The Koh Kong International Resort Casino has illegally captured at least ten endangered
dolphins from a nearby wildlife sanctuary and has not yet released them despite an
order to do so from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).
Several of the mammals, which are being kept in a swimming pool, have already died,
and casino management gave conflicting statements on whether or not the animals would
Minister Chan Sarun sent a letter to the casino March 4 instructing it to free the
mammals following a visit by local department officials. The January inspection was
led by deputy head of the Koh Kong fisheries department, Pen Vann Rith.
"We went to inspect the casino and found there were ten endangered Irrawaddy
dolphins taken from Peam Krasoap wildlife sanctuary. They were in a [swimming] pool
outside the casino near the sea," said Vann Rith, adding that the resort had
earlier requested permission to catch 20 dolphins in Cambodian waters.
"The department said no, but they did it anyway," he said.
The Wildlife Conservation Society said that the casino, which is owned by businessman
Ly Yong Phat, captured two species of the endangered mammals: the Indo-Pacific humpbacked
dolphin and the Irrawaddy dolphin.
Both are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's red list of
endangered species, and are also listed as endangered in Cambodia.
The assistant to Minister Sarun, Sun Hean, confirmed several of the dolphins had
already died and said MAFF was very concerned about the welfare of the remainder.
"They have never been successfully kept in captivity anywhere in the world,"
Management at the casino said they were unaware of the minister's letter, and said
they had taken ten gray dolphins from the ocean. They were captured to train for
shows that would start in November. Senior staff appeared to know very little about
the species or health of the dolphins.
The casino manager, At Mund, said he had "no idea" whether the dolphins
were endangered, saying his speciality was casinos, not dolphins. The resort's vice-president,
Mr Thitidej, said the casino would keep and train them.
However the general manager, Charlie Prathummin, contradicted that and said the mammals
would soon be released.
"The dolphin trainer from Moscow just told us that they are too small and we
cannot use them for show," he said. "We are waiting for [owner] Ly Yong
Phat and will release the dolphins very soon and buy some from Japan or an aquarium
MAFF's Sun Hean said the question of what to do with the captured dolphins was very
difficult, as they might not survive in their natural habitat.
"As they have been kept with people for a bit of time, if we release them to
the wild we are not sure whether they might die."
Hean suggested that the government might allow the dolphins to remain at the casino.
"Many people visit it for recreation and relaxation. It could be a good place
for education," he said. "They could be used to explain to the public that
dolphins are very nice, and that we shouldn't hunt or kill them."
"If they have good management and enclosures it will also be good for scientific
research," Hean said. "But we are not going to allow them to capture any
more dolphins. Our mission is to save the wild population."
The resort does not yet have the required Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species (CITES) permits needed to import animals, and has been warned by the government
not to buy any local wildlife.
Prathummin denied Vann Rith's claim that the casino's owner was an economic advisor
to Prime Minister Hun Sen. Despite the government's warning not to buy wildlife,
he said plans to build a safari world and sea world had already begun.
"We are constructing it near here," he told the Post. "We will get
some birds and crocodiles and buy some sea lions very soon from Moscow or Japan or
Korea. We just have to get the right people to train them."