Despite the fine levied against Koh Kong Safari World, the oragutan shows continue. The apes box in comedy boxing matches, ride bicycles and dance in bikinis among other unusual crowd pleasers.
he Forestry Administration has fined a business owned by one of Cambodia's most
powerful tycoons nearly $57,000 for illegally importing 36 orangutans from Thailand
to Koh Kong Safari World.
The administration made Heng San, the deputy director of Koh Kong Duty Free Shop,
responsible for the fine on behalf of the company owned by Ly Yong Phat, who also
owns Koh Kong Safari World.
Ty Sokun, director general of the Forestry Administration (FA), levied the fine on
July 15 at the direction of the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister Hun Sen,
according to documents obtained by the Post.
The zoo was charged under Article 96 of the Forestry Law with illegally importing
the orangutans, which are classified as endangered under Article 49 of the same law.
San was given 15 days to pay the fine and must also pay for DNA testing to determine
whether the orangutans were bred in captivity or taken from the wild.
While the Forestry Administration recommended seizing the endangered apes, the final
decision letter did not mention confiscation and no date was set for DNA testing.
If testing reveals that the orangutans were taken from the wild, Cambodia will be
obliged under international conventions to confiscate and return the apes.
On July 19 a representative from Koh Kong Duty Free Shop traveled to Phnom Penh to
pay the 227 million riel ($56,746) fine into the state budget held at the National
Bank of Cambodia, according to a receipt from the bank.
Many view the breakthrough in the long-running controversy over the orangutans as
a positive step for the government and a welcome improvement in the enforcement the
Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
"This decision alerts present and would-be dealers in the wildlife trade that
smuggling will not be tolerated by the government, and perpetrators of this crime
will face prosecution," wrote Michelle Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan
"If Cambodia can successfully close its doors against international smuggling
of wildlife, it will be a significant break in the chain," Desilets wrote in
The importation of the orangutans to Koh Kong was described at a major CITES meeting
in Bangkok in October 2004 as a "very serious incident of illicit trade",
and was raised again during a top-level gathering of CITES officials in Geneva from
June 27 to July 1.
"This is the first occasion that the Secretariat has brought such an incident
in Cambodia to the attention of the Standing Committee," wrote John Sellar,
from the CITES's anti-smuggling, fraud and organized crime department, by email on
"We are aware that the matter has been brought to the attention of the Prime
Minister," wrote Sellars. "The Secretariat will report formally on this
subject at the next meeting of the Standing Committee, which takes place in late
A receptionist at Koh Kong Safari World who identified himself as "Para"
said on July 28 that park manager Amphoun Phan, a Thai national, was "absent"
and there was no other manager available.
When asked whether orangutan shows were continuing, he hung up the phone.
However, another receptionist said by phone later in the day that the orangutans
were still being displayed to the mostly Thai tourists who visit the zoo.
The controversy over the apes dates back to early 2003, when Koh Kong Duty Free Shop
requested permission from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishers (MAFF)
to import 22 orangutans from Thailand. Minister of MAFF, Chan Sarun, agreed, but
only on the provision that the company cooperate with CITES and FA to ensure the
transfer was legal.
The 22 orangutans cost between $487 for a 6 year old and $1,097 for a 10 year old,
according to receipts. It is unclear when the additional 14 orangutans were imported.
The orangutans were brought in without consulting FA or CITES and put to work at
Koh Kong Safari World entertaining tourists in daily shows that included boxing,
bicycle riding and skateboarding.
Similar shows involving orangutans have been banned at the Bangkok Safari World.
In November 2004, Thai police confiscated about 150 illegally acquired orangutans
from the zoo and returned them to Indonesia.
However, the wealth and connections of Ly Yong Phat caused some Cambodian government
officials to proceed gently with investigations in Koh Kong.
The orangutan issue simmered until November 2004, when the CITES Secretariat wrote
to its Cambodian office requesting an investigation. CITES also asked Interpol to
investigate, because of concerns the illegal importation was authorized by a government
agency, according to minutes from the October 2004 CITES meeting in Bangkok.
Lobbying from conservationists added to the mounting pressure on the government to
act, according to a source involved with the issue, with Chan Sarun reportedly receiving
36 separate appeals and King Norodom Sihamoni receiving nine appeals from concerned
groups and individuals.
The paperwork that forced the breakthrough in Cambodia's orangutan saga began on
June 15 when Chan Sarun wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for his advice on
how to proceed with the case.
A June 23 letter from the Council of Ministers advised MAFF to go ahead with the
penalty and order DNA testing. It was signed by Bun Uy, secretary of state at the
Council of Ministers, and noted that the PM had seen and approved the letter.
"[It is] proposed that Okhna Ly Yong Phat cooperate on related work as soon
as possible," the council of Ministers letter stated.
On July 12 and 13, a four-person team from FA and CITES visited the zoo. They were
accompanied by Heng San, according to a source who was at the meeting.
The team reported their findings to the FA and on the next day, July 15, Ty Sokhun
issued the letter penalizing Koh Kong Safari World.
The move to prosecute illegal wildlife traders is seen as a boost to conservation
efforts in Cambodia. A new sub-decree on the International Trade in Wild Animal and
Plant Species is currently being drafted by the local CITES office with funding from
conservation group TRAFFIC Southeast Asia-Indochina.
The sub-decree will be part of a plan to implement the CITES convention that will
be assessed in September by Marceil Yeater, head of the legislation and compliance
unit of the CITES Secretariat.