They sound like sick jokes: How can 65 monkeys fit in the back seat of a Toyota sedan?
How many endangered species can be crammed inside a hollowed out TV? Was that an
orangutan going by on the back of a motorbike? The answers are unfunny as well.
Stopped in Kratie province en route to Vietnam on December 2, 2006, a car is found containing 104 macaques, four giant Asian turtles, and two monitor lizards. All the animals were freed alive.
As the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia continues to escalate, smugglers are increasingly
turning to odd, innovative, and inhumane tactics to thwart local authorities and
environmental NGOs. Wildlife experts say it is this type of small-time trafficking
that is having the most devastating effect on Cambodia's endangered species - from
bears and big cats to pythons, pangolins and turtles.
"The way these animals are transported is disgusting in itself," said Nev
Broadis, an animal specialist for NGO WildAid who has been caring for confiscated
wildlife in Cambodia for more than three years. "Macaques are bound and crammed
into car boots, kept on ice to keep them quiet and keep the meat fresh if they die
during the journey which many of them do."
Broadis related one such incident in March 2006, where 97 macaques were confiscated
from the trunk of a single Toyota Camry, bound for the Vietnamese border. In March
2006, a van was stopped traveling through Kampong Cham on the way to Vietnam and
found with 102 macaques, 12 Asian soft-shelled turtles, 11 Giant Asian pond turtles,
four King Cobras, two water monitors and 46 elongated tortoises. In October last
year, Thai authorities seized a shipment of 200 live Siamese crocodiles captured
in the Cambodian wild and bound for Bangkok bazaars.
Most recently, on February 2, 2007, a Conservation International (CI) spokesperson
told the Post that hollowed-out television sets, strapped to the backs of motorbikes,
were being used for the illegal transport of live animals from protected areas in
Cambodia's southwest to Phnom Penh.
"Both the legal and illegal trade in wildlife is horrendously cruel," said
Nick Marx, a WildAid animal husbandry specialist in Cambodia for the past five years.
"Animals are crammed into car boots and kept without water or feed for days.
Often they are bagged and dumped in an isolated collection area from where they will
eventually be picked up for transportation across the border."
According to CI's wildlife trade program director, Chantal Elkin, most of these animals
are bound for Vietnam. But many will be exported to China where many of these animals
are considered delicacies or are targeted for medicinal purposes.
Some animals are illegally transported only within Cambodia, where, as one NGO manager
in Mondolkiri province put it, "the bush meat trade is thriving."
"It's wide open: everything is for sale here. You can buy meat from various
animals in guesthouses and restaurants in town," said Jack Highwood, founder
of the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Program. "It's common for people from
Phnom Penh to come to Mondulkiri and take some bush meat back. It's seen as highly
Highwood said that meat from the large-antlered Sambar is especially popular, as
is the purported properties of the Civet cat.
"They buy the meat already cooked; with the Civet cat, they roast it over with
a bamboo spit then sell it to Phnom Penh people as a medicinal stew," Highwood
said on February 21. "According to some local folklore, if your grandma [or
any elderly person] is sick, she'll want to eat a Civet cat."
Highwood says the road from Sen Monorom to Phnom Penh is mostly unmonitored, and
any stops are not likely to be due to a search for endangered animals.
"They'll pull you over for wood," Highwood said. "But if you have
ten monkeys wearing seatbelts in your back seat, they're not going to pull you over."
Experts say trapping methods are evolving as well, and are proving just as devastating
as the poaching itself. According to Elkin, to capture a live macaque poachers will
often fell trees around the macaque to isolate it within one tree, preventing its
escape. When this is done on a large scale the habitat of many species is reduced.