A Toyota Camry overturned during a high-speed pursuit in Banteay Meanchey province on Wednesday night, spilling its cargo of more than 100 smuggled turtles.
Provincial economic police chief Chap Sopharith said his officers confiscated the amphibian cargo after the vehicle crashed in O’Chrou district’s Koup commune. They had given pursuit after a tipoff from villagers.
“People gave us information that there was a vehicle carrying turtles from the [Thai] border, so our officers chased the car. They were afraid that our officers might catch them, and he drove too fast, which resulted in the car overturning,” Sopharith said, speculating that the drivers were probably hired for the border run in Thailand.
Six of 14 turtle species native to Cambodia are endangered, meaning hunting wild specimens is punishable with up to a year in prison and the turtle trade is strictly regulated.
When the officers caught up with the overturned vehicle, its driver had already fled the scene, Sopharith said. The suspect left behind 120 live turtles, weighing 281 kilograms, which were crawling about, having spilled from the bags in which they were being transported.
“This is our office’s first turtle seizure this year,” Sopharith said, adding that the haul was handed over yesterday to the Forestry Administration, whose officials agreed to safely release them back into the wild.
Kandal province customs officials seized 364 kilograms of live turtles by last month. Another 61 turtles were seized in May, and 103 endangered yellow-headed temple turtles were intercepted en route to Vietnam in March.