Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Illegal wildlife trade thrives; 'common' species threatened

Illegal wildlife trade thrives; 'common' species threatened

Illegal wildlife trade thrives; 'common' species threatened

Despite recent seizures by police, officials have admitted that a lack of enforcement has contributed to a boom in wildlife smuggling

TURTLES SEIZED

Earlier this month, media reported that the military police had confiscated 139 kilograms of wild, live turtles in Kampong Chhnang province and arrested three Cambodian smugglers. According to the wildlife office, most illegal catches are smuggled by car.

THE government has expressed concern over the booming illegal wildlife trade, which it claims is spiralling out of control and even threatening species once thought to be common to Cambodia.    

Chheang Dany, deputy director of the wildlife office at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery, said Tuesday that the wildlife trade had become so big that the authorities were virtually helpless to confront the problem.

"We are concerned about the continuation of smuggling, but we do not have any means to form nationwide protection," he told the Post.

He said that although several hundred turtles and pythons were confiscated earlier this month, there was still no method of monitoring the level of enforcement of anti-smuggling laws. This had led to even protected areas in several provinces falling victim to the underground trade, he said.

Seng Teak, coordinator of the World Wildlife Fund's Cambodia Conservation Program told the Post Tuesday that smuggling had reached a point at which it was not only threatening rare species of wildlife but also species once thought to be common, such as turtles, snakes and pangolins.

"We are still concerned about the situation of illegal wildlife smuggling, which we cannot seem to stop," he said.

He added that illegal activity had become embarrassingly high in protected wildlife conservation areas, especially in the northeast of the country.

We are still concerned about [smuggling], which we cannot seem to curb.

"We have laws against wildlife smuggling, but we have to do more to strengthen and enforce these laws, especially in protected areas," he said.
According to Seng Teak, the WWF and the government are working together to establish a mobile wildlife enforcement team expected to be operational by next January.

Officials deny smuggling

Sun Savuth, deputy police chief of O'Chrov district in Banteay Meanchey province, an area prone to smuggling, denied that illegal activity was increasing.

"The period between 2002 and 2004 saw the most illegal smuggling of cobras and trakuot [large lizards] from this area to Thailand," he said Tuesday. "Since then the amount of illegal smuggling has declined because authorities have cracked down on offenders."

Chheang Dany urged cooperation between the government and NGOs to help raise awareness of the gravity of the problem. "More work needs to be done to preserve these species," he said. 

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