, difficulty in effectively implementing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and the country being a transit point for transnational organised crime groups en route to Vietnam or China.
Meanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund Asia Pacific offices on Tuesday applauded China for its decision to ban the trade of wild animals and end unregulated wildlife trade, linking the consumption of wildlife to the possible cause of Covid-19.
WWF regional director for Asia Pacific Christy Williams said in a press statement that Southeast Asian countries must learn from China’s example and ban the sales of wild meat for the health of their citizens and to prevent damage to their economies, as is happening currently due to Covid-19.
“This means that they must stop the trade from moving into their territories. As we saw in the case of the domestic ivory ban in China, the trade will just move across borders where enforcement is less robust, creating new trade hotspots,” Williams said.