Up to 50 Cambodian macaques plucked from their fast-diminishing habitat are squeezed into a concealed compartment in the boot of a sedan and covered with broken ice to keep them quiet.
Then, under cover of night, the monkeys are smuggled into a breeding facility in Kampong Chhnang province, where forged documents will show them as being legally bred before they are exported to China, Laos, Vietnam – most likely for toxicity testing.
The deception is an all-too-common occurrence, according to investigations conducted by UK-based animal protection group BUAV in February of this year.
“We are disappointed to have had no response from the Cambodian government or the Cambodia CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] Management Authority regarding our concerns,” Sarah Kite, BUAV’s director of special projects, said of the lack of government attention to its investigations.
BUAV’s investigations took them to a Korean-owned monkey-breeding facility in Kampong Chhnang.
There, macaques were kept in conditions BUAV described as “cruel”.
Infants were separated from their mothers, and monkeys were kept in individual barren cages or large concrete pens, BUAV field officers reported.
“The growing plundering of the macaque populations from their native forests in Southeast Asia to feed the breeding farms for the international research industry is an issue we have been raising for many years and one that urgently needs to be addressed,” Kite said.
BUAV said the trapping of wild animals is extremely lucrative, with trappers netting between US$50 and $150 per wild macaque, depending on gender and age.
Laboratories pay up to $2,000 per animal.
“We believe that Cambodia is breaching CITES regulations by allowing what appears to be a largely unregulated trade in long-tail macaques that has resulted in the apparent indiscriminate and intensive trapping of wild monkeys to establish the numerous breeding and supply farms that have been set up,” she said.
Macaque exports from Cambodia jumped exponentially over a 10-year period, from 200 total between 1999 and 2003 to 32,392 between 2004 and 2008, according to the CITES database.
“Of particular concern are the inhumane and cruel methods used to trap wild monkeys and the inadequate conditions in which primates were housed at primate breeding facilities,” Kite added.
In their report to CITES, BUAV said: “Many of the facilities exporting [macaques] in Cambodia do not have a reliable capability to produce second-generation offspring. They were established and continue to be replenished using animals from wild populations.”
Macaque populations are already suffering under the rate of deforestation in Cambodia.
Primary rainforest cover feel from over 70 per cent in 1970 to just 3.1 per cent in 2007.
The group points to a “sophisticated transborder wild-life trafficking network” that involves wild macaques caught in Cambodia and smuggled to Vietnam, China or Lao using forged CITES permits.
The Cambodian government must better implement their obligations under CITES and record exports of macaques caught in the wild, BUAV said.
In its March letter to the government, the group identifies several circumstances in which there is evidence of exports, or export permits issued by the Cambodian CITES Management Authority, but no record of these export transactions on the CITES database.
Deputy director of the CITES Management Authority of Cambodia, Suon Phalla, to whom BUAV addressed the results of their February 2012 investigations, could not be reached by the Post yesterday.
Ministry of Agriculture Secretary of State Uk Sokhonn, and Deputy Director General of the Scientific Authority of Cambodia, Ung Sam Ath, who were carbon copied into the correspondence could also not be reached.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bridget Di Certo at [email protected]